Message From Senator Burr
In this first edition of my quarterly newsletter, I am highlighting some of the issues under debate in the Senate that directly affect North Carolinians. These issues include: supporting our military and veterans, increasing access to affordable health care, improving emergency public health preparedness, strengthening public education, comprehensive immigration reform, and soaring gas prices.
The election for a permanent Iraqi government successfully took place on December 15, 2005, and 70%% of the Iraqi people turned out, up from the 60% for the October 2005 constitutional referendum. While I am committed to bringing our troops home as quickly as possible, I believe it is in the best interest of the Iraqi people, the United States, and global security that we remain committed to defeating terrorism and supporting a democratic Iraq. Rebuilding Iraq is not an easy process but anything short of finishing the job will hurt our country and the cause of freedom. It is my hope Iraq becomes a beacon of peace and prosperity in the troubled Middle East region.
In August, I traveled to Iraq and was impressed by the men and women in uniform I met who are dedicated to getting the job done. They continue to train the Iraqi security forces and protect the country's infrastructure against terrorism in a struggle that may not end as quickly as we hope. I am grateful for the sacrifices our troops are making to keep our country safe, and I pray for their safe return. The commitment of our troops is why we should provide our military with the best equipment, a good quality of life for our military families, and increased pay. I will continue to work to provide the resources and support our troops need to complete their mission.
Estimates show that over 780,000 veterans live in North Carolina. There are some changes that will provide more health care to this growing veteran population. In 2006, a VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic will open in Hamlet, and pending the approval of their business plans, VA clinics will open in both Hickory and Franklin in the coming year. Between 2006 and 2012, an additional six VA clinics are scheduled to open in North Carolina. I am pleased the VA recognizes our rapidly growing veteran population and I will continue to push for increased health care funding for our veterans while I serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
In November, I introduced the Services to Prevent Veterans Homelessness Act to provide services to help keep low-income veterans in permanent housing. The legislation would increase veterans' access to assistance for housing, physical and mental health services, health insurance, and vocational and financial counseling. In addition, I introduced the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act which provides grants for the VA to partner with state and local governments to increase outreach to veterans and their families on benefits.
I believe everyone should have access to affordable health care. On March 7, I introduced a bill to encourage greater health care insurance coverage by providing an above-the-line tax deduction for individuals who purchase their own health or long-term care insurance. The current law provides an above-the-line tax deduction for self-employed individuals who purchase health insurance; however, non-self employed individuals who purchase their individual health insurance are not eligible for this deduction. My legislation provides an above-the-line deduction for any type of health insurance purchased by an individual.
This year every American with Medicare, regardless of income, health status, or prescription drug usage was given access to prescription drug coverage under the new Medicare Part D program. Over 69% of North Carolina's Medicare beneficiaries have enrolled in a prescription drug plan. The deadline to enroll in a 2006 Medicare prescription drug plan and pay lower premiums is May 15, 2006. I encourage seniors not enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan to pick a plan before the May 15 enrollment deadline. For more information, go to Medicare.gov.
Public Health Preparedness/BARDA
America must be better prepared to respond to deliberate, accidental or natural disasters. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health, I introduced the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006. This legislation would reorganize activities at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services into the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). BARDA would build partnerships with researchers and businesses to rapidly develop new drugs and vaccines to protect citizens from deliberate, accidental and natural medical incidents involving biological pathogens, such as bird flu, as well as chemical and radiological agents. North Carolina has the third largest biotech industry in the United States. Our biotech industry along with our fine research universities is poised to benefit from these efforts.
I believe investing in education is one of the best ways to secure a bright future for North Carolina. In March, I introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Education Flexibility Partnership Act (Ed-Flex). In late March, President Bush signed the legislation into law. Ed-Flex was created to help schools implement education reforms and raise student achievement levels by providing more flexibility in the implementation of federal education programs. In return for the additional flexibility, states which participate in the program must demonstrate enhanced accountability for the performance of students. The Ed-Flex waivers in North Carolina are helping local school systems improve student achievement while meeting federal No Child Left Behind requirements in a number of ways.
I believe comprehensive immigration reform is necessary and needed, especially border security. As a nation, we have welcomed generations of legal immigrants over the course of our history--immigrants who respect the law and contribute a great deal to our country, but as I have said before I do not believe we should reward those who are here illegally with an automatic path to citizenship. I remain hopeful the Senate will find a common sense approach to border security legislation and comprehensive immigration reform and vote on this important issue soon.
Soaring gasoline and energy prices are a strain on the family budget. I believe conservation is a key to reducing these costs. As gas prices continue to rise, I encourage North Carolinians to be more energy efficient by driving the speed limit, riding to work with a friend, and combining several errands in one trip. If every American reduces their energy consumption by just three percent, we could see a significant decline in costs. For helpful links see www.burr.senate.gov.
I believe we need to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy and promote a diverse mix of domestic sources of energy that will come from renewable sources. In October, Senator Allen and I introduced the Affordable and Reliable Gas Act of 2005 legislation to help decrease U.S. vulnerability to gasoline price spikes by reducing the number of available special fuel blends on the market, commonly known as boutique fuels, and consolidating the number of clean fuel blends.
I am monitoring the gasoline markets for any pricing irregularities. If you feel that pricing irregularities are occurring in your community, I strongly suggest you contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office at (877) 5-NO-SCAM to report any improprieties.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve North Carolina in the U.S. Senate. My office is glad to help North Carolinians solve problems with the federal government. If you are planning a visit to Washington, D.C. please do not hesitate to contact my office to set up tours of the U.S. Capitol and other sites. Finally, while in DC please stop by my office and say hello.