Capitol News from Senator Richard Burr
Message From Senator Burr
Greetings from Washington! It has been a busy Spring in our nation’s capital. I’ve been pleased to see that thousands of North Carolinians have visited my Washington, DC office and the U.S. Capitol. I am continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress to find solutions to many of the problems facing North Carolinians today, including improving the lives of our nation’s veterans and soldiers, addressing the growing concerns about our economy and making sure we are providing a good education to all of our nation’s students.
Improving the Economy
As I hear from people in North Carolina, concerns about the economy continue to be brought up. People are concerned by the continuing fluctuation in the financial markets, the housing market and high gas prices. Our economy was in need of a boost, and the President signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 on February 13. This law provides many American taxpayers with rebates ranging from $300 to $1200. The U.S. Treasury will begin sending rebate checks to approximately 3.9 million North Carolina households beginning in May. Most Americans will receive their rebates simply by having filed a 2007 tax return that meets the rebate requirements. If you have any questions about whether or not you will receive a check, please feel free to contact my office. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service has information on its web site. The Treasury Department has issued a helpful fact sheet as well.
Increasing our Energy Independence and Finding New Resources
I know that energy prices are on the minds of many North Carolinians these days. As someone who drives across our state regularly, I know the price at the pump has caused a strain on every North Carolinian’s budget, and we need to address this problem.
In February, I was invited to speak at the Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University about how to solve many of our energy problems, both in the state and nationally. Our energy challenges have changed dramatically since I began my service in Congress in the mid 1990s. The days of 40-dollar a barrel oil is not something we are likely to see again because of increased competition for energy resources. As a result, I believe it is in our interest to develop new, efficient technologies for renewable sources of energy and to use American supplies of traditional sources of energy. To work on this, the federal government will need to provide incentives for investment in conventional sources of energy and also help research and develop new sources.
Last year, the President signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which will require the U.S. to develop more of our own energy resources. The act sends a clear message that the federal government is serious about developing new energy resources and the good news is, many companies have already begun to look at new sources of energy. This increase in research and development will be beneficial to North Carolina, both with our outstanding research capabilities and when you fill up your car or truck.
Reducing Wasteful Government Spending
I continue to believe that the best way to keep our economy growing is to keep our taxes low and to keep government spending under control. Unfortunately, Congress missed a chance earlier this year to ban spending earmarks in the FY 2009 budget. I have long believed that the process of airdropping earmarks in Congressional spending bills has gotten out of control. Congress should debate spending items in an open and transparent way and I was disappointed the Senate missed an opportunity for earmark reform this year. Americans deserve a government that spends their money wisely and I will continue to work to reduce waste, promote efficiency, and bring transparency to federal government spending.
Expanding North Carolina's Economy
The continued growth and development of North Carolina’s economy is very important, and to help keep it growing, I am looking forward to hosting workshops again this year as part of my ongoing Economic Development series. These workshops focus on increasing access to federal resources and provide more effective grant writing skills for North Carolina's small businesses and communities.
For more information, please call my Washington, DC office. You can also sign-up for The Burr Bulletin, an electronic newsletter dedicated to federal grant news and information. The bulletin will announce grant opportunities and key information regarding federal grant programs. To register, go to http://burr.senate.gov/bb.
Veterans and the Military
Modernizing the Veterans Disability System
I believe it is our duty to honor our veterans and ensure they get the assistance they have been promised. The current veterans’ disability system is confusing and outdated. We can do better. Many people were outraged by the stories in the news that described the substandard conditions our veterans faced in hospitals like Walter Reed and how they endured lengthy and hard to understand processes to get their needed benefits. With this in mind, I have introduced a bill designed to simplify and modernize the veterans’ disability system. Some of our veterans are returning home from war with devastating injuries and they deserve a disability system that helps them return to civilian life with as little hassle as possible so they can lead full and productive lives. The America’s Wounded Warriors Act (S.2674) would cut out red tape and quickly provide the benefits and services our veterans need by eliminating redundant procedures and updating the disability rating schedule to meet modern needs.
Providing Better Education Benefits and Improved Brain Injury Treatment for Veterans
Earlier this year, President Bush signed H.R.4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. This law improves veterans’ benefits including the enhancement of education benefits for members of the Guard and Reserves. Under this new law, National Guard and Reserve members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan can now receive full education benefits after three total years of active duty service. With potential additional payments available to them, their benefits could cover over 90% of the cost of a four-year public college education, including tuition, fees, room, and board.
The new law also focused on providing additional health care services and research programs for veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop individual treatment plans for patients suffering from TBI, and to provide long-term case management services for those patients. In March, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard testimony from several family members of servicemen wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom who suffered from TBI. That hearing reminded us again that veterans and their families have tremendous needs, and I believe these initiatives are a start in the right direction.
Improving Mental Health Treatment for Veterans
I believe that our current VA system is not adequately helping our veterans who suffer from mental health disorders. Currently, the Veterans Health Administration, charged with treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the Veterans Benefits Administration, charged with providing disability benefits, are isolated from one another and many times, a veteran’s medical treatment will suffer. To fix this, I introduced the Veterans Mental Health Treatment First Act (S.2573) earlier this year. It aims to place a greater emphasis on treating veterans with mental health disorders by providing wellness incentives for veterans to seek treatment. The voluntary program will give veterans an incentive to get treatment for PTSD and other mental health disorders before worrying about their disability claims. We owe it to our veterans to focus on their recovery and return to productive lives as a first priority. I believe this bill starts us down that path.
Making Progress in Iraq
The gains we have made in Iraq over the past year have been very encouraging. Gen. David Petraeus and the brave men and women who are fighting in Iraq are to be commended for the progress they have achieved in the country, and Americans should be proud of their hard work.
I am pleased that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his government have recently passed a de-Baathification law that will allow former mid-level Baath party members to re-enter political and civic life. Other encouraging signs from the Iraqi government include the enactment of a pension law for Sunnis who were promised retirement benefits and an announced plan to reform the food rationing system in Iraq. Progress is not just limited to government initiatives, business registrations and investment are up, as is the production of oil.
While these are encouraging signs, the reality is that Iraq is still fragile and susceptible to attacks. I want our troops to come home as soon as possible, and I hope to see some U.S. forces begin to come home over the next few months, but it is important that they leave an Iraq that can govern and defend itself and we are closer to reaching that than ever before.
Encouraging More Kids to Graduate from High School
The growing crisis of America’s high school dropout rates is a big concern to me. 80 percent of America’s high school dropouts are concentrated in only fifteen states, and North Carolina is one of them. Surprisingly, over 30% of North Carolina’s public high school students never graduate. We must do more to keep our kids in school. That is why I support the efforts of groups like America’s Promise Alliance who recently announced an extensive program to help raise awareness of the growing dropout rate and find solutions.
Additionally, I introduced the Graduate for a Better Future Act (S.765) last year. This bill attempts to help public high schools keep kids in school by focusing on 3 “R’s” - rigor, relevance, and relationships. We need to encourage public high schools to develop a challenging curriculum that prepares students for college and work, offer academic catch-up programs, and develop a more comprehensive college guidance program. By implementing some of these initiatives, we can help turn the troubling numbers around and keep our kids in school, which will better prepare students for college, work, and life in more competitive world marketplace.
Spring has arrived in our nation’s capital and the cherry blossoms are blooming all around our national monuments and buildings. If you are planning to visit to Washington, D.C. this Spring, please don’t hesitate to call my office to schedule a tour of the U.S. Capitol or other historic sites. And when you are in Washington, please stop by my office and say hello. We'd be glad to see you. Additionally, my office is happy to help you if you are having difficulty with a federal government agency or having trouble locating federal government services. As always, my offices in Asheville, Gastonia, Rocky Mount, Wilmington and Winston-Salem are available to you to assist you with any problems you might have.
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