08.08.07

Capitol News from Senator Richard Burr

Message From Senator Burr

Hello from Washington!  I hope you and your family are enjoying your summer.  Last week Congress concluded its work before the August recess. In this issue of my quarterly newsletter, I hope to provide you an update on health care, education, veterans and the military, homeland security, and agriculture issues.

News Update

Health Care

Providing Access to Health Insurance for All

One of my greatest fears is that continuing high health care costs will force companies to dump their employee health care plans and millions of Americans and their families will be left without health care insurance. We must prevent this dangerous scenario by giving individuals control over their health care so they do not have to rely on their employers or the government for their health care.

In order to meet the health care needs of North Carolina's families, I introduced the Every American Insured Health Act that would provide all Americans - regardless of age, income or employer - with access to affordable, high-quality health insurance through the free market. The plan provides an avenue to ensure all Americans have health care coverage thereby reducing the number of uninsured Americans and lowering health care costs for all citizens. The proposal gives every American the right and resources to purchase health care in the free market and encourages individuals to take control of their own health.

I believe personal freedom means owning your own health care without the fear of losing your job, your employer taking your insurance away, or being forced into a government-run health care plan. We encourage all Americans to own their own homes, so why don't we encourage people to own their own health care?

This plan would ensure every American has access to affordable, quality health insurance through the free market. Under this plan, the millions of American who are currently uninsured would have access to coverage in the free market. The Every American Insured Health Act provides every American with a refundable, advanceable flat tax credit of $2,160 per individual and $5,400 per family that gives them the freedom to choose the health care plan that best meets their needs. The plan is budget neutral and puts an end to unfair discrimination in the IRS tax code that only benefits health coverage offered by employers and that disproportionately subsidizes Americans with more costly health plans and with higher incomes.

The plan also improves health insurance affordability in state marketplaces by turning patients into shoppers and giving them buying power. As millions of uninsured Americans purchase coverage for the first time, health care costs for all Americans will decline. The Every American Insured Health Act also creates the pathway for statewide insurance pools to reduce costs and help high risk individuals access affordable coverage."

Ensuring a Healthy Start for Babies 

In July I also introduced the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2007 with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The bill continues the very successful Healthy Start program, which supports activities to help reduce infant mortality. Healthy Start is a practical government program that saves lives, saves money, and helps to ensure our nation's children have a bright future.  When women do not receive adequate prenatal care, they are much more likely to have babies with low birth weights and other health complications. Healthy Start ensures high-risk mothers and babies have the resources they need to begin life in good health.

Education

Improving No Child Left Behind

As a parent, I believe education should be one of our top priorities. After listening to teachers, parents and community leaders I joined with Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to introduce legislation that would improve the original No Child Left Behind Act.  Our bill protects the important parts of No Child Left Behind like accountability and its focus on ensuring all children, regardless of background, get a good education, while responding to legitimate concerns about the original law. We must not turn away from the positive reforms we began when we passed the original No Child Left Behind legislation. In an increasingly competitive global economy, all our children must be equipped with the academic skills needed to succeed.

Increasing High School Graduation Rates

My No Child Left Behind Act of 2007 includes the Graduate for a Better Future Act, a bill  I introduced earlier this year to ensure more young people stay in school and graduate with a high school diploma. This bill will create models of excellence for academically rigorous high schools; implement accelerated academic catch-up programs for students who enter high school behind in skills; put in place an early warning system to quickly identify students at risk of dropping out of high school; and establish programs that offer students opportunities in job-shadowing, internships, and community service so that they are better able to make connections between what they are learning in school and how it applies in the workplace.

Veterans and the Military

Iraq

I remain committed to bringing our troops home as soon as possible, but not if it means U.S. forces would be required to return to Iraq to end a humanitarian crisis or genocide.  I do not support an artificial, arbitrary deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces that does not take into account the potentially devastating consequences of a quick withdrawal or that ignores the current success of the campaign against al-Qaeda. Decisions about troop levels in Iraq should be made by the Commander-in-Chief and the generals in Iraq, not by politicians in Washington.

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In September, the military will deliver a report to Congress detailing progress made in achieving our goals in Iraq. Preliminary reports indicate that the United States has been successful in fighting Al-Qaeda and insurgent groups working to destabilize the country.  We owe it to our troops and to the Iraqis to allow the Baghdad security plan time to work.

Combating Veterans' Homelessness

I believe it is unacceptable that some of our veterans are homeless and many more live in extreme poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.5 million of our Nation's veterans live in poverty. North Carolina is home to over 770,000 veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it is estimated that there are over 40,000 North Carolina veterans living below the national poverty level.

Earlier this year, I introduced the Services to Prevent Veterans Homelessness Act of 2007.  The Veterans Affairs Committee approved my legislation as part of a legislative package on June 27.  My legislation provides supportive services to keep low-income veterans in permanent housing so they do not become homeless. It will increase veterans' access to assistance for housing, physical and mental health services, health insurance, and vocational and financial counseling. We must honor our veterans' service to our country and make certain that these soldiers are not forgotten when they return home.

Homeland Security

Securing Our Borders and Reforming our Immigration System

Fixing our broken immigration system should be a top priority. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if we don't secure our borders, ten million more illegal immigrants will move into the United States over the next twenty years. I believe Congress must address immigration reform and I was disappointed that we could not find a solution and pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation earlier this year. In the immediate future, I believe we must enforce the immigration laws already on the books and the Senate should consider immigration reform proposals that  have broad bi-partisan support.

I supported an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act that will require the President to hire 23,000 new border patrol agents and demonstrate operational control over 100% of the international border with Mexico within the next two years.  The amendment also provided $3 billion in emergency funding for border security.  I look forward to providing our border patrol with this important funding.

Protecting our Food Supply

We need to make sure our food supply is safe. North Carolina is home to over 17 million chickens, 9 million hogs, and 800,000 cows.  A disease could spread very quickly and require a mass slaughter of livestock, which would be economically devastating to farmers and grocers.  Furthermore, livestock is routinely shipped from farm to farm and state to state, making early detection very important to containing outbreaks. 

On July 17 I introduced the National Agriculture and Food Defense Act of 2007, which would help protect our nation's livestock, and the food they provide, from a biological attack.  The bill would require the federal government to develop a national strategy for defending our agriculture and food system, provide money and support to state agencies, improve communication between businesses and government, and create a network of laboratories to more quickly detect outbreaks.  The legislation would also define the Secretary of Homeland Security as the lead coordinator should a national emergency arise.  This legislation would give the farmers and the government the tools they need to quickly detect and contain a disease, potentially saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

Agriculture

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions recently passed legislation under which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would regulate tobacco and tobacco products.  The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) would require the FDA to regulate existing tobacco products and approve any new tobacco product before it could be sold in the United States.  The bill was approved by the committee by a vote of 13 - 8.

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I am disappointed this misguided bill passed out of Committee.  The FDA is already strapped in making sure drugs, food and medical devices are safe. It does not make sense to redirect the agency from that mission to further regulate tobacco. The FDA is currently tasked with assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary medical products, foods, and cosmetics.  If passed by the Senate, this legislation would redirect scientists away from the agency's core mission of evaluating lifesaving drugs to concentrate on regulating tobacco.  With fewer employees to review applications for new drugs and medical devices, approval times for medications and medical devices will lag even further behind. 

Furthermore, this legislation will not result in a reduced risk cigarette.  It will effectively chill the development of new, perhaps reduced risk, tobacco products as the cost and regulatory burden of bringing a new, reduced risk, cigarette to market skyrockets.  I support regulations that curtail youth smoking and could have supported legislation to do that.  I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to find a practical way to improve tobacco products in a way that makes sense and does not harm North Carolina's farmers.

In Conclusion

If you are one of the many families visiting Washington, D.C. this summer, please call my office to arrange a tour of the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and other famous sites.  If you are having difficulty with a federal government agency or having trouble locating federal government services do not hesitate to give my office a call.  I always enjoy hearing from people from home, so if you find yourself in Washington, please stop by my office to say hello.  I am grateful North Carolinians have given me the opportunity to serve my state in the U.S. Senate.