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Republican Leadership Blocks Bipartisan Action On America's Priorities
Republican Leadership Blocks Bipartisan Action On America's Priorities
Today, President Clinton will call on Congress to put progress above partisanship and address America's priorities. Although a bipartisan consensus exists on education and other important issues, Republican leaders have stood in the way. One month of the new fiscal year has passed, and Congress has not completed its work on the 2001 budget. When Republicans have worked with the Administration and congressional Democrats, we have made progress. Together we have passed bills for veterans, housing, agriculture, transportation, and foreign operations; permanent normal trade relations with China; the Older Americans Act; the Ryan White CARE Act, and other important legislation.
THIS YEAR, REPUBLICAN LEADERS HAVE BLOCKED BIPARTISAN EFFORTS TO:
INVEST MORE IN AND DEMAND MORE FROM AMERICA'S SCHOOLS. In February, President Clinton and Vice President Gore sent Congress a balanced and fiscally responsible budget that makes investments in key education priorities and strengthens accountability for results. However, Republican leaders have stood in the way of progress for America's students.
A Record $7.5 Billion Investment in Education. The Clinton-Gore Administration had reached consensus with Republican members of the appropriations and education committees on a landmark education budget. The agreement provided important increases in federal education spending, including the first-ever national emergency school repair initiative, smaller classes with qualified teachers, tougher accountability for failing schools, and a $1.6 billion increase in support for special education through IDEA State Grants. It also included funding to help put a qualified teacher in every classroom and enhance teacher quality through professional development, recruitment, and retention; after-school funding to serve 1.5 million children; and a $500 increase in the maximum Pell grant for low-income students, bringing the maximum grant to $3,800 a year. However, the Republican leadership abandoned that agreement when special interests objected to an unrelated provision regarding workplace repetitive stress injuries.
School Construction. President Clinton has urged Congress to pass the Nancy Johnson-Charles Rangel school odernization bond legislation that has 231 sponsors, a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives. House leaders have consistently prevented a vote on Representatives Johnson and Rangel's effort to add school modernization bonds to the Education Savings and School Excellence Act (H.R. 7). President Clinton has also urged Congress to pass legislation for tribal bonds to fund construction of schools serving Native Americans.
RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE. In his 1998 State of the Union Address, the President called for raising the minimum wage by $1 over two years to help more than 10 million workers make ends meet. At a time when we are experiencing the longest economic expansion in history, the proposed $1 increase would return the real value of the minimum wage to the level it was in 1982. Full-time workers would receive an annual raise of about $2,000 a year, enough to pay for nearly seven months of groceries or five months of rent. So far, Republican delay on this legislation has cost minimum wage workers over $1,000.
Over the opposition of Republican leaders, the House passed a $1 increase in the minimum wage by a 282-143 vote on March 9, 2000, with 78 Republicans supporting the measure.
In the Senate, a clean measure to increase the minimum wage over two years had the support of four Republicans, but failed in a close vote on November 9, 1999. So far, Senate Republican leaders have refused reasonable compromises that would allow the minimum wage to pass.
PASS A MEANINGFUL PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS. A bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress supports a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights, similar to the bipartisan Norwood-Dingell plan that passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 275-151 over a year ago. However, the Senate Republican leadership continues to support an alternative that leaves over 135 million people without protections and doesn't assure that health plans are held accountable when they make decisions that harm patients.
On October 7, 1999, a bipartisan coalition led by Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-GA) and John Dingell (D-MI) and including 68 Republicans won passage of the Patients' Bill of Rights Act in the House.
On July 15, 1999, the Senate passed weaker legislation that covered only one-third as many Americans in HMOs. It rejected a stronger version on June 8, 2000, despite the support of four Republican senators. With the addition of Democratic Senator Zell Miller from Georgia, a majority of both the House and Senate now supports the Dingell-Norwood plan.
More than a year after the House passed its bill, the conference committee has still not delivered strong bipartisan legislation. Speaker Hastert originally appointed conferees who opposed the bill and delayed conference committee action until this year.
PASS HATE CRIMES LEGISLATION. There is no justification for failing to pass hate crimes legislation this year, which would enhance the Federal government's ability to prosecute violent crimes motivated by race, color, religion, or national origin and would authorize Federal prosecution of crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender, or disability. There have been strong bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate on expanded hate crime legislation:
On June 20, 2000, the Senate added hate crimes legislation to the Department of Defense authorization bill by a 57-42 vote, with the support of 13 Republicans.
On September 13, 2000, the House voted to retain hate crimes in that bill, 232-192 with 41 Republicans.
However, Republican leaders stripped hate crimes before sending the Defense bill to the President.
PASS COMPREHENSIVE CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. This year, the Congress failed once again to adopt comprehensive, meaningful reform of our campaign finance system. In July, the President signed modest but important reporting requirements to stop interest groups from using special "527" tax-exempt status to hide their political spending, and he called on Congress to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, Congressional leaders failed to take the next step. The American people want meaningful campaign finance reform, and the Congress should not stand in their way.
On September 10, 1999, the House passed the bipartisan Shays-Meehan reform plan with the support of 54 Republicans.
The Senate version of that bill has six Republican sponsors, including Senator John McCain. A majority of the Senate supports it, but the leadership has prevented a clean vote. The Senate has not debated the bill in over a year.
EXPAND HEALTH COVERAGE TO VULNERABLE POPULATIONS. Despite broad bipartisan support, the Republican leadership continues to reject new health insurance coverage options for populations such as children with disabilities, Americans moving from welfare to work, and pregnant women and children who are legal immigrants. The Family opportunity Act, which already has 77 co-sponsors in the Senate, would provide a new Medicaid buy-in option for children with disabilities who would otherwise lose their Medicaid coverage because their parents lose eligibility when they go back to work. The welfare-to-work, legal immigrant, and children's enrollment provisions have unanimously passed the House Commerce Committee.
COMPLETE ITS WORK ON NATIONAL SERVICE. In July, the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee passed a bipartisan national service reauthorization bill, the Jeffords-Kennedy National and Community Service Amendments Act of 2000. Forty-nine of the 50 governors wrote the Republican leadership to urge them to pass the reauthorization of AmeriCorps and other critical national service programs this year. General Colin Powell has continually advocated for Congress to reauthorize this critical bill that provides opportunities for young people to serve their communities. However, the Republican leadership has not brought the bill to a vote thus refusing to reaffirm and strengthen our nation's commitment to national service and build on the far-reaching benefits of the national service program.
INSIST ON FAIRNESS FOR IMMIGRANTS. The President is committed to fairness for immigrants who have been in this country for years, working hard and paying taxes, by enacting legislation addressing injustices under our immigration laws and restoring critical nutrition assistance and health benefits for legal immigrants. Despite bipartisan support for these proposals, the Republican leadership proposal simply does not go far enough to address these injustices and does nothing to restore critical benefits for legal immigrants.