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January 29, 2008: Rep John Lewis Reacts to President’s Address

In This Issue

  • Rep. John Lewis Reacts to President's Address
  • The House Will Continue Addressing Uncertainty in Our Economy
  • Largest Increase in Veteran's Health Care in History
  • House Passes Measure to Revitalize Public Housing
  • Rep John Lewis Reacts to President’s Address

    The Congress will continue to work with President Bush in a bi-partisan manner to meet the needs of the American people.  However, for a nation that is facing a potential economic crisis, I was dismayed that the President offered no new ideas to the American people and no perspective on the span of his Administration. 

    We applaud the development of and look forward to the passage of the Economic Stimulus package. Though the package is a bi-partisan agreement, the Democratic leaders in the House pushed to ensure that as many people in the middle and lower tax brackets would gain some benefit from the stimulus package.  117 million Americans will receive money to help pay their bills, to put food on the table, to buy shelter, clothing and transportation.   Their spending helps stimulate the economy and at the same time relieves some of the strain on American citizens.   

    Once again, the President is asking the American people to sacrifice without reigning in the expansion of the federal government and the cost of war.  He announced tonight that he will again encourage budget cuts of 151 federal programs, cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, cuts to federal provisions that help children, help the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

    Yet he has not mentioned controls on the most bloated areas of the budget.  Why should those who are struggling the most sacrifice all they have, while others with more resources enjoy the benefits of tax breaks?  In this challenging economic environment, it would be fiscally irresponsible to allow the tax cuts for the rich to become permanent.

    During the Republican-led 109th Congress, earmarks soared to their highest levels.  At the height of this unchecked spending spree, the President said nothing.   In this Congress, Democrats reduced earmarks by nearly half during the last fiscal year and created a transparency never before known in the House appropriations process. 

    We have uncloaked the earmarks and enabled citizens to see where their money is going.  Some earmarks are excessive and unreasonable, but most support meaningful programs, such as electronic medical records upgrade for Grady Hospital and land acquisition programs for Morehouse School of Medicine in the 5th District.  These are the 5th District programs that would be cut if the President has his way.  It seems to me he is asking the Congress to end our earmarking while his Administration uses the process liberally to meet the needs of special interests. This is not right.  This is not fair.  This is not just.

    The President pledged to come to the table on a number of issues that are important to the American workforce.  Perhaps the most important were the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization and State, Children’s Health Insurance Plan.  Unfortunately, instead of really working with Congressional leaders to help those most affected by trade and in need of unemployment insurance and health coverage for their children, the President pledged to veto these bills that passed the House with bipartisan support last year. 

    When the President is willing to support congressional efforts to provide domestic solutions for hardworking Americans, only then can we begin to discuss whether the Colombia, Panama, and Korea free trade agreements will actually benefit the average American worker.

    I was glad to hear that the President mentioned the need for Americans citizens and businesses to conserve and preserve this little planet we call our home.  I was encouraged by his attention to the issues of the environment.  I do not believe he has made a clear statement of this kind on the environment in any other state of the union address.

    He did discuss bringing about 20,000 troops home, which is good news.  I continue to believe that we must do more.  We must bring all our troops home as soon as possible and begin the diplomacy that will restore peace and order to the nation of Iraq.

    The House Will Continue Addressing Uncertainty in Our Economy

    The Bush Administration’s stewardship of the economy has worried me for years.  The policies adopted to benefit the extremely rich have far outweighed the attention to my priorities, like looking out for lower and middle-income taxpayers, the unemployed, and people in need of better education and more effective job training programs.  Now, with a strong possibility of a recession fueling debate over whether the economy needs a shot in the arm, people who are already being overlooked may fare even worse this year.  We cannot afford for things to get worse.

    There is something wrong with our economy.  We don’t have to look far to see the trouble.  As Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, I will continue working with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Charlie Rangel, Chairman of the full Committee on Ways and Means, to make sure Congress passes targeted economic stimulus legislation.  Energizing our economy in the short-term is important.  But we must look deeper at how we got here - a distressed housing market, a crisis in the mortgage lending industry, high oil and gas prices, unaffordable health care, and in Georgia, even weather has challenged our economy.

    The House Leadership knew there was something wrong even before dire predictions of a recession and has already been focused on important economic issues.  This week the House of Representatives is poised to pass an economic stimulus bill that will put roughly $150 billion back into the economy by giving hundreds of tax dollars back to 117 million American families and helping small businesses invest in new equipment.  This was a carefully negotiated bi-partisan agreement, but more needs to be done to protect the poorest of the poor, the sick, elderly and disabled who cannot defend themselves from a troubled economy

    On housing, the House economic stimulus package includes an expansion of financing options for people who risk losing their homes through foreclosure.  This is another step in the right direction.  Last October, the Ways and Means Committee passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act in order to lighten the tax bill for families facing foreclosure.  This new law eliminated a tax rule that said when a lender forgives some part of a families’ mortgage in foreclosure, that forgiven debt must be taxed as if it was income for that taxpayer.  This was wrong.  It made a bad situation worse, and it was done away with. 

    Just as our economy needs stability, so do our families.  In many ways the economic crisis we face is tied to the health care crisis.  For too many Americans, serious illness along with inadequate or nonexistent health care coverage means they can’t pay the hospital, the electric company, their mortgage, and they can’t make it to work.  This simply must change.

    For Americans to be confident in the economy, they need to see true and trustworthy leadership.  We need to answer tougher questions on everyone’s mind.  How will we balance the Nation’s checkbook?  How will people get health care when they need it?  How will people afford retirement when that day comes?  Since January 2001, the gross national debt has increased by $3.4 trillion and we have borrowed $1.2 trillion from overseas.  Americans understand this puts our economy on rocky footing.  This makes it difficult to strengthen our social and economic safety net - Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. 

    I believe Congress can act quickly to pass more legislation that helps keep Georgians on their feet, in their homes, and working in our economy.  As this new Session of Congress begins, I am ready to work on important legislation and will continue to press for progress in making health care, housing and education more affordable.

    Largest Increase in Veterans’ Health Care in History

    Last week, $3.7 billion in additional veterans funding provided by Congress made it to the Department of Veterans Affairs so it could provide real relief to our Veterans.  With the release of today’s funds, the 110th Congress has provided an extra $6.7 billion over last year for the largest single veterans health funding increase in the 77-year history of the Department. 

    This funding will be used to:

    • Strengthen quality health care for 5.8 million patients, including about 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, in the 5th year of the war in Iraq
    • Invest in much-needed maintenance for VA health care facilities and treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury for returning veterans
    • Reduce the backlog of veterans (400,000 claims) waiting for their earned benefits by adding 1,800 claims processors
    • Build on the first steps by this Congress at the beginning of 2007 -- increasing veterans’ health care and benefits by $5.2 billion for improved care and shorter waiting lines for veterans waiting 177 days to receive their earned benefits

    House Passes Measure to Revitalize Public Housing:

    Housing is one of our most basic human needs, yet too many Americans are left out in the cold and are unable to finding safe, healthy, affordable housing. On January 17th, the House of Representatives took an important step to shore up our Nation’s affordable housing supply through passage of a strong Hope VI re-authorization bill. The Hope VI grant program revitalizes severely distressed public housing projects and uses public and private funding to create mixed-income housing communities. In fact, this program has been a key to generating private investment in affordable housing and for every federal dollar invested, Hope VI has leveraged at least two private sector dollars. This Hope VI bill extends the program for eight years, through 2015, and will increase the program’s authorization to $800 million per year.

    I voted in favor of this legislation because it extends this important program and does more to protect tenants and to promote environmentally friendly rebuilding policies. Since a major component of the Hope VI program is the destruction of distressed public housing buildings, there is now a one-for-one replacement requirement, which will guarantee no net loss in affordable housing units even as old units are torn down. For every unit shut down, there must be another unit constructed to replace it. Also, the bill requires public housing agencies develop a temporary relocation plan that provides comparable housing for all relocated residents, assists residents in transitioning to the private rental market with housing choice vouchers or provides for housing opportunities in neighborhoods with lower concentrations of poverty.

    I am a strong supporter of protecting the environment and reducing our energy costs, by using environmentally friendly construction practices. Earlier in this Congress I helped introduce legislation to support green building practices and I am very encouraged that this new Hope VI legislation adopts some of the same practices I proposed. The bill requires that all HOPE VI replacement housing projects be built in accord with the national Green Communities criteria checklist or a substantially equivalent standard as determined by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Green Communities is a widely-utilized industry standard for green affordable housing and is already required or used by a number of cities and states across the country. Studies have found that the cost of incorporating green standards is only between 2 to 4 percent – and the increased energy efficiency leads to lower utility costs for residents and less energy used. This bill provides a strong investment in our environment and will create healthier affordable housing communities.

    HOPE VI projects have helped transform and revitalize communities across the country. I believe this new legislation makes necessary changes to an important tool for changing distressed housing across the country and I look forward to continued progress as we update America’s affordable housing.

    To read more about this legislation click here:  http://www.speaker.gov/legislation?id=0155

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