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Putting the American People First


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Putting the American People First

By Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

We are one year from the historic elections of 2006 in which Americans demanded a new direction for America. This is what Democrats pledged to the American people when they took control of Congress in January of this year, a new direction for America. An integral part of making this a reality is prioritizing issues important to the American people by honoring our commitment to our veterans, investing in our children, protecting our communities and helping working families who have struggled to keep up with the rising costs of health care, energy and education.

This January I was honored to be appointed to the powerful Appropriations Committee which decides the federal government's funding priorities. Congress has the Constitutional authority to appropriate funds for everything from military operations to medical research, product safety, veteran's health care and many other essential programs. Now, as we approach 2008, I'd like to take a few minutes of your time to explain some of the changes in priorities that the now Democratic-led Congress has made on behalf of America's veterans, children, law enforcement officers and working families.

After holding more than 200 hearings, the Appropriations Committee produced spending bills that passed the House of Representatives with bi-partisan support. These bills represented a shift of $40 billion into high priority programs:

1. Veterans: Recognizing that in 2008 the Veterans Health Administration will treat more than 5.8 million patients including 263,345 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and recognizing that the availability of veterans' health care has been deteriorating for years, we have passed the largest increase in the 77 year history of the VA.
2. Health care: Improving access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured, we provided increases in funding for community health centers, serving an additional 2.2 million uninsured people. We provide more funding for state health access grants to allow states to target specific needs in their communities. We expand money for Medicare health insurance counselors, so that the 45 million people on Medicare can understand what benefits are available to them. We increase funds for workers who lose their job as a result of trade policies and we provided states with more resources to enable them to provide affordable insurance for medically high risk individuals who can't obtain insurance.
3. Education: Between 2001 and 2006 the cost of going to college increased $3,764 but the maximum Pell grant increased only $300. We raise the Pell grant an additional $650, benefiting more than 5.5 million low and middle-income students.
4. Medical Research: From 2003 to 2006, the National Institutes of Health's research grants for diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer, Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease dropped by 12%. We restore these resources to help combat these deadly diseases.
5. Law Enforcement & Border Security: From 2001 to 2006, under Republican leadership, funding to state and local law enforcement grants was cut by 43%. Correspondingly, the FBI reported that last year violent crime had its largest increase in a decade. We reverse this trend, restoring these funds, including $100 million for the "COPS on the Beat" program which will place 2,800 new police officers on America's streets. We increase funds for port security, airport and airline security and for first responders. We also increase funding for border and immigration security; allowing us to hire 3,000 more border agents and increasing available detention beds.
6. Energy Independence: With global energy prices rising, we invest 30% more than the President's request to shift America away from foreign energy sources and increasing funds for renewable energy sources, including solar, biofuels, hydropower, and geothermal.

These priorities were funded through appropriations bills that passed the House of Representatives with support from members of both political parties. This month, Congress will be sending most of the 2008 appropriations bills to the President. The differences between the President's total spending request and Congress's total spending request is nominal, however, as I have laid out above, we did have some real differences in priorities.

The President's proposed budget cut funds for cancer research, it cut vocational education by 50%, and it cut education for handicapped children by $300 million. The President would cut disabled housing assistance by 47%, he cuts rural health care programs by 54%, and cuts funds for communities to improve the quality of their drinking water.

All of these cuts in domestic programs come while the President has spent roughly $600 billion for a misguided war in Iraq and is now coming back to Congress to ask for an additional $200 billion war supplemental request.

Fights over the budget for 2008 aren't about the President's spending vs. the Congress's spending, they are about whether or not we prioritize the issues important to the American people.

The bi-partisan appropriations bills we are sending to the President are about honoring our commitment to our veterans. They represent a fight for our children's futures, so that they can live a better life than we have. They represent a restoration of the American dream for millions of working families who have been squeezed between stagnant wages and rising energy and health care costs. They represent ensuring the safety of our communities and protecting America from terrorism.

Our bi-partisan appropriations bills do all of these things, while making sure that we aren't spending more than we take in by adhering to Pay-Go rules that we restored this January. It is my sincere hope that the President will sign these bills that move America forward in a new direction.

I want to hear any thoughts, questions or concerns you have. Please contact me in my Pembroke Pines (954) 437-3936, Aventura (305) 936-5724, or my Washington, DC Congressional Office (202) 225-7931.

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