Lowering Medicare Prescription Drug Costs
Late Thursday night, the Finance Committee approved legislation that would, for the first time, allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. I'm a member of this committee, and voted in favor of the measure. Negotiating powers will help seniors enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug program, known as Medicare Part D, save money. As the full Senate prepares to take up the legislation this week, I will continue working to ensure strong transparency requirements for Part D and to make sure Medicare is able to get better prices for seniors. Without negotiating powers, seniors pay more than they should. Without transparency, there's no way to tell whether savings are passed on to seniors or dropped straight into the pockets of middlemen. This week, we'll get to work on the Senate floor to help the Medicare drug program fulfill its promise of delivering affordable prices to seniors on tight budgets.
Reducing the Strain on Our Military Families
I am very troubled by the administration's decision to extend deployments for all U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by an additional three months. Our troops are burdened by equipment shortages and stretched thin by multiple, lengthy deployments. We must be fair to these brave men and women and their families. The president hasn't done nearly enough to secure the political solution needed in Iraq to reduce ongoing violence. We must rethink our strategy, truly stand by our military families, and make sure our troops have the equipment and support needed to succeed in their mission. Our troops and their families should not be forced to bear the burden of this administration's failed policies.
Preserving Our Natural Heritage at Mt. St Helens
News that the Forest Service plans to close the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center and scale back operations at Mt. St. Helens shows that it might be time to look at preserving this important site as part of our National Parks system. Thousands of visitors travel to this monument each year to see the dramatic effects of the 1980 eruption, and to view returning plants and animals firsthand. The Forest Service plan to close Coldwater Ridge�a center focusing on rejuvenation in the eruption's aftermath�shows that the Forest Service does not place a high enough priority on protecting our natural heritage at Mt. St. Helens. We need a plan to improve opportunities for visitors, not cut them back. Including the entire site in our National Parks system, like Mauna Loa in Hawaii and other major American volcanoes, might be a good option if we want to preserve opportunities that help visitors access and learn about this amazing place.
Helping Homeless Veterans
I've joined Senator Barack Obama in introducing the Homes for Heroes Act. Our bill would set up a $225 million assistance program for community and nonprofit organizations to buy, build, or rehabilitate housing for homeless veterans. The legislation would also support substance abuse and mental health counseling and fund employment training. Veterans living in this housing would pay a certain percentage of their income as rent. There are as many as 200,000 homeless veterans at any given time in the United States, and existing federal veterans programs only reach about half of those in need. In Washington , the Veterans Administration funds 167 beds, helping only a small portion of the estimated 6,567 homeless veterans in our state.
A New Law to Stop Animal Fighting
A couple weeks ago, I told you about my legislation to help put an end to animal fighting. This week, I'm pleased to report that the bill has passed Congress and is set to become law as soon as the president signs it. The new law would establish felony-level penalties for knowingly buying, selling, or transporting animals for the purpose of fighting, and would criminalize knowingly sponsoring or exhibiting an animal fight. Our nation should have a zero tolerance policy for this cruel practice, and this new law will be a big help.