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The Hill Report: Week of June 23 - 27, 2008


Location: Washington, DC

The Hill Report: Week of June 23 - 27, 2008

This week the price of oil reached a record high of over $140 a barrel. Instead of providing real energy solutions to our nation's very real energy crisis, this week Congress brought to the House floor two more "no-energy" bills in an attempt to push through poorly-drafted and politically-motivated legislation before the 4th of July District Work Period.

Unfortunately, both bills fail to address the real problem: a lack of supply. Instead, the Democrat Majority has chosen a two-prong approach: blame the free-market system and punish the companies that want to develop more American energy resources.

The first bill scapegoats the futures market, blaming it for higher gas prices. The Energy Markets Emergency Act attempts to over-regulate energy futures - an important price-discovery and risk management tool for private businesses. This bill is a sham because it simply restates current law. The "speculators" the Majority attempts to blame for the run-up in oil prices are actually traders who buy and sell contracts to lock in goods at a future price and allow commodity consumers to hedge against possible market volatility.

The futures market is critical to our economy because it stabilizes prices and adds liquidity to the market - but it has nothing to do with the availability of oil in the marketplace. Punishing businesses and investors will not add one additional barrel of crude or BTUs of natural gas to our supply - but increasing our production of American energy certainly will.

The second bill - the Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act, also known as the "Use-It-or-Lose-It" bill - provides a good sound-bite for the Majority as they rail against oil companies on the House floor, but it actually discourages domestic production by increasing federal regulation on energy-producing companies. Oil and gas producers are already required to surrender their leases if they do not produce after resources are discovered. This bill would add additional timelines that ignore the complexity of the discovery process.

The Majority in Congress would also like American consumers to believe that oil companies lease land so that they can sit on it idly without producing to keep supply low and prices high. This is simply not the case. It is extremely costly and time consuming to lease land, get permits, and conduct geological exploration and discovery exercises. It makes no sense that these companies would jump through all these hurdles just so they could sit on the land and not produce - especially with prices at all-time highs.

Again, the Majority has fallen back on its worn-out strategy of blaming "Big Oil" for the high cost of gas, but they fail to acknowledge who owns "Big Oil"—mostly middle class Americans who have invested in mutual funds, stocks, and pensions. The Majority's answer to the problem is simple: increase regulation and increase government interference in private business operations.

I strongly oppose these no-energy political games that bring meaningless legislation to the House floor but do nothing to lower the price of energy for American consumers. Real Americans are suffering, and the time for games is over—we need to increase the production of American energy now.

Increasing Disability Protections
On Wednesday, the House passed the Americans with Disabilities Restoration Act (H.R. 3195) - bipartisan legislation that improves the original landmark legislation by clarifying congressional intent of disability protections.

As you may know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to protect individuals from discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment on the basis of his or her disability. Often referred to as the "world's first comprehensive disability anti-discrimination law," the ADA specifies what employers, government agencies, and the managers of public facilities must do to ensure that people with disabilities have every opportunity to participate fully in our society.

This law has made a world of difference for millions of Americans with disabilities. Today, many public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, and recreational facilities have opted for voluntary compliance. Street curb ramps and other mechanisms that aid the disabled were virtually unheard of a decade ago, and are now commonplace in most major cities.

However, litigation and court decisions have underscored the need for Congress to clarify who is covered and what action is expected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, the ADA requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" to facilitate employees with disabilities, but not if this causes "undue hardship"—leaving courts to decide what is "reasonable" and what is "undue."

Most of all, federal courts have spent years puzzling over exactly who is considered "disabled" under the law. Unfortunately, several U.S. Supreme Court decisions have narrowed the definition of disability so much that people with serious conditions such as epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, diabetes, and cerebral palsy have been determined to not have impairments that meet the definition of disability under the ADA.

Improving access and resources for individuals with disabilities is among my top priorities in Congress, and I am very pleased that Congress has produced this bipartisan legislation, finally settling these outstanding questions of law once and for all. By clarifying and expanding ADA's original definition of a disability, we can also ensure that people with disabilities do not lose their coverage under the ADA because their condition is manageable and treatable with medication.

The ADA has transformed our nation since its enactment, helping millions of Americans with disabilities to succeed in the workplace, and making transportation, housing, buildings, services and other elements of daily life more accessible to individuals with disabilities. This week's ADA Restoration Act is critical to building on this progress, and I look forward to championing future successes for individuals with disabilities.

The AMT Tax Increase Trap
Nearly every year, Congress is faced with "patching" the Alternative Minimum Tax law to prevent an average tax increase of $2,400 on over 25 million middle class families.

Created by a short-sighted Congress in the 1960s, the AMT was designed to close tax code loopholes that 155 millionaires were exploiting to avoid paying taxes; however, it was never indexed for inflation to avoid ensnaring middle income Americans now nearly forty years later.

While I support repealing this outdated tax nuisance, House Democrats this week passed another one-year extension of current AMT patch law with the baffling approach of raising taxes on the American economy during a downturn to "prevent" a tax increase on hard-working middle-class taxpayers to mask their latest attempts to raise taxes.

It makes no sense to hamstring our economy and to saddle working families with higher taxes when revenues aren't the problem - Washington is already collecting more taxes as a percentage of GDP (18.8% in 2007) than the historical average (18.3% over the last 40 years).

Simply put, Washington does not have a revenue problem - it has a spending problem. Federal spending is higher by nearly $530 billion than the Congressional Budget Office's 2000 projection for fiscal year 2007 - making increased spending the main reason for 99% of our nation's worsened budget picture over the last 7 years, not an inability to collect taxes.

But under the flawed "pay-go" theory, the Majority argues that in order to extend current AMT protections, Congress must raise taxes on millions of Americans. Simply put: Democrats feel compelled to raise taxes just to extend current law.

What's worse is how this Congress proposes to raise the $61 billion of additional taxes just to prevent this tax increase on middle-class families who were never intended to pay this tax:

1. Repeals a tax deduction that helps American oil companies to produce American energy for American consumers - which will only further encourage production to move overseas, increase our dependence on foreign oil and increase the already-outrageously high price that everyday Americans are paying at the pump.

2. Increases taxes on entrepreneurs that create jobs and improve failing companies, and raises the long-term capital gains rate on them from 15% to 35% or higher when the Democrats pass their next round of tax hikes.

3. Goes back on America's word by increasing taxes on transactions with treaty countries and by mandating a new reporting requirement on private companies so that the IRS can know directly how much is being paid to merchants every year, including the social security number or taxpayer identification number associated with these transactions.

This illogical mindset is a prime example of what is wrong with Washington. As I stated on the House floor this week, the last thing Americans need is another tax increase on top of the $4+ gasoline prices and higher grocery bills. At the very least, Congress should pass a clean, straightforward AMT update to protect American families and individuals from the tax increase trap.

Have a good weekend.

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