For the past 35 weeks, I have highlighted an idea each week to help change how we’re doing business--from big ideas to depoliticize the redistricting process to innovative ways to engage citizens as participants in the governing process. Some of the ideas will be simple and straightforward, others may seem a little wonky, but all are important.
They are the ideas that have accumulated from my 40 years of public service that would make government and business fairer, our environment cleaner, and our communities safer, healthier, and more economically secure.
We have just five weeks and ideas left before the election, and I invite your comments, observations, and other suggestions. America is already paying for more than most Americans are receiving. It is time to do something about it.
This is our decade of decision.
Week #1: Reforming the Redistricting Process
Politicians should not be allowed to achieve through the redistricting process what they can’t accomplish at the ballot box. To make Congress more representative, all districts in all states should follow balanced criteria and metrics instead of the corrupt system we have today.
To address this problem, I have introduced H.R. 3846, the National Commission for Independent Redistricting Act of 2012, which would establish a national Commission after each Census, beginning in 2020, that would ensure Congressional elections are more competitive and fair, and that voters get to choose their representatives, not the other way around.
The Commission would oversee an independent, professional agency, tasked with establishing uniform criteria and congressional district lines for each State that respects the communities of interest, and geographic, ethnic, cultural, and historic boundaries, rather than just partisan affiliation. Meaningful political reform is seldom easy and it takes time. Congress should enact this legislation now, well before the next census in 2020.
Week #2: The Streetcar Renaissance
Today, a half-century after the extensive streetcar networks in cities around the county were destroyed, this simple yet effective transportation mode is poised to make a renaissance in American cities. In the last decade, streetcars have staged a remarkable comeback. In 2001, Portland reintroduced the first modern streetcar to great fanfare and ridership that continues to vastly exceed projections. This interest has spawned a truly national movement, as more than 80 communities are now seeking federal funds to get started on their first projects.
Nearly a hundred years ago, municipalities, local utilities, and developers created partnerships that supported a streetcar system to serve communities and local economies -- just as these same partners understand the value that streetcars bring to 21st century communities. Today, these traditional partnerships offer cities, utilities, residential and commercial developers, construction and financial interests the opportunity to finance and create a modern streetcar system to revitalize the cities and neighborhoods they serve.
Week #3: Bankruptcy Equity for Homeowners Act
Bankruptcy can offer a legal means to escape from debt and get a second chance. But access to this financial relief is not equal. People with vacation homes or investment properties can have their mortgage terms reduced by a bankruptcy judge, but regular folks who live in their own homes are forced to play by different rules—bankruptcy judges aren't allowed to change mortgage terms of primary residences. Instead, banks foreclose and seize the home.
I think we can all agree that every family who makes the difficult decision to declare bankruptcy should be allowed access to the same process as people who own second homes or investment properties. The Bankruptcy Equity Act eliminates this prohibition to bring fairness to ordinary homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments on underwater homes.
Week #4: Citizen Involvement and Infrastructure
Building citizen infrastructure is a way to strengthen positive engagement with elected leaders and government officials, encourage productive dialogue, and forge new solutions. History and civics must be restored to prominence in the classroom. After all, engagement can be pretty intimidating when you don’t understand how the system works and what the roles for federal, state, and local government play.
Next, the war on voting should end. While many states are taking drastic steps to limit voter participation, we should actually be going in the other direction increasing the ability of citizens to participate using methods like allowing voter registration over the internet, early ballot access, and vote-by-mail, reforms which states like Oregon have already embraced.
Lastly, citizens must continue to feel engaged by their government. New technologies, from email to twitter, are ways for government to connect with citizens on all levels.
Week #5: Ending Corporate Personhood
The Supreme Court's tragic decision in Citizens United overturned a century of settled law and opened this floodgate of unlimited campaign spending, drowning out small donors and the individual citizens that most of us learned in school were the cornerstones of our democracy.
This threatens the integrity of the political process, not just from the appearance of corruption but actually blatantly distorting the process. As companies and sham independent organizations that are actually run by candidates' friends and employees blanket the airwaves with an avalanche of vicious negative advertising, now somehow they're protected under a First Amendment right to free speech which would be beyond the comprehension of our founding fathers.
Corporations are not people. I proudly cosponsor several constitutional amendments that explicitly state that the rights of natural persons may only be afforded to natural persons—not corporations—and that clarify the authority of Congress and the States to regulate campaign contributions.
Unfettered corporate influence in our democracy will not be tolerated. I cosponsor two bills that would shed light on corporate campaign spending and strengthen the public’s voice in our elections.
Week #6: Childhood Nutrition
Too many children come from families that are food insecure, lacking regular access to healthy food. One half of American children will be on food stamps in their lifetime. Every month, 63% of teachers buy food for children in their classrooms because they face such a need. Over 20% of American households are just plain hungry. Sadly, in my state of Oregon, those percentages are even higher.
Here are a few reforms we should make:
Exchanging Credits for Commodities: School districts currently receive part of their federal reimbursement dollars in the form of commodities; i.e., food products supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture. Receiving credits instead of food commodities would give school districts the flexibility to purchase local food products, supporting local economies as they meet their students’ nutritional needs.
Expanding the Farm to School program: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act added $40 million to the existing Farm to School program, but it’s still not enough; demand for this program is three times the available funding. Every school interested in providing healthier food to their students should have the opportunity to do so. It’s good for our children’s health and it’s good for local farmers.
Increasing access and nutrition: Our children face nutrition problems far greater than those faced by their grandparents in the 1960s, when federal subsidies for school lunch programs began. Fifty years ago, the biggest concern was the lack of calories. Today, almost 30% of children under the age of 18 are overweight, lacking not calories, but good nutrition. It’s time we addressed the health and nutrition of today’s children.
Week #7: A Water Trust Fund
The drinking water and wastewater pipelines under our feet and treatment plants in our communities are important components of our nation’s environmental and public health infrastructure. However, many of these facilities are aging and in need of replacement or repair. A significant investment is necessary to ensure our water infrastructure can meet the demands of the 21st century.
It’s time to establish a trust fund for water infrastructure. A Clean Water Trust Fund, funded by those who contribute to water quality problems and those who use our water systems, will provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and protected source of revenue to help states replace, repair, and rehabilitate critical drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.
The Trust Fund would protect public health by providing the funding communities need to provide safe drinking water and sewer service. Restore the environment by decreasing the number and severity of combined sewer overflows, increasing funds for state environmental restoration efforts, reducing the presence of pharmaceuticals in our water supply, and providing incentives for green infrastructure that reduces energy use and withstands the impacts of global warming and create jobs by investing in projects to repair and replace aging systems.
Week #8: Water for the World
Today, one-fifth of the world’s population relies on freshwater that either is polluted or significantly overdrawn. In 2005, the U.S. enacted Congressman Blumenauer’s bipartisan “Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act,” establishing the UN Millennium Development Goal’s water and sanitation target as a major goal of US foreign assistance. This landmark legislation reaches millions of the world’s poorest each year.
Although progress is being made through partnerships between the U.S. government, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and local partners, nearly one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and more than two billion people live without improved sanitation.
H.R. 3658, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2012, drives our development assistance programs to provide a greater, more effective role in providing access to clean water and sanitation. Building upon the success of the 2005 Water for the Poor Act, this bill, enhances the capacity of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department to play a greater, more effective role in development assistance as well as mitigate cross-border conflict.
Week #9: Bike-Partisanship!
Sadly, for more than 60 years, we’ve focused our collective attention – and most of our funding – on the automobile, relegating the less expensive and healthier modes of walking and bicycling to ‘alternative’ status, only as important as the latest fad in fashion or lifestyle.
In addition to defining bike and pedestrian activities as alternative transportation, funding to these programs has been threatened in recent Transportation legislation from House Republicans.
I have co-authored an amendment to restore dedicated funding for biking and walking, streamline the federal programs, and ensure that local governments can access the funding for these popular projects.
Week #10: Give Fans a Chance
Because professional sports teams can be so vital to the identity of a community, many communities have taxed themselves and provided financial incentives for stadiums, infrastructure improvements, and other enticements to team owners. However, the decision of whether or not to move a team ultimately rests in the hands of the relatively few individuals who are team owners.
The sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and the NBA lockout of 2011 are at the roots of the reintroduction of the Give Fans a Chance Act of 2011. The arbitrary and sudden uprooting of teams from communities where they are a vital part of identity and civic pride can be devastating. The Give Fans a Chance Act of 2011, first introduced in 1997, gives communities a voice when sports team owners attempt to relocate or eliminate a team. Because many professional sports teams are part of the fabric of communities’ identities, fans, not just franchise owners, should have a say in the future of their teams. The Act puts power back in the hands of fans and communities to determine the future of their sports teams, and helps prevent the pillaging of cities’ sports franchises for purely financial reasons.
Week #11: Neuroscience
As the most complex living structure known, the study of the brain informs every aspect of our society – from the level of the individual, to our social networks and our environmental contexts. Wise decision-making is based on truly understanding the brain and the mind. From neurobiology to neuroethics, neurodevelopment to neurodegeneration, a better understanding of how our brains develop, work, and sometimes don’t work, will have a huge impact on society.
In February 2010, when speaking at one of the OHSU Brain Institute Brain Awareness Lectures, Congressman Blumenauer announced the formation of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus. Through the caucus, Members of Congress support funding quality neuroscience research, and work to make policies that maximize the medical and societal benefits of research. In that time, the caucus has held briefings ranging from traumatic brain injury, particularly among soldiers who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan to the growing brain, looking at how the brain develops from birth to adolescence.
Week #12: Reform and Simplify the Tax Code
The tax system doesn’t generate enough money for what America needs and spends. It’s getting more expensive every year to continue the huge array of tax breaks; even as the code becomes more unfair, complex, and inefficient. It costs over a $160 billion a year for Americans just to comply with the tax code.
First, we should stop making the code more complex which sadly the Republican plan working its way forward will do with nearly $50 billion of additional unfocused tax breaks. Congress should also repeal the pernicious alternative minimum tax, and should stop the dangerous practice of suspending some of the payroll tax in the name of economic stimulus.
Finally, we should target tax breaks that are out of date, like the subsidy of oil that doesn’t reflect current production techniques or the realities of the global petroleum market. We should instead protect subsidies that are important to our future, especially expiring renewable energy tax credits.
Week #13: A New National Agriculture Policy
Agriculture is also one of Oregon’s most important exports; agriculture and food products are the state’s largest export by volume, and the 2nd largest in terms of value. The current Federal Farm Bill supports large agricultural corporations instead of small and midsize farmers, subsidizes manufactured food at the expense of fruits and vegetables, sticks farmers with outrageously high crop insurance costs, and funds food assistance programs that confuse calories with good nutrition.
Although, it is unlikely that Congress has the appetite to pass any Farm Bill this year, the growing coalition of Americans who support local food and farms and who advocate for programs that help end hunger and promote better nutrition has already left its mark on legislation that seeks to create a better Farm Bill for all Americans.
Week #14: A Reasonable Approach to Immigration
It is time to bring recent immigrants out of the shadows, especially the vulnerable families of mixed-status. Congress should work together on a comprehensive immigration reform in our Decade of Decision, but a reasonable approach is possible today - even in an election year and in our divisive political climate.
There are many proposals that deserve strong support and enthusiastic passage.
The bipartisan DREAM Act allows undocumented immigrants, who were brought here as young children without any choice in the matter, to become permanent residents if they meet certain conditions, including college education or military service, as well as maintaining a good moral character.
The bipartisan STAPLE Act simply makes it easier for foreign-born individuals who have been educated in the United States up to the Ph.D. level to remain in the country, and be employed by American businesses.
The StartUp Visa Act establishes an employment visa for immigrants who create jobs and generate investment in the U.S. economy.
Week #15: The Heavy Truck Fairness Act
Efforts to rebuild and renew infrastructure are stalled because of a funding impasse. The Highway Trust Fund that provides money for road and highway projects has nearly exhausted its funding several times recently and it is clear that our existing sources of funding are insufficient to meet current, much less future, needs. Congress should consider new revenue sources to meet our infrastructure challenges and must work with transportation users to find the most efficient means of raising this revenue.
I have introduced the Heavy Truck Tax Fairness Act, HR 4321. This bipartisan legislation will ease barriers to investment in new, heavy trucks, creating local jobs and providing more stable funding for the Highway Trust Fund.
The Heavy Truck Tax Fairness Act would replace the 12% excise tax currently levied on new truck, trailer, and certain tractor sales with an off-setting increase in the diesel fuel excise tax of $0.064 per gallon. This modest change keeps the total tax burden roughly equivalent over 10 years. It will also have the effect of stabilizing the resources available to the Highway Trust Fund so that the U.S. can continue investing in critical bridges and highways.
Week #16: Preserving the Lacey Act
For the past several months, there has been increased focus in Congress on the Lacey Act, a law that is more than 100 years old and protects American businesses from having to compete with illegally harvested goods from other countries. However, despite the Lacey Act’s success in protecting both American industry and the environment, there are currently significant efforts in the form of the FOCUS Act and the RELIEF Act that would repeal important provisions and severely hamper the Lacey Act’s effectiveness.
In 2008, I lead a bipartisan effort, supported by the timber industry, consumers, importers, labor unions, conservationists, and the Bush administration, to strengthen the Lacey Act. Specifically, I focused on illegal logging, which threatens not only ecologically important forests around the world, but also subjects the U.S. forest products industry – including many in Oregon - to unfair competition from illegal loggers
Last fall, the 2008 Lacey Act amendments were recognized as a winner of the World Future Council’s 2011 Future Policy Award. Rather than weaken the Lacey Act, we should protect and utilize it.
Week #17: A More Efficient Defense Budget
This year alone, defense spending will consume 57 percent of our total discretionary budget. When you include Afghanistan, civil defense, Veterans, military aid, and intelligence gathering agencies into this number, the total is close to $850 billion a year.
The debate between defending America, or rebuilding and renewing America, is a false one. We can – and we must – do both. Without more cuts to the Pentagon, we will undermine the very security here at home we aim to procure through more and more military spending. Crumbling bridges and roads, failing schools, and a massive national debt all pose a greater national threat to America’s power abroad than modest and reasonable cuts to defense spending.
The bottom-line is that Congress needs to show some leadership and an ability to make difficult choices. That’s why I lead, with Representatives Lee and Frank, an amendment to cut defense spending for Fiscal Year 13 by $8 billion, aligning current spending levels with those authorized by the Budget Control Act.
Week #18: Long Term Tax Reform
The simple fact is that we are an aging and growing Nation. Our tax collections in recent years have fallen due to a combination of the near economic collapse and the maddening slow economic recovery, which, together, with the series of tax cuts since 2001, have reduced total collections to levels not seen since Harry Truman was President. And they continue to lag. The tax system has a compliance cost to taxpayers of over $160 billion a year for a system that is unfair.
This year Congress will consider before December 31 the possible extension of all of the expiring tax provisions. Absent changes, analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office finds that such an extension will cost $5.4 trillion to extend all the expiring tax provisions for the next 10 years. This would be a good place to start in reforming the tax system and collecting badly needed revenue. These provisions have badly reduced the overall fairness of our tax system.
Using the looming deadline of the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts to spur reform, Congress can phase in adjustments over the full 10-year period to be fair in transition, avoid dislocation and continue to nurture the still-fragile recovery; and if we start now, we will be able to make commitments, hopefully, that will be honored by both parties over the course of the next decade.
Week #19: Historic Preservation
Recognizing how important it is to preserve our architectural heritage, the federal government provided special tax credits in the 1970s as incentives to restore and maintain historic properties. Since then, the federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit (HPTC) has helped restore more 37,000 properties and has leveraged over $90 billion in investment.
To remedy this situation, I introduced H.R. 2479, “Creating American Prosperity through Preservation Act of 2011” to help smaller scale projects take advantage of the tax credits. Now smaller communities, especially those in rural America, will be able to use federal tax credits to help restore their heritage and strengthen their economies.
Week #20: Communities Leading the Way
We are famous here in Portland for some of our infrastructure – light rail, streetcars, bicycles – and also what we’ve done with energy, environmental protection, and forethought about how we design and locate buildings. This physical infrastructure makes a huge difference in the livability of our community, but it wouldn’t be possible without the civic infrastructure making the right long-term decisions and answering the tough questions about planning, implementation, and finance.
Of all the ideas that we are advancing this year, there is none that is more central to our success, whether it’s on the local, regional, national, or global scale, than how we develop that citizen infrastructure – how we plan, how we empower, how we work together to implement it. Without it, we’re rolling the dice in an expensive and dangerous way because ultimately no matter how good the idea, no matter how grand the plan, unless we harness the support and engagement of our citizens even the most lofty and well-intentioned of ideas will fall flat.
Week #21: LGBT Equality
While there have been steps backward in America’s march toward equality for all citizens, we have made progress. America is more diverse, and better for it. But we must continue to work hard to create a truly equal and just society. Discriminating against individuals based on race, religion, or sexual identity is deplorable and unacceptable.
From chairing the first hearing for House Bill 2930, an anti-discrimination law aimed at furthering LGBT civil rights in the 1973 Oregon Legislature, to fighting to repeal DOMA today, Congressman Blumenauer has a strong advocate for equality throughout his career. There remains much work to be done:
--Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act that repeals the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
--Supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
--Passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011 that ensure educational institutions must be safe places for young people to learn and grow, without the threat of bullying or the risk of being denied the chance to participate in extracurricular activities based on their identity.
--Supporting the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. All parents who wish to adopt a foster child deserve the chance to do so, no matter their sexual orientation.
--Strongly Supporting an amendment the Immigration and Nationality Act that grants same-sex partnerships the same rights and privileges as any other partnership.
Week #22: Health Care - The Oregon Way
The Affordable Care Act will expand insurance coverage, strengthen consumer protections, and drive improvements in the practice of medicine. But even without the Affordable Care Act, some states are leading the way.
Oregon has also cultivated one of the most competitive insurance markets in the country. Aided by a strong culture of consumer protection, the state insurance division reviews profits and expenditures of insurance companies, ensuring that proposed rate hikes are justified—and reducing them when they are not. The health insurance exchange being developed will only help to strengthen competition and provide even more choice for consumers.
Decreasing Medicare expenditures and fighting widespread fraud and abuse is an issue for much of the country. But Oregon’s Medicare expenditure rates are among the lowest in the nation, spending 25% less on health care than the national average. Proving that sometimes less is more, Oregonians achieve better health outcomes through our commitment to high quality, more efficient health care.
Week #23: Renewing the Production Tax Credit
Renewable energy also creates thousands of jobs in Oregon and across the country. Support for wind energy, a key part of our renewable energy mix, drives the work of hundreds of wind-related manufacturing facilities and offers lease payments to thousands of farmers and ranchers in Oregon and across the county. Investing in renewable energy diversifies our energy supply and strengthens our resilience to energy related challenges, while improving our national energy security.
Extending the production tax credit (PTC) is a highly effective way to increase investment in renewable energy. The PTC offers a 2.1 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit for the production of energy from the wind and other renewable energy sources. Importantly, the PTC levels the playing field for renewable energy with fossil fuels and nuclear, which have been the recipients of the vast majority of federal energy incentives over time. Congressman Blumenauer has led the charge for a bipartisan renewal of the PTC.
Week #24: Addressing Natural Disaster Mitigation and Climate Change
Scientists tell us that recent extreme weather events are consistent with what we will see as the climate changes due to global warming.
Blumenauer has been a long-time supporter of many efforts to slow down and prevent climate change including supporting legislation that invests in clean and alternative energy. For example, he has introduced legislation to extend the production tax credit for alternatives. This credit would provide stability for manufacturers and consumers, preserve and create American jobs, and lessen our dependency on the fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.
However, prevention is only part of the solution to the climate change crisis. Congressman Blumenauer believes we must adopt policies that mitigate and limit the damages caused by disasters in order to save lives and resources.
When disaster strikes our fellow citizens, our first instinct, based out of generosity and compassion, is to help people resettle and rebuild. But elected officials have an additional burden and responsibility to act to prevent the next catastrophe.
Week #25: Defending Public Broadcasting
Unfortunately, funding for public broadcasting remains a contentious issue. Congressman Blumenauer led efforts in the 112th Congress to preserve public broadcasting against partisan attacks, fending off three bills aimed at defunding public broadcasting, and ultimately restored full funding for our public broadcasting system. Yet recent legislation is at it again and would slash funding now, defund NPR Federal support, and end public broadcasting as we know it within 2 years.
The only way to save public broadcasting once and for all is to have a frank conversation about its future – does America want 500 channels with nothing on, or an enriched source of high-quality, cultural, education and news programming?
I will continue fighting to preserve public broadcasting. He is reaching out to his colleagues to create a bipartisan consensus on protecting this vital national resource, arguing that without continued federal support, public broadcasting would lose its unique character that so many enjoy and have come to depend on and trust, and that the public broadcasting format of in-depth coverage cannot survive without federal seed money. If it could, a similar, commercially funded station would already exist, given public broadcasting’s large and growing audience.
Week #26: Gun Control
There are some who argue that all we need is for existing gun laws to be enforced. But these same individuals and groups then systematically set about to dismantle the laws we have and then defund even the most feeble enforcement efforts. Because we have not fought them hard enough, we now live in a country where the populace is increasingly armed with military-grade weapons that are designed only to kill people.
It is time to recognize these realties and for politicians, gun owners, American business and the health community to come together to deal with an epidemic of gun violence the way we would treat any other threat to the safety of our families and communities. We can start by passing sensible gun legislation, such as:
H.R. 308, the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act that would ban large capacity magazines that can hold dozens of rounds of ammunition, prohibiting these armor-piercing bullets from being sold like tic-tacs.
H.R.591, the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2011, that would close the gun-show loophole where guns are sold often without any background check.
H.R. 1781, the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011, that would also eliminate the gun-show loophole by requiring a background check for every gun purchased, as well as the strength the existing background check system.
H.R. 1506, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2011, which would prohibit the sale of firearms or explosives to individuals determined by the Attorney General to be engaged in terrorist activities. Currently the “no-fly” list data cannot be shared between ATF and Homeland Security.
Week #27: Reinstate Glass-Steagall
Congress should reinstate Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era bank regulation that prevented Wall Street investment firms from gambling with money leveraged from savings and retirement accounts in affiliated commercial banks.
Congressman Blumenauer has also been fighting to give teeth to useful provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act such as the Volcker Rule, which would limit conflict-ridden, high-risk trading activities. These provisions must not have loopholes that add ambiguity and complexity to the law.
These steps will help us regain control of the financial system, reinstituting fairness and security and confidence of public.
Week #28: Preserving the Post Office
Part of the challenge for Congress is to ensure that it provides USPS with the tools and freedom to innovate and adapt to the 21st century. Over the years, unfortunately, Congress has hamstrung the post office, on one hand arguing that it should not have public support and should operate like a business, and then turning around and denying the Postal Service the flexibility that a private business has.
I support bringing S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, to the floor, and soon, to provide relief for the thousands of postal employees and local communities that depend on the local post office.
Additionally, I believe that Congress should pass the United States Postal Service Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act of 2011. The Postal Service is in the midst of a financial crisis, largely due to a provision in the 2006 postal reform law that requires the USPS to massively pre-fund its future retiree health benefits at a cost of $5.5 billion per year. No other agency or enterprise, private or public, is required by law to pre-fund future retiree health benefits, and this harmful requirement must be changed.
Week #29: Out of Afghanistan
I have called for a rapid withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s safe haven, remove the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States. These objectives have largely been met.
It’s unconscionable to continue to fund this war and put our troops in harm’s way when we’ve achieved virtually all that we can. Maintaining an active military force in Afghanistan does not provide any greater security to the United States, nor does it offer any greater opportunity for the people of Afghanistan. Now that we’ve passed two tragic milestones – perpetuating the longest war in the history of the United States, and the heartbreaking loss of the 2000th US soldier – I believe it is time to eliminate war funding, and bring our men and women home as quickly and as safely as possible.
Week #30: Defense Cleanup
To help the Department of Defense become a better partner with states and local communities, I have worked to preserve and increase DOD efforts to employ skilled labor and high-tech companies to clean up these dangerous liabilities. In addition to increasing safety, these cleaned up sites will provide new opportunities for economic development, parks and other options for local communities.
Recently, I led efforts to restore DERP-FUDS funding to ensure that we can continue work removing this danger from our communities within our lifetime – not our great grandchildren’s. By giving the DOD the necessary tools to clean up after itself, we are not only saving taxpayer dollars in the long run, but returning previously toxic, unusable lands to productive use.
Week #31: The War on Drugs
Congressman Blumenauer long concluded that marijuana should be decriminalized. At a minimum, he advocates for rational policies, penalties and enforcement that are risk-based, scientific and reflects how Americans think, feel, and behave. We should start with a robust debate about legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana in the same way we treat alcohol and tobacco. This debate would allow us to consider refocusing resources and efforts away from casual marijuana use to combating drugs that aggressively destroy communities and kill people, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.
While this debate goes on, I believe Congress should act. Currently, the federal government ignores science and states’ rights. Congress should pass H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would remove all federal penalties pertaining to marijuana, delegating its regulation to each state. Until Congress passes legislation like HR 2306, it should at least rationalize existing laws relating to medical marijuana. Congress can do this by enacting H.R. 1983, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, to provide for the use of medical marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various states. Also, H.R. 6134, the Truth in Trials Act, would allow both federal and state laws to be considered at any trial concerning marijuana.
It is time to change our laws before we travel further down this road with nothing to show but billions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of thousands of damaged lives.
Week #32: Safe Routes to School Week
In 2005, Congress established the Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) to fund safe pedestrian and bike facilities near schools and teach children safe bicycling and walking behavior. As a result, an increasing number of children are able to walk or bike to school in a safer environment.
The Safe Routes to School program has been tremendously successful. A recent study has shown that schools receiving funds from this program see increases of 20 to 200 percent in biking and walking. Furthermore, the California Department of Transportation estimates that SRTS reduces 49% of child-related pedestrian or bike accidents.
In Congress, Blumenauer has been a staunch supporter of the Safe Routes to School Program and introduced a bill Safe Routes to High School Act (H.R.4021) to allow high schools to participate in the current program. By passing this bill and increasing funding for Safe Routes to School programs, we can stem the tide of childhood obesity and work towards a healthier, brighter, and safer future for our children!
Week #33: Increasing Credit Union Lending Capacity
There are actions Congress can take to enforce and implement the reforms and restraints on Wall Street and protect direct, lower-cost lending to college students. There are also actions that will inject a little more competition in the financial market place.
For millions of Americans this competition to the big banks comes in the forms of credit unions that are on the scale of community banks. Most credit unions are small to medium sized, very local, and non-profit, with a volunteer, membership board of directors who live in the communities they serve. Credit unions are currently prohibited from lending more than 12.25% of their total assets. I support proposed legislation that raises this lending cap to 27.5%, which is ideal for small business lending. With our support and the freedom to lend and grow, credit unions will be able to compete with big banks and become a viable alternative for borrowers, large and small.
Passing H.R. 1418, the Small Business Lending Enhancement Act of 2011, would send a strong signal that we truly want competition in the financial arena, that actions have consequences, and that small and emerging businesses are our priority. Congress should give businesses more choices for the financing they need and help credit unions get more capacity to meet that need.
Week #34: Supporting the National Guard
The many Guard and Reserve deployments over the last decade have resulted in highly seasoned guardsmen with more skill and experience than we’ve ever seen. Our reliance on these brave men and women has also resulted in better equipment than ever before in our Guard armories right here in Oregon, and all across the U.S. Part of the solution to meeting our fiscal needs must come from maintaining and strengthening the substantial – but highly cost-effective – investment that’s been made in the Guard and Reserve since 9/11.
They have also been on hand to support communities dealing with natural disasters, from wildfires to devastating floods, all across the U.S. Over 400,000 citizen soldiers who live and work in thousands of communities across the country are ready to confront our challenges at home as well as abroad. The dedication of these citizen soldiers and adaptability of their mission makes the National Guard an ideal complement to the standing military force.
In addition, for a fraction of the cost of maintaining permanent full-time soldiers, we can increase support for the Air Guard and National Guard that already exist in every state, while still maintaining a deployable force large and strong enough to keep America safe.
Week #35: Voter Rights
Week #36 Advanced Care Planning
Week #37 Animal Welfare and Human Health
Week #38 For-Profit Colleges
Week #39 Medicare Transitions
Week #40 Global Warming and Energy Policy