President Clinton and Vice President Gore: Putting America's Interests Before Special Interests (9/28/00)
Today, President Clinton will meet with the members of his Cabinet to outline his priorities for the remainder of this Congress. Last February, the President proposed a fiscally responsible budget that maintains America's prosperity by paying down the debt, providing targeted middle-class tax cuts and making key investments in improving education, promoting national security, protecting the environment, and fighting crime. With just two days remaining in the fiscal year, the Republican Congress has completed only two of 13 spending bills and is now rejecting America's priorities and loading spending bills with election-year, earmarked projects for special interests. In the Cabinet meeting, President Clinton will call on Congress to reduce wasteful spending and focus on maintaining our prosperity by passing a fiscally responsible budget that invests in America's key priorities. The President will also note the lack of accomplishments of the latest do-nothing Congress and call on Congressional leaders to stop blocking passage of priorities such as an affordable prescription drug benefit for all Medicare beneficiaries, a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights, a minimum wage increase and hate crimes legislation.
CONGRESS SHOULD COMPLETE WORK ON AMERICA'S PRIORITIES. Even though Republican Congressional leaders promised two weeks ago to make progress on America's priorities, they have failed to pass an affordable prescription drug benefit for all Medicare beneficiaries, a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights, or hate crimes legislation. Congress also has made virtually no progress over the last month toward passing a minimum wage, despite a commitment from Speaker Hastert to do so. President Clinton promised to do his part to avoid a government shutdown by signing the continuing resolution passed by Congress this week, but will call on Congress to complete work on major priorities during the remaining weeks of the session, including:
- Investing In Education. The President's budget includes important investments in education – such as modernizing 6,000 schools and repairing 25,000 more, meeting our commitment to hire 100,000 quality teachers to reduce class size, funding teacher training to put qualified teachers in every classroom, increasing accountability including identifying and turning around failing schools, increasing after-school opportunities, and preparing at-risk youth for college success. Congress cut off funding that would continue hiring 100,000 qualified teachers to reduce class size and provides only $600 million of the President's $1 billion effort to create more after-school learning opportunities. They shortchange teacher quality and recruitment programs and do nothing to help ensure a qualified teacher in every classroom. Congress denies participation in GEAR UP to 600,000 students by freezing funding for this initiative to prepare disadvantaged students for college at $200 million, $125 million below the President's request, and fails to institute real accountability to turn around failing schools.
- Increase the Minimum Wage. At a time when we are experiencing the longest economic expansion in history, the proposed $1 increase before Congress would merely return the real value of the minimum wage to the level it was in 1982. This small raise would help more than 10 million workers, including millions of women and hard-pressed families make ends meet. Full time workers would receive an annual raise of about $2,000 a year – enough to pay for nearly 7 months of groceries or 5 months of rent.
- Provide an Affordable, Accessible Prescription Drug Benefit Option For All Medicare Beneficiaries. Three out of five Medicare beneficiaries have inadequate prescription drug coverage or none at all. In the context of broader reform which ensures that Medicare revenues are only used for Medicare, the President has proposed a voluntary, affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit for all beneficiaries. Beginning in 2002, it would provide prescription drug coverage that would have a zero deductible and cover half of all prescription drug costs up to $5,000 when fully phased in. It would limit all out-of-pocket medication costs to $4,000. This optional benefit would also provide negotiated discounts that would guarantee that Medicare beneficiaries no longer pay the highest prices in the marketplace. And, it would explicitly pay for the cost of prescription drugs in managed care plans beginning next year to ensure that they continue to offer this important benefit.
- Enact A Meaningful Patients' Bill Of Rights. The majority of the United States Senate supports passing a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights, similar to the bipartisan Norwood-Dingell Patients' Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership continues to support an approach that leaves over 135 million people without protections and does not assure that plans are held accountable when they make decisions that harm patients. The Norwood-Dingell legislation, endorsed by over 200 health care providers and consumer advocacy groups, is the only bipartisan proposal currently being considered that protects state-based accountability provisions already available under current law and includes: protections for all Americans in all health plans; protections for patients accessing emergency room care from financial sanctions; guarantees that assure access to necessary and accessible health care specialists; and meaningful enforcement mechanisms that ensure recourse for patients who have been harmed as a result of a health plan's actions.
- Protecting the Environment. The President's budget provides important funding to protect public health, provide Americans with clean air and clean up the nation's rivers, lakes and coastal areas from pollution. In addition, the President has repeatedly urged Congress to pass legislation which would provide permanent funding to support federal protection of natural treasures and to help states and communities protect urban parks, farmland, forests, battlefields, coastland, and other green spaces. Permanent funding would ensure that the federal government, states, and local communities have a consistent and reliable funding source to protect open spaces, farmland, forests, ocean and coastal resources, and urban and suburban parks. It would mean that citizens could enjoy more open spaces, and that future generations of Americans can appreciate the incomparable natural treasures that are among this nation's greatest riches. The President has also called upon Congress to send him budget bills free of anti-environmental riders, which aim to weaken public health protections, undercut efforts to combat global climate change, and surrender public lands to private interests.
- Approve Common-Sense Gun Safety Legislation. Sensible gun safety legislation has languished in Congress for over a year. Meanwhile, an estimated 30,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. The Senate passed common-sense gun safety measures in May 1999, with Vice President Gore casting the tie-breaking vote to close the gun show loophole. Since then, Republican leaders have delayed and bottled up this legislation at the behest of the gun lobby, despite the fact that 10 children are killed by gunfire every day. The President will call on the Republican Leadership to put the safety of America's children first as they return to school by passing a bill that closes the gun show loophole, requires child safety locks to be sold with handguns, bans the importation of large capacity ammunition clips and prevents violent juvenile offenders from buying guns as adults.
- Pass Legislation to Prevent Hate Crimes and Legislation to Combat Violence Against Women. The President will also urge Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to prevent hate crimes and further respond to violence against women. The President will urge Congress to send him meaningful hate crimes legislation to sign into law immediately. This legislation 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. The President will also call on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. This Act provides support for the work of prosecutors, law enforcement officials, victim advocates, and health and social service professionals as they respond to the problems of violence against women in communities throughout the country.
- Reforming Immigration Law. People who have been living in the United States for many years and have developed strong ties to their communities deserve the opportunity to normalize their immigration status, and families should be allowed to stay together while an adjustment of status application is pending. Congress should address these injustices in the immigration system by updating the registry date, amending the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) to ensure fairness for Central Americans, Haitians and Liberians, and reinstating Sec. 245(i). The President will insist that Congress enact these common-sense measures, supported by both business and fundamental fairness, this year.