Capitol News from Senator Richard Burr

Message From Senator Burr

Greetings from Washington!  I hope that you and your loved ones had a safe and happy Holiday Season. 

Despite the cold weather, things have really been heating up in our nation’s capitol over the past few months.  As we enter the 111th Congress, I anticipate very important votes that will impact the future of our nation, including the possibility of a second economic stimulus package.  From the economic crisis to veterans health care access, there is a lot going on in Washington that affects you and your family.

News Update

Loans to the Auto Industry

Before Christmas, President Bush announced that he has approved a loan of up to $13.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler, with the potential for another $4 billion down the road. In my opinion, the loan terms are weak and put American taxpayer dollars at great risk.  Although the loan terms do require both General Motors and Chrysler to put forward plans to become financially viable companies, the loans lack definite terms and the provisions and concessions are all non-binding.

Last month, when the U.S. Senate voted on a similar proposal, I voted against its consideration.  I wanted to ensure that in order to receive federal support, the automobile manufacturers needed to have restructuring plans in place that would make them competitive in the global marketplace.    

While I have a deep appreciation for the automakers’ place in our American heritage, recent history has shown that if the auto industry is to succeed in a global economy, company management and union leadership will have to make fundamental changes to their broken business model.  These problems will not be fixed by simply writing another check.  If the American automotive companies are to succeed, they need to fundamentally restructure with everything on the table for renegotiation.

Providing Increased Benefits For America's Veterans

We owe our nation’s veterans a huge debt of gratitude and one of my top priorities as Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is to ensure that they receive the assistance and care they have earned. 

I am very proud to announce that two new VA outpatient clinics have been approved for North Carolina.  One will be in the Edenton-Elizabeth City area and the other will be in Goldsboro.  In addition to these clinics, which will open in 2010, two others will open next year in Lumberton and Rutherfordton.  Giving our veterans expanded access to world-class health care is one of our most important responsibilities.  As more and more veterans move to North Carolina, we have a growing need for clinics, and I look forward to working with the VA in finding more areas in our state that can use new facilities and help bring needed care to all our veterans.

I am also proud to announce that we made great strides in veterans care and benefits over the past several months.  In September, President Bush signed S. 2617, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2008, into law.  This law directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase benefits by the same percentage as the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) provided to Social Security recipients and VA pension beneficiaries.  That increase of 5.8% became effective on December 1, 2008. 

The President also signed S. 2162, The Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act which included a provision I drafted to assist veterans at risk of homelessness by providing them with supportive services.  This law will ensure that veterans suffering from substance abuse and mental health disorders receive quality, coordinated treatment for both conditions.

Additionally, the Senate passed S. 3023, the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008.  I was proud to fight for several provisions in this bill including one that would extend from 10 to 20 years the time within which spouses of severely disabled veterans are able to receive VA educational assistance.

Introduction of Kids' Passport Program

In early December, National Park Service (NPS) Director Mary Bomar and I had the pleasure of unveiling a project we have been cooperating on that I am very excited about.  Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion, is a book we designed to promote an active interest in America’s history and natural environment by encouraging children to visit our national parks. 

At an event at John Eaton Elementary School in Washington, Director Bomar and I presented the book to its target audience, a group of 110 schoolchildren.  When I came up with the idea for the Kids’ Passport to Your National Parks Companion, I envisioned it as a way to combat children’s increasing disconnection from America’s natural environment.  Similar to the existing NPS Passport Program, the book encourages schoolchildren to experience the beauty and history of their country by visiting our 391 National Parks, monuments, battlefields, and historic places.  Upon visiting a park, children can have their passport stamped and write down memories and notes from their visit.

Too often today, America’s youth find their entertainment on television and computers, and hopefully this passport book will help kids realize all the fun there is to be had outdoors.  I hope this idea will excite a whole generation of young Americans about the beauty and history of our nation.  The book will be available for purchase through Eastern National, a non-profit association whose proceeds benefit NPS, and will be sold at most national park sites nationwide.

Inauguration Ceremony Information

On January 20, our nation’s capital will celebrate the excitement and pageantry of the 56th Presidential Inauguration. Every four years, my office receives many requests from North Carolinians who want to witness the swearing in of our president, and this year was no exception. My office has received thousands of requests to attend this year’s inauguration.  Unfortunately, the number of requests we have received far exceeds the number of tickets my office will be assigned.

While we will not be able to accommodate every ticket request, I encourage any North Carolinian wishing to attend to come to Washington to witness the ceremony from the general admission viewing area.  While the area for ticketed viewers is small, the National Park Service has announced that the whole National Mall will be open for attendees without tickets.  For information on these events, and to help plan your trip, please visit http://inaugural.senate.gov.  Additional information can be found on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's website, http://www.pic2009.org.

As always, I also encourage all North Carolinians who are visiting Washington, DC to stop by my office to say hello and warm up from the chilly January weather.  We’re always glad to see you.

In Conclusion

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.   My office is glad to help North Carolinians solve any problems with the federal government and help you set up a tour of many of the sites here in Washington, including the U.S. Capitol.  If you are ever in our nation’s capitol, I encourage you to stop by my office in Washington, D.C. and say hello.  I also encourage you to contact my offices in Asheville, Gastonia, Rocky Mount, Wilmington or Winston-Salem if you are having difficulty with a federal government agency or having trouble locating federal government services.  We are always happy to assist you.