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Home   /   Capitol Connection   /   Capitol Connection 07/01/2005

The Fourth of July

Although July Fourth is renowned as America's official division from Britain's rule and the beginning of the American Revolution, the process did not happen in one day. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the original resolution on June 7, 1776. He then gathered the Continental Congress in order to proclaim the United States free from British rule. Since Thomas Jefferson was known for his penmanship, he headed a committee that prepared an appropriate writing for the occasion. The document that we know as the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July Fourth. Even though the resolution that led to the writing of the Declaration was actually approved two days earlier, we still celebrate with fireworks each year on the Fourth.

Today, the Fourth of July is celebrated with bright fireworks – a very different kind of rockets’ red glare. While we are rejoicing our country’s strengths and triumphs, however, our courageous troops will be serving our country and will be sincerely missed. On this day, we will reflect upon the principles for which America stands, and remember that freedom has always prevailed. Let us remember that: “It is the love of country that has lighted and that keeps glowing the holy fire of patriotism.” (J. Horace McFarland)

Protecting Private Property Rights

As you may be aware, the United States Supreme Court ruled on June 23, 2005 that local municipalities may force private property owners to sell their land to make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public. The Court was closely divided on a 5-4 vote. I am extremely disappointed in the actions of the Supreme Court and question the wisdom of this ruling. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been an ardent supporter of private property rights. The ruling of the Court is another example of an excessive government which seeks to seize property which people have earned through years of hard work and wise investment for some false "common good."

This ruling emphasizes why we need to appoint more conservative judges into the federal judicial system. The original framers of the Constitution allowed, through the Fifth Amendment, for the government to acquire with full compensation such property that might be necessary in emergency situations. It was never the intent of the framers to take someone’s home or property to give it to another private individual or company to enhance their investment.

On June 30th the House of Representatives passed a resolution which expresses Congress’ strong opposition to the ruling of the Court. H.Res.340 passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 365-33. I voted in strong support of the legislation. While this bill is nonbinding, I believe that it sends a strong message to the Judicial branch that Members of Congress and the people we represent are tired of judicial activism which fails to respect Constitutional rights.

I have also signed on as an original cosponsor of legislation which will prohibit any state from using economic development as an excuse for the exercise of eminent domain, if federal funds would in any way be involved. It is my hope that House will consider this legislation in the very near future.

Taking Care of our Veterans

On June 30, 2005, with my strong support, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3130 by a vote of 419-0. This legislation provides an additional $975 million for Veterans Medical Services for Fiscal Year 2005 to address the current budget shortfall within the Department of Veterans Affairs. As a member of the Committee on Appropriations, I will continue to fight for the necessary funds for health care for our veterans. At the same time, however, Congress needs to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs to a very high level of fiscal accountability.

This past week, Congressman Jim Walsh (R-NY) -- Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs -- announced that oversight hearings will take place to address these budget shortfalls. After Congress’ incredible efforts to ensure that the Veterans Administration received more than it even asked for, accountability demands that we determine why the VA is only now informing the Legislative Branch of this problem. Congressman Walsh said, "This Congress will tolerate no diminution of services or reduced quality of care for our nation's veterans in this time of war. If we need more money we'll find it." Rest assured that I stand with Chairman Walsh and will continue to monitor this situation.

Looking ahead to Fiscal Year 2006, I am very pleased with the ongoing efforts to help our veterans. On May 26, 2005, I helped pass the FY 2006 Military Quality of Life and Veterans Appropriations bill. This historic legislation provides the highest funding level for veterans' medical care ever, with an increase of $1.6 billion from last year. I am very happy to also report that veterans' medical care funding has increased by 40% since 2001. For the first time ever, this bill also provides for $2.2 billion to go directly to mental health services including a comprehensive study on post traumatic stress disorder. Other veterans' benefits have also been increased by $1.5 billion over last year: this includes expanded benefits for our Guard and Reserve soldiers, such as increased TRICARE coverage. I am also very pleased to report that this appropriation does NOT contain the Administration's proposals to increase co-pays and deductibles.

Flag Burning Amendment Passes House

As you may already be aware, H.J.Res.10, a resolution proposing a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the physical desecration of the United States flag, was passed by the House on June 22, 2005. This legislation, which I cosponsored and strongly supported, received the necessary 2/3 vote of the House, by a final vote of 286 - 130.

Flag desecration is an activity which I find to be completely unacceptable and disrespectful to both our country and the many men and women who served and gave their lives to defend it. H.J.Res.10 will now be presented to the Senate for its consideration. I look forward to swift action by the Senate in support of this joint resolution.