A Weekly e-Newsletter From Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
This week was another busy one in Washington as health care reform dominates the headlines and as momentum picked up on extending and expanding the first-time homebuyer tax credit, which is set to expire on November 30, 2009.
On Tuesday, I testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs about the need to further restore the housing market and energize housing demand by expanding the first-time home buyer tax credit passed by Congress earlier this year.
I shared with the committee my personal experience as the President of a real estate company during the mid-1970s when Congress in 1975 passed a $2,000 home buyer tax credit. The credit drove buyers back to the market and ended the housing recession within a year.
During my 33-year career in real estate, I weathered four housing recessions and experienced many challenges and difficult markets, but never anything like the current housing market in America. America's families have lost trillions of dollars in home equity as home values have fallen, and in some markets, continue to fall today. The current home buyer tax credit is set to expire on November 30, right as we are approaching the worst three months of the year for the housing market. It is imperative that we retain the momentum we have gained as a result of the current credit and go into the spring market with the increased consumer confidence necessary for establishing a viable market.
I believe the current first-time home buyer tax credit has made a difference. However, the real housing recession is not with first-time home buyers, but in the "trade-in" or "move-up" market in which Americans are putting off purchasing their next home.
I will offer an amendment to the legislation extending unemployment benefits that would extend and expand the current homebuyer tax credit. The amendment would keep the amount of the credit at $8,000, but would remove the first-time homebuyer requirement, extend the tax credit until June 30, 2010, and raise the income limits to $150,000 for an individual or $300,000 for a couple.
For purchases made in 2010, taxpayers would be able to claim the credit on their 2009 income tax return. Homebuyers would not have to repay the credit, provided the home remains their principal residence for 36 months after the purchase date. However, this 36 month recapture provision would not apply in the case of a member of the Armed Forces on active duty who moves pursuant to a military order and incident to a permanent change of station.
To view my testimony from Tuesday's Senate Banking Committee hearing, click here.
Medicare Reimbursements for Doctors
On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a bill to give doctors a 10-year freeze on Medicare reimbursement rates in exchange for doctors dropping their push for tort reform. This $247 billion proposal, S.1776, was pushed by Senate Democratic leaders and was considered by many to be a symbolic first vote on health care reform. The vote on the motion to proceed to this bill needed 60 votes, and I am pleased to say that it received only 47 votes, with even 13 Democrats joining me and other Republicans in voting against the measure.
While I agree that we need to fix the flawed payment system of Medicare reimbursements for doctors, the cost of this bill was not offset and the demand by Democrats that doctors stop pushing for much-needed tort reform was much too high a price to pay.
Health Care Reform
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is working with the White House and a small group of Democrats behind closed doors to merge the Senate Finance Committee's health care reform legislation with the bill that was passed in July by the HELP Committee. They will bring this new hybrid bill to the floor for debate, but no one knows what this new hybrid bill might look like or when it will be considered.
I remain firmly opposed to any bill that would put the federal government in an unfair competition with private health insurers and managed care providers and that would place a massive financial burden on Georgia and other states to pay for a proposed expansion of Medicaid.
The key to health care reform is stimulating competition in a market-based system that will encourage private health insurers and managed care providers to compete for business and make health insurance more affordable for consumers. I believe there could be some common ground between Republicans and Democrats in terms of insurance portability and not being rejected for pre-existing conditions or cancelled if you have a disease. However, I firmly believe the best way to reach these goals is through choice competition in the private sector.
I am committed as a co-sponsor of S.1099, Patients' Choice Act of 2009, which seeks to strengthen the relationship between the patient and the doctor by using choice and competition, rather than rationing and restrictions, to contain costs and ensure affordable health care for all Americans.
Cap-and-Trade and the Copenhagen Treaty
I believe it is in the geopolitical and environmental interests of the United States to reduce our dependence on imported foreign oil. Such a reduction is possible through the development of all our domestic sources of energy, including nuclear, wind, biomass and biofuels, solar, hydro, geothermal, and exploration of oil off U.S. shores.
I remain concerned that some in Congress and the administration are rushing to judgment on a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon. Johnny believes cap-and-trade will raise the cost of energy to all Georgians, especially those who rely on electric energy. Such a program will tax carbon and redistribute the proceeds from that tax toward other programs unrelated to energy. We need incentives to reduce carbon, not taxes to punish its production.
I strongly oppose the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that passed the House on June 26, 2009. The Senate is not expected to consider the Waxman-Markey bill. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer has introduced a climate change bill, but it is only one of several proposals expected in the Senate and there is no timetable for debating any of them. I will work to ensure that the Senate does not pass a bill that would raise the cost of energy to all Georgians or negatively impact the American economy.
In December, the United Nations will host the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is highly unlikely that Congress will have passed climate change legislation by that time. Carol Browner, President Obama's point-person on energy and climate change issues, has said publicly that she does not plan to attend the conference if legislation is still being considered by Congress. In addition, the President may not sign any international treaty without a two-thirds approval of the U.S. Senate.
Legislation Passed to Create Commemorative Coin for Girl Scouts' Centennial
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed legislation establishing the minting of a commemorative coin honoring the Girl Scouts of the United States of America. I'm very pleased that the Senate passed this legislation. Since its humble beginning in Savannah, Ga., almost 100 years ago, more than 50 million women in America have been a part of the wonderful organization created by Juliette Gordon Low. As the world's largest organization dedicated solely to girls, Girl Scouts of the USA empowers girls of all ages to reach their full potential by building courage, confidence and character.
This legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to mint 350,000 silver coins, which would be issued in 2013, honoring the centennial of the establishment of the Girl Scouts. Money raised through the sale of the coins will go towards Girl Scout program development and delivery.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low organized the first two Girl Scout troops in Savannah, Ga., consisting of 18 members. Today, there are 3.7 million Girl Scouts throughout the United States. The Girl Scouts of the United States of America is the largest voluntary association for women and girls in the United States.
Women in FFA
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution I co-sponsored commemorating 40 years of membership by women in the National FFA Organization. With more than 507,000 members in all 50 States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the National FFA Organization is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Today, 41 percent of all members of the National FFA Organization are women, and more than 50 percent of leadership positions in the National FFA Organization are held by women.
Agriculture is the leading industry in Georgia's economy, and women play a critical role in its success. The National FFA Organization is the preeminent organization for students interested in agricultural education, and I'm pleased to support this resolution recognizing the numerous contributions of women to the organization.
What's on Tap?
Next week, the Senate likely will likely debate legislation to extend unemployment benefits (HR 3548), and I hope to amend it with my extension and expansion of the homebuyer tax credit. The Senate is then expected to return to the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (HR 2847).