One year ago this week, the American people demanded a New Direction: that Congress make America safer and bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to the people’s government. One year later, the 110th Congress is building a record of progress of change for the American people.
The New Direction Congress is fighting to make America safer. We have put the long overdue homeland security recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission into law — to achieve safer skies and ports, better emergency communication for first responders, and to disrupt and break down terrorist networks.
We are also supporting our troops and veterans, with particular focus on those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The House and Senate has passed the largest single increase in funding for veterans’ health care in U.S. history, on top of the $5.2 billion in veterans health funds added earlier this year. We are also addressing the disturbing neglect our soldiers and veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center were subjected to through the recently passed Wounded Warriors Act.
Another key aspect of our nation’s security is energy security and the threat of global warming. To take a bold step forward, we have passed legislation that repeals billions in unnecessary subsidies to Big Oil companies earning record profits. Our legislation instead invests those funds in clean, renewable energy and alternative fuels.
With regards to perhaps the largest challenge facing our nation, Iraq, the New Direction Congress is working to bring about an end to the war. Now in its fifth year, this war has not made America safer, our military stronger, or the region more stable. Our troops have performed bravely the tasks set before them. But it has never been their responsibility to reconcile differences among warring Iraqi factions. Democrats in Congress are fighting to responsibly redeploy our troops so we can refocus on the real war on terrorism.
The Democratic Congress has also brought back standards of accountability and oversight that were lacking or non-existent in previous years. The Bush Administration must be held accountable for the execution of the war, and the Iraqi government for its own future. We have instituted vigorous oversight, uncovering tens of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse in spending by companies such as Blackwater and Halliburton.
Given growing concerns about the state of the American economy, the New Direction Congress has taken a number of steps to restore the American Dream for our families. We have enacted a historic new law to make college more affordable. By cutting the interest rate on student loans in half, the typical student will save $4,400 over the life of their loan. We also increased the size of Pell Grants, to give millions of American the opportunity for a better education.
The New Direction Congress has also raised the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years — to bring a $4,400 per year pay raise for nearly 13 million hardworking American workers in 2009. And to promote 21st Century good paying American jobs, we have also enacted our crucial Innovation Agenda — investing in the classroom to address the technology gap in our workforce, helping turn ideas into innovative technologies to boost our economy.
On the issue of ethics, we have changed the way we do business in Washington by restoring accountability through landmark lobbying and ethics reforms including the implementation of pay-as- you-go budgeting. On its first day in session, the House passed the toughest ethics reform in a generation – breaking the link between lobbyists and legislators: no gifts, no private jets, and no meals from lobbyists. We have also restored tough pay-as-you-go budget rules that produced historic budget surpluses during the Clinton Administration. By adhering to this no new deficit rule, we are putting a stop to the Republican record of passing on billions of dollars of debt onto future generations.
The American people want their leaders to focus on American priorities and work together to get things done – reaching across the aisle to pass measures that will make a real difference in people’s lives. And that is what we’ve done. More than two-thirds of major legislation has passed with significant support from both parties.
We strive to find common ground where we can. Where we cannot, we will stand our ground. And we will continue to advance New Direction for a stronger and more secure America for all American families.