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Facing the Challenges of Our Economy; Progress on Energy and Transportation

In This Issue

  • New Protections for Credit Cardholders

  • House Passes "All of the Above" Energy Reform Compromise - Bush, Republicans Refuse Again, risk America's Energy Security

  • Lewis Leads House in Saving Transportation Funding, Jobs

  • Congressman Lewis Chairs Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Workers' Pensions

  • Congress Strengthens Protections for Disabled against Discrimination

  • Senate Holds Hearing on Bus Safety, Lewis' Motorcoach Safety Bill

  • Congress Eliminates Discrimination in Healthcare Coverage of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Disorders

  • Check Your Paycheck: Minimum Wage Increase

  • Do You Suspect Price Gouging or Deceptive Practices at the Gas Pump?

  • Additional Legislation Passed by the House
  • Dear Friends,

    We are facing the worst financial situation since the Great Depression. Wall Street has been allowed to run wild, with no oversight from the Treasury Department and the Bush Administration, and now we are seeing the results of that hands-off policy and we are paying the price. I have heard from hundreds of constituents over the past few days about the crisis in our financial markets. People are concerned and angry, and they should be.

    I share the frustration of Georgians who have been watching the foreclosure rates in our state going up and up. People are looking down the street and seeing three, five, seven houses for sale or abandoned right in their own community. You should know that on November 4, 1999, I was one of just 57 members of Congress out of 435 to vote against the Financial Services Modernization Act, which effectively deregulated the banking, securities and insurance industries. When I cast that vote, I did not have faith that the system would work for the majority of Americans. Now, I am skeptical that we can reverse history overnight and claim to act on behalf of working people by passing a hasty proposal crafted by the Bush Administration.

    I have many questions. The discussions on this issue are still on-going, and we still do not know what the final package will entail.  We know this is a very serious crisis. It runs deeply throughout our economy, through your homes, your banks, and your employers. We cannot run and hide. Every branch of the federal government must work to see how we can help remedy this crisis. Even so we must not and should not give Wall Street a blank check; it's not fair to the American taxpayer.  People who fell prey to some of the same unscrupulous lenders who helped destabilize this market are struggling to pay their mortgages, and the Bush Administration was reluctant to lend them a hand.

    If we can find a way to bail out Wall Street, we must help the people struggling on Main Street.  People are losing their jobs, their homes, and struggling without health care.  No one has come to their rescue, but yet overnight we are pressed to come to the aid of Wall Street. We must protect and invest in the American taxpayer. We must keep people in their homes, and we must not reward the CEOs who got us into this mess.  We must protect the resources of the American people to ensure that their tax dollars are available to give them the services they require, not siphoned off to pay for the failures of private industry.

    Sincerely,

    John Lewis

    Member of Congress


    New Protections for Credit Cardholders

    With credit markets tightening and financial institutions looking to maintain earnings on the backs of American consumers, Congressman Lewis voted on a bill today that will make it a little bit easier for people to stay out of debt and guarantee that people are treated in a fair, proper and forthright way when they use their credit cards. Congressman Lewis voted in favor of a very important bill, H.R. 5244, the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2008. The credit card industry is just one more example of an industry that has been allowed to run wild at the expense of people who work hard to pay their bills.

    The bill passed today protects credit cardholders against unfair, but unfortunately common, credit card industry practices.  Among other things, the bill:

    • ends unfair and arbitrary interest rate increases,
    • ends unfair penalties for cardholders who pay on time,
    • protects cardholders from due date gimmicks that lead to late payments,
    • requires credit card companies to fairly allocate consumer payments, so that cardholders can pay off their high-rate debt first,
    • and protects vulnerable consumers from high-fee sub-prime credit cards.

    See a detailed description of this bill and how it might help you be treated more fairly by credit card companies.


    House Passes "All of the Above" Energy Reform Compromise - Bush, Republicans Refuse Again, risk America's Energy Security

    On September 16th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Comprehensive American Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act. This legislation is a short-term compromise with a long-term vision. The people of this nation are hurting each time they fill up their cars at the gas pumps. I have listened to my constituents who tell me about the pain they are suffering, and Congress has responded. Gas prices are burning a hole in peoples' pocket books. We need to do what we can to get this economy back on track and make sure that Americans can pay their mortgages, put food on their tables, and take care of the basic necessities of life.

    This bill would bring American consumers more energy security and economic relief by expanding renewable sources of energy to lower prices, ending tax subsidies to Big Oil and making sure that companies drilling on public lands pay proper royalties.  The bill also takes aggressive steps towards ethics reform, ending the cozy relationship between many regulation and enforcement officials and top oil and gas executives. 

    Most importantly, this bill could create jobs for American workers, especially in the renewable energy sector.   The bill provides for new and expanded tax incentives for renewable sources of electricity like wind, solar and bio-fuel; incentives for energy efficient homes, buildings and appliances; and low-income heating assistance provisions that make sure senior citizens on fixed incomes as well as the poor and the jobless, are not left out in the cold this winter.

    There will always be more work to be done, but this bill starts our nation on the long and challenging road to comprehensive energy reform.


    Lewis Leads House in Saving Transportation Funding, Jobs

    On Wednesday, July 23rd, Congressman Lewis led the Congressional debate on H.R. 6532, the Highway Trust Fund Restoration Act.  This legislation passed by a vote of 387 to 37, and the President signed it into law on September 15, 2008.  

    H.R. 6532 does not cost any additional money but simply restores $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, the federal account that finances the nation's state and local road and transit initiatives.  These dollars were transferred out of the Trust Fund at a time when there was a surplus; that surplus has dried up and there is a shortfall. Without this bill Georgia would lose $400 million and 14,000 jobs .

    Learn More:


    Congressman Lewis Chairs Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Workers' Pensions

    On Wednesday, September 24, 2008, Congressman Lewis will hold a hearing to examine the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), which is responsible for insuring pension benefits for tens of millions of workers, who are depending on a well-financed, well-managed corporation that ensures that retirees have the benefits they earned after a lifetime of work.  Congressman Lewis is concerned that the PBGC is reporting billions in funding deficits and lacks the kind of internal leadership necessary to operate such a large corporation.  He is also concerned that the PBGC has looked toward the stock market for higher investment returns on pension plan assets to shrink its deficit at a time when the country is struggling to prevent the collapse of our financial markets.

    "These pension benefits represent a promise, a sacred promise.  People who go to work everyday for years and years expect that the benefits promised by employers will be their when they retire.  The funding for these pensions is not something that corporations and their investors should overlook or treat like something they can dump on the taxpayer during tough times.  We must have a system in place that encourages employers to offer defined benefit pensions, that keeps the system healthy, and meets obligations to workers first," Congressman Lewis said.

    PBGC is funded by insurance premiums paid by plan sponsors, assets received from terminated plans, and investment income from PBGC assets.  As of September 30, 2007, PBGC reported a deficit of $13.1 billion in the single-employer pension insurance program and a deficit of $955 million in the multi-employer pension insurance program.  While the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 specifically states that the U.S. government is not obligated to pay PBGC's obligations, PBGC's 2007 Annual Report states that, if the corporation fails to address its deficit, eventually plan sponsors, participants, and "possibly taxpayers" will bear the burden.  In the 2007 Annual Report, PBGC estimates that there is only a 23 percent chance of reaching full funding within the next ten years.

    In July 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) designated PBGC's single-employer pension insurance program as a "high-risk" program that needs broad-based transformations and warrants Congressional attention.  In January 2007, GAO continued to list PBGC as a "high risk" area and noted in its High Risk Series that PBGC-insured plans had cumulative underfunding of $350 billion, including $73 billion in plans sponsored by financially weak firms.  In addition, GAO has investigated and issued recommendations with respect to various aspects of PBGC's operations, including reports on the investment strategy and governance structure. 

    Congress Strengthens Protections for Disabled against Discrimination

    Last week, Congress restored the promise it made to disabled Americans: they will be free to work without discrimination. Since the bipartisan passage of the ADA in 1990, the Supreme Court has eroded many of those protections and denied disabled Americans the equal opportunity, independence and full participation that they were intended to have. Last week, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008, which rolls back a series of Supreme Court decisions eroding that basic promise.

    The bill clarifies that Congress intended for the ADA to broadly cover anyone who faces unfair discrimination because of a disability. It clarifies the definition of disability and explicitly overturns several court decisions, making clear that the ADA does cover people with disabilities that are treatable with medication or can be addressed with the help of assistive technology.


    Senate Holds Hearing on Bus Safety, Lewis' Motorcoach Safety Bill

    Bill Requires Life-Saving Seatbelts on Buses

    On Thursday, September 18th, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) held a news conference to highlight the need for major safety upgrades on buses and motorcoaches. Following the news conference, Sen. Brown testified at an oversight hearing on bus safety held by the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security.

    On Thursday, July 31st, Congressman Lewis introduced H.R. 6747, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2008.  This legislation is the House companion to a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Brown and Hutchison.

    On March 2, 2007, a chartered bus careened off a closed exit and crashed onto highway I-75 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The passengers, members of the Bluffton University baseball team in Ohio, were traveling to a game in Florida.  Five players died in the crash along with the bus driver and his wife, and 29 others were injured.  Dr. Jeffery Salomone, one of the surgeons at Grady Memorial Hospital, contacted Rep. Lewis' office and was distraught.  He felt that seatbelts could have saved the lives of many of those who died and spared many others from injury.  The tragedy shocked the nation and once again reminded Americans of the importance of highway safety. 

    Congressman Lewis immediately responded to the tragedy by working with appropriators to highlight the issues and mandate reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  He then worked with his Senate colleagues, safety advocates, and the families of the Bluffton University Baseball team in crafting this legislation.  Both the House and Senate have now held hearings on the important issue of motorcoach safety.  

    Learn More About This Bill


    Congress Eliminates Discrimination in Healthcare Coverage of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Disorders

    Today, Congressman Lewis helped pass a bill that will end discrimination by insurance companies against people with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Sending this bill to the President to be signed into law is one of the great achievements of the 110th Congress. This bill makes sure that people with mental health and substance abuse disorders get the same health insurance coverage as people who seek treatment for medical and surgical disorders. The bill does not mandate group health plans provide any mental health coverage. However, if a plan does offer mental health coverage, then group health plans can not charge higher co-payments, coinsurance, deductibles, and impose maximum out-of-pocket limits and lower day and visit limits on mental health and addiction care than for medical and surgical benefits.


    Check Your Paycheck: Minimum Wage Increase

    Last year, Congress passed the first minimum wage increase in nearly 10 years.  Georgia is one of the 25 states whose workers are affected by this new wage rate.  As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Labor Taskforce, I believe this is the first important step to establishing a national livable wage.

    Every July 24th, the minimum wage will gradually increase from $5.85 to $7.25.  The second of the three increases took effect on July 24, 2008 and established the current federal minimum wage to $6.55. The last increase is scheduled for July 24, 2009.

    I encourage you to visit my website to learn more about labor and unemployment issues.


    Do You Suspect Price Gouging or Deceptive Practices at the Gas Pump?

    The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy have increased their efforts to monitor the petroleum market for potentially illegal or anticompetitive behavior such as price-fixing.  But that doesn't stop price-gouging from happening. The Department of Energy (DOE) has put together a website and a hotline (800-244-3301) where consumers may submit complaints about specific gas retailers in their area.  The Federal Trade Commission also maintains a website which describes their oversight of competition within the petroleum industry.

    If you visit your local gas station and the price at the pump is higher than the price at the sign, that's a crime. Under Georgia law, the total cost per gallon, including tax, must appear on the sign in regulation-sized numbers, and it is a misdemeanor to place a higher price on the gas pump or to charge a higher price than is posted on signs, billboards or in other advertising (O.C.G.A. Section 10-1-164). Any law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia can enforce this law and you can also report possible violations to the Fuel and Measures Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which regulates gasoline advertising.  Their phone number is 404-656-3605, and the fax number is 404-656-9648.


    Additional Legislation Passed by the House:

    Week of September 22, 2008:

    H.R. 5352 - Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2008

    H.R. 6853 - Nationwide Mortgage Fraud Task Force Act of 2008

    H.R. 758 - The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007

    S. 1760 - The Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2007

    H.R. 6469 - The Stephanie Tubbs Jones Organ Transplant Authorization Act of 2008

    H.R. 928 - Improving Government Accountability Act

    H.R. 2095 - Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 bill

    Week of September 15, 2008:

    H.R. 2352 - School Safety Enhancements Act of 2007

    H.R. 6625 - Veteran Voting Support Act

     
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