During his almost 30 years of public service, Tom Carper has worked tirelessly to develop practical solutions to real problems. His ability to work across party lines has earned Senator Carper a reputation for consensus-building that is unique in today's political climate. The Washington Post's David Broder calls Senator Tom Carper "a notably effective and non-partisan leader, admired and trusted on both sides of the aisle."
Senator Carper joins his colleagues on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the Environment & Public Works Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as well as the Special Committee on Aging. He is currently the ranking democrat on both the Clean Air Subcommittee and Federal Financial Management Subcommittee.
In 2004, Senator Carper was named Deputy Whip -- the first time since 1881 that a U.S. senator from Delaware has served in a leadership position. Senator Carper continues to be a leading voice of moderation within his party, advising the Senate leadership and helping to devise, coordinate and implement strategy for the Democratic caucus.
Most recently, Senator Carper was named vice-chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a leading centrist organization formed in the 1980s to promote "New Democrat" messages of national security, economic growth and personal responsibility.
Tom Carper was born in West Virginia and raised in Virginia. Senator Carper and his wife Martha Ann reside in Wilmington with their two sons, Chris and Ben. Both of their children attend a public charter high school in New Castle County.
Tom Carper attended Ohio State University on a Navy R.O.T.C. scholarship, graduating in 1968 with a B.A. in economics. In 1973, Tom earned his M.B.A. at the University of Delaware.
Industrial Development Specialist, Deleware Division of Economic Development, 1975-1976.
Tom Carper completed five years of service as a naval flight officer and continued to serve in the Naval Reserve until retiring from military service in 1991 with the rank of captain. Tom served as a naval flight officer in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and later as a P-3 aircraft mission commander.
Vice Chair, Board of Directors, American Legacy Foundation
Former Member, Amtrak Board of Directors
Chair, Executive Board, Board of Jobs for America's Graduates
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Vietnam Veterans of America.
His career in public service began in 1976 when he was elected to the first of three terms as Delaware's state treasurer at the age of 29.
After serving five terms as a U.S. congressman, Tom Carper was elected the 78th governor of Delaware in 1992 and served two terms in that role.
On Jan. 3, 2001, Governor Carper stepped down two weeks early to become Delaware's junior senator.
In 2004, Senator Carper was named Deputy Whip.
Most recently, Senator Carper was named vice-chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.
Governor Carper led the effort to strengthen the State's 'rainy day' fund and boost Delaware's credit rating to "AAA" for the first time in state history, while helping to overhaul the state's education system and to implement welfare reform initiatives in Delaware and the nation.
During his second term as governor, Tom Carper was selected by his colleagues to serve as vice-chairman, then as chairman, of the National Governors' Association.
The Washington Post's David Broder calls him "a notably effective and non-partisan leader, admired and trusted on both sides of the aisle."
As chair of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subcommittee, Tom Carper has fought tirelessly to clean our air, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels and to create American jobs while doing it.
Additionally, he continues to serve as co-chairman of the Senate Nuclear Caucus, the Senate Recycling Caucus and the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.
Having recently lost my mother to Alzheimer's disease, I realize the necessity of allowing scientists to conduct possible life-saving studies using stem cells. I recently cosponsored the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would allow federal funding to be used for research on stem cells derived from excess in vitro fertilization embryos that couples will not use and are slated to be discarded.
Source: Candidate Website (10/07/2006)
In an effort to lower health insurance costs for small business, I joined Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) in introducing legislation that would create a Small Business Health Benefits Program modeled after the federal health insurance program for businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
Some of my colleagues may recall that one of the last issues resolved at the time of the Constitutional Convention was the question of how they were going to select these judges, the third branch of our Government. How do we select these judges? There were some at that time who were fearful of creating a Presidency that would be too strong, having had a bite of the apple of putting up with a king of England for a number of years. They did not want to create a king or someone of royalty in this country to be our leader. Our Founding Fathers worked diligently in any number of ways to create checks and balances to ensure that we didn't end up with a king but ended up with a President. Among the checks and balances they incorporated into our Constitution is one that deals with the selection of our judges. We all know how Presidents nominate and the Senate confirms or does not confirm nominees to lifetime appointments to the Federal bench.
Twice in our Nation's history we have seen instances where a President sought to stack the courts. Both were Democrats. One was Thomas Jefferson at the beginning of his second term as President, and a second was FDR at the beginning of his second term as President. Both times, both Presidents, both Democrats, were rebuffed. Today, Democrats no longer reside in the White House. Today, the Republicans are in the majority here in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
With the election of last November, President Bush is in a position to see much--not all, but a good deal--of his legislative agenda approved; perhaps modified but ultimately approved. He is also in a position to leave an even more enduring legacy through his nomination of hundreds of judges in the Federal courts of almost every State. In President Bush's first term, he nominated over 200 men and women to the Federal bench, and 215 nominees were actually debated here on the Senate floor, and 205 were approved. That is an approval rate of about 95 percent. Of the [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
For myself, I've decided to take the leap. After a great deal of deliberation, conversations with many Democrat and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as with others, I have decided to vote to confirm the nomination of John Roberts to serve as our nation's Chief Justice. Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting with Judge Roberts in my office. We discussed many of the concerns and question marks that I mentioned a few minutes ago. His responses were forthright, insightful, and, I believe, sincere. Our conversation also provided me with insights into how a young man from a small town in Indiana could grow up, attend Harvard, become one of the most admired lawyers in America, be nominated for the Supreme Court not once but twice, and then sit through three days of often grueling questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, responding calmly and respectfully to questions on a wide range of legal issues without the benefit of any notes or even a pad of paper. Judge Roberts and I spoke with one another at length about our respective childhoods and our parents, and the roles they played in our lives and the values they instilled in us and in our siblings. We also talked of our educational opportunities, our careers, our mentors, our spouses and even the children we are raising. It was a revealing and encouraging conversation, one that provided me with both important insights into his personal values and with a measure of reassurance on the direction that he ultimately may seek to lead the highest court of our land. I shared with him that in the eight years before coming to the Senate, I served as Governor of Delaware. In that role, I nominated dozens of men and women to serve as judges in our state courts, several of whom enjoy national prominence given my small state's role in business and corporate law. Ironically, and I think wisely, Delaware's Constitution requires overall political balance on our state's courts. For every Democrat who is no [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
The American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is the first step in our recovery. I worked with my colleagues in the Senate to make sure that this stimulus package was timey, targeted, and temporary and to ensure that its investments and tax incentives were focused on creating jobs now and on producing real economic improvement soon.
The recovery legislation is expected to create an estimated 3.5 million jobs, including 11,000 in Delaware, by putting Americans to work to begin rebuilding our nation's crumbling infrastructure, including roads, bridges, ports, railways, waterways, water systems, electric grid upgrades, and mass transit.
In addition, this legislation provides energy tax incentives for the manufacturing and production of wind, biofuels and other renewable sources of energy that are crucial to creating green jobs and making Delaware's offshore wind farm competitive. These investments will not only reduce our energy costs and clean our nation's air, but will also make America more energy independent. Finally, the bill included tax cuts for more than 95 percent of American working families - up to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples.
In early 2009, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out a new course for our financial rescue called the Financial Stability Plan. The plan provides the oversight, accountability and transparency that was missing from the previous administration's financial rescue package, commonly called TARP. The Financial Stability Plan, which is still a work in progress, can be tracked online, so that all taxpayers can monitor the progress of our financial rescue.
Source: carper.senate.gov/issues (01/09/2011)
The challenges facing our economy are like nothing that our nation has faced since the Great Depression. In the last year, Americans have lost millions of jobs, dramatically increasing our national unemployment rate. The ongoing downturn in the housing market has resulted in a tidal wave of foreclosures and delinquencies, flooding our communities with hundreds of thousands of blighted, boarded up homes. Americans have witnessed the value of their homes, stocks, and pensions drop. College education has become unaffordable for too many, and affordable healthcare is available to too few.
In response to this crisis, the Obama Administration, working with Congress, has laid out a path forward for our economic recovery. This includes spurring meaningful job creation, fixing our nation's banking system, and building a new financial regulatory framework so the mistakes of the past are not repeated. It also means fixing our weakened housing market and stemming the tide of foreclosures across the country.
Finally, in the long term, once the economy recovers, it is crucial that we put our country back on the path to fiscal responsibility and budget surpluses. If deficits are allowed to persist once the economy gets back on track, the additional debt burden will lead to slower economic growth and lower living standards for future generations. The President and Congress will look at a range of solutions, including reforms to our tax policies and spending decisions, to bring deficits under control. Our recovery will require hard work and some sacrifice, but if we work smart, think outside of the box and don't give up, we will survive this crisis and eventually come back stronger than ever.
As governor, I emphasized the importance of rigorous standards and raising student achievement. I also instituted optional training for parents to give them and their children more choices in education by championing public school choice and the creation of charter schools.
Now more than ever, we need to make sure that our schools at all levels set out to achieve their fundamental mission--to prepare the next generation of Americans to be part of the workforce that will help rejuvenate our economy and re-establish America's economic might. By improving our failing schools, increasing access to higher education, fully funding schools and education programs, and providing positive role models to our nation's youth through programs like mentoring, we can kick start our economy and increase the standard of living for all Americans.
When I came to the Senate in 2001, I was convinced that much of what had been accomplished in Delaware in the area of education reform could serve as a model for the rest of America. That's why the very first bill I introduced, the Empowering Parents Act, provided more options for parents whose children were in failing schools. It encouraged communities with low-performing schools to experiment with universal public school choice and helped leverage financing for new charter school start-ups. The Empowering Parents Act was included in the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in January 2002, and is a critical law that we will reauthorize within the year.
This year, I was very pleased that President Obama has added to his cabinet Arne Duncan, a champion of school innovation and school choice, as U.S. Secretary of Education. As we move toward the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, I will work with Secretary Duncan to make sure that this law enhances parents, teachers, schools and communities' ability to raise student performance and repair failing schools.
We can all agree that education does not end with high school. Yet since 2001, the cost of college has increased by more than 40 percent. That's why I worked to pass the bipartisan, College Cost Reduction and Access Act and the College Opportunity and Affordability Act. These bills took great step to reduce the cost of college by increasing Pell Grants, cutting federal student loan interest rates in half, granting loan forgiveness for students who perform public service for 10 years, increasing funding for minority-serving colleges and universities, simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to an easy-to-understand, two-page form, and providing financial aid and increased student loan options for veterans and military families.
I also voted for the Post-9/11 GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, which ultimately pays for the complete education and student housing costs of military personnel who have served 90 continuous days of active duty service after 9-11-2001 and 36 total months of active duty service.
These bills were a good first step toward reducing the cost of college for all Americans, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to further close the affordability gap in the 111th Congress.
Currently, true public school choice is not an option for much of our nation. Seven out of every ten charter schools has a waiting list for students it cannot possibly accommodate. Until the number of charter schools increases, for many, there is no real choice.
This is a problem we can help solve.
To this end, I have, with the support of a group of Democrats and Republicans, put forth a plan that will appeal to moderates of both parties. Called the ``Empowering Parents Act," it aims to triple the number of charter schools in the country by 2005 and encourages school districts through grants to enact public school choice.
To put charter schools on a more equal footing with other public schools, the bill would reduce initial costs for charter schools through a $400 million annual federal loan guarantee program and exempt from federal taxes all interest charter schools pay on debt incurred for capital costs. For schools meeting strict requirements, the bill also makes $400 million a year available for states to expand payments to charter schools to help cover the cost of facilities as well as instruction.
Finally, the measure seeks to expand public school choice by creating a $200 million per year competitive grants program to help under performing school districts create universal public school choice like we now have in Delaware. Districts awarded grants would be required to notify parents about the choices available to them and provide eligible students with transportation (or the cost of transportation) to and from the public school they choose.
Our federal government is currently blessed with the largest surpluses in our nation's history. Using even the smallest percent of it for real education reform today, we can build schools that will last for decades, and provide educational opportunities to last throughout these children's lifetimes.
Educational opportunity is a hollow promise for children trapped in failing schools. Increasing the n [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
When we passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, we put the country on a path to ensuring that all students get the education they need and deserve. However, under the previous administration, the commitment to fully fund this endeavor fell short. Across the country, schools have been burdened with teacher shortages and classrooms are unequipped to properly instruct students. These problems have only grown worse with the current economic crisis that has forced our states to deal with budget cutbacks.
That is why I worked hard to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) early in 2009. This bill gave each governor significant funding to plug holes in the states' education budgets and prevent teacher layoffs. Additionally, this funding would allow schools to modernize their facilities and conduct renovations that would improve energy efficiency.
The ARRA bill also provided a $13 billion injection of federal funding for supplementary education services for high-needs schools all across the country, and gave $13 billion to schools to help bolster their special education programs.
During the 111th Congress, I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to ensure that we follow through on our commitment to funding our children's education.
As governor, I emphasized the importance of rigorous standards and raising student achievement.
Like you, I want Delaware's school system to be the best that it can be. That was my goal when I served as governor and remains so today in the U.S. Senate.
One of the most important things we can do is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and expedite the transition to a cleaner future, powered to a far greater extent by renewable forms of energy. By including support for alternative energy as a focus of our national energy policy, Congress can slow, or even reduce, global pollution while at the same time encouraging the growth of dozens of new industries.
In Delaware, hundreds of jobs have been created at companies that build solar panels, design fuel cells, or develop advanced wind turbines. When clean, renewable sources of energy are readily available and financially viable, we can achieve significant, sustainable economic growth without the burden of burgeoning pollution.
A renewable energy future requires support from the private and public sector working together, utilizing our respective strengths to support each other. In addition to the significant investments that companies both large and small have been making, there is a significant role for Congress, and the federal government, to move renewable technologies light-years ahead. Congress has the opportunity to pass, and the president has the chance to sign, a real national energy policy that supports alternative energies in three important ways.
The first is to make significant, targeted investments in the research and development of new energy technologies. Relatively modest investments by the government in research and development today will yield long-term results and encourage businesses to commit their own resources in order to bring new products to market more quickly.
Government investment provides returns through technologies like fuel cells, which will provide power for many buildings, homes and plants in this decade, as well as for large numbers of cars, trucks and vans in the next. Fuel cells may utilize hydrogen for fuel and emit only electricity and water as byproducts. Other nascent technologies deserve similar consideration. [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
We need to take action now on climate change and energy reform, not just for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of our own economy. By emerging as a leader in clean and green energy, U.S. businesses and manufacturers will be more competitive. And we'll create tens - and possibly hundreds - of thousands of new jobs in the process.
We know that we cannot get the climate change emission reductions from our transportation sector just from vehicle emission reductions and changes in fuel alone. That's why I introduced CLEAN TEA legislation to reserve a portion of climate change auction proceeds to change Americans' driving habits by funding rail, transit, bike and pedestrian trails and other alternative forms of transportation. In a recent op-ed, I explained why CLEAN TEA is integral to the success of emissions reduction goals.
On August 8, 2005, the President signed the energy bill into law. While there are many aspects of this legislation that I agree with, I felt that we could do better for the American people. Therefore, I could not in good conscience vote for this bill. The primary reason behind this decision was the impact that some provisions would have on my home state of Delaware - specifically those regarding Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.
I was also disappointed that we were not able to do more to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. While the bill will increase production of renewable fuels and spur the development of new alternative-fuel vehicles - all of which will help - we should have done more to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and bring lower gas prices.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was a strong, first step to secure America's energy future by reducing our reliance on foreign oil and reducing harmful emissions into our air. The cornerstone of this energy legislation is a compromise I helped negotiate to increase the fleet-wide fuel economy average for cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the United States by roughly 10 miles per gallon by 2020 - or from 25 miles per gallon today to 35 miles per gallon overall.
Earlier this year, the Obama Administration announced it was accelerating the ramp-up of fuel efficiency standards, requiring a fleetwide average of 35.5 miles per gallon for new vehicles by 2016. This will save Americans an estimated around 1.4 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, which is nearly the amount of oil imported today from the Persian Gulf. Consumers will benefit by saving approximately $30 billion at the pump in that time period, based on a $2.25 per gallon gas price.
Last year, I also sponsored legislation to improve the Department of Defense authorization bill to require the federal government to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, fuel cells and clean diesels.
The creation and application of new farm technologies is vital to the survival and growth of Delaware's farming economy. With recent advances in the field of biotechnology, we can increase the number of products that can be profitably derived from the crops grown in our state. Advanced biofuels have greater energy content than corn ethanol, require less fossil fuels to formulate, and are critical to reducing our dependence on foreign oil and combating climate change. These are the technologies that will drive a sustainable energy future based on clean, domestic energy sources, some of which are being grown and developed in Delaware. I will continue working to support clean fuel technologies that make sense for America.
Source: carper.senate.gov/issue (01/09/2011)
I have been a long-time supporter of clean energy, such as nuclear energy. I believe clean, safe energy is what this country needs and what nuclear power has to offer. Nuclear power provides solutions to many problems facing America today. It will help reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and reduce air pollution that damages our environment and causes global warming. As chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and our nation's civilian nuclear operations, I want to ensure this essential federal agency protects the public's health and security. I will continue to hold congressional oversight hearings to ensure that we have a strong, robust and safe nuclear industry.
I am pleased to voice my support for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and for the Reed amendment that I cosponsored to S.2020, the tax reconciliation bill. The Reed amendment would have fully funded LIHEAP in fiscal year 2006 and would have paid for the increased funding with a temporary tax on the windfall profits of major oil companies. The Senate fiscal year 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill took an important first step toward providing adequate LIHEAP funds by including $2.183 billion for the program for next fiscal year. This is a good starting point. However, $2.183 billion represents only a very slight increase over fiscal year 2005 levels and is likely not enough to meet the needs of LIHEAP beneficiaries in the coming winter. For this reason, I have worked to find ways to increase funding for the LIHEAP program and to do so in a manner that is fiscally responsible. The Reed amendment would have added $2.92 billion to the LIHEAP program and paid for this increase by taxing the windfall profits of major oil companies. Some have criticized this windfall profits tax. Yet I believe that a temporary, limited tax on the windfall profits of energy companies is a reasonable way to help the least fortunate among us pay for their home energy needs. Indeed, I believe that the country's oil producers can afford to help pay for LIHEAP. Last month they posted record profits. ExxonMobil reported that their profits rose 75 percent, and in just 3 months they made $9.92 billion in profit. Similar record profits have been reported by all of the major integrated oil companies. Some of this increase in profit is due to oil prices that started to rise this summer even before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the gulf coast. After the hurricanes, though, the price of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined oil products soared. Our Nation is still struggling to recover from the disasters along the gulf coast. All Americans ha [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
The valuable Chesapeake Bay Watershed includes much of Delaware. The 2008 farm bill recognizes Delaware, as well as New York and West Virginia, as key "headwater states" for the Chesapeake region, an advantageous designation that was previously limited to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. This change made farmers in Delaware eligible to receive special funding set aside specifically for conservation of the Chesapeake region.
The farm bill also provides unprecedented flexibility for Chesapeake Bay Watershed conservation funding to address its unique environmental and conservation needs, with $188 million in mandatory funding This will keep farmers farming and protect them from having to sell off farmland for commercial development.
With Delaware playing a vital role in coastal ecology - serving as a rest stop for millions of migrating birds - I have been a long supporter of wetland conservation. As governor, I enacted the Inland Bays Watershed Enhancement Act, which established a center to restore and protect the three, interconnected bodies of water in southeastern Delaware. I will continue to support wetland conservation in the Senate in the coming years.
My colleagues and I from around the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are working to reauthorize and improve a landmark program to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution and nutrient loading. To learn more, please read my recent blog entry on the subject.
With a $7.9 billion increase in overall conservation funding, the 2008 farm bill also provided help for land conservation and environmental stewardship. The revamped Conservation Stewardship Program incentivizes new conservation and rewards farmers who address resource concerns in their communities. The program will enroll more than 100 million acres by 2017.
As demand and production increase, the need for effective conservation programs also grows. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program has seen a $3.4 billion increase in its budget authority over the next 10 years. It will also be easier for us to protect our wetlands, as the Wetlands Reserve Program has been authorized to enroll 1.2 million acres over the next five years.
Unfortunately, Delaware is what I call "at the end of America's tailpipe." Other states' dirty emissions from cars and power plants drift east, causing pollution that Delaware cannot regulate. Since 2002, I have proposed legislation that would make all states clean-up their major fossil-fuel utility emissions.
On February 4, 2010, a bipartisan group of senators and I introduced a multipollutant bill, called the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010 (S.2995), to move our nation's clean air laws into the 21st century. The legislation would drastically reduce emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide from our nation's power plants.
I have also been very active on efforts to clean up old, dirty diesel engines. Dirty diesel emissions are linked to 21,000 premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, millions of lost work days, and numerous other health impacts. I was one of the co-authors of legislation the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act or DERA that created a grant program to clean up our old diesel fleet. Not only does DERA help clean-up the air, but creating a demand for diesel retrofits also creates a demand for new jobs. And just recently, it was found that diesel emissions are a global warming agent.
Finally, I am working with a bi-partisan group of Senators to address black carbon, a dangerous pollutant emitted by old, dirty diesel engines that is thought to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. We are providing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with funding to study black carbon and the cost-effective ways to reduce black carbon emissions. The study will be an important step to reducing harmful air pollution that makes global warming worse and makes hundreds of Americans sick each year.
I believe that global warming is one of the biggest challenges I may ever seen come before the Congress. I support an economy-wide approach to climate change and remain committed to getting a bill passed this Congress.
To hear more about the economic impacts of climate change legislation and what it will mean for Delaware, please watch my recent video blog entry.
I believe that it is possible to create legislation that protects both our environment and our economy. By advocating a multi-faceted and common-sense approach to our nation's environmental energy problems, we can set the stage for a cleaner tomorrow.
I was the founder and now the co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus. Recycling is a priority of mine because it is one of the most visible and respected ways every American household and business can contribute to our environmental sustainability. Recycling significantly reduces the energy needed to manufacture products, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and also creates jobs.
While I look forward to supporting good recycling legislation, I've also made sure my colleagues and I improve our own recycling practices here on Capitol Hill. I was successful at getting strong recycling language in the last climate change bill - and expect to remain active on recycling issues during this year's climate debate. I also worked with my colleagues to enact the Recycling Investment Saves Energy (RISE) Act in 2008, which will increase America's capabilities to recycle, while creating new green jobs for American workers.
American leaders from both political parties recognized during the Cold War that Soviet communism could not be defeated through military confrontation alone. We recognized that we had to win the battle of ideas. We had to strive to make our nation a better example of the ideals we espoused, a "more perfect union" and "a city upon a hill," in order to demonstrate that the cause we were fighting for was not just one of narrow American interests, but one of broad human values.
In our global struggle against terrorism, we have too often lost sight of the importance of ideas and idealism. If we compromise the values that have historically made us unique, a beacon of hope, an inspiring country to the world, the terrorists will have won.
America is at its best - and its safest - when we are not only feared by a few enemies, but respected far and wide by many friends. If we remain true to ourselves, and to the legacy of leaders before us from both political parties, we will have both the friendship and the safety we deserve.
Today, while our economy is showing modest signs of recovery, it remains fragile and is facing a long road until if fully recovers - particularly when it comes to jobs. While costly in the near-term, the emergency actions of Congress, the ARRA and TARP bills, prevented another Great Depression. It also ensured the pain of the recession - and subsequent loss of tax revenue - would not be prolonged. Recovery is on the way, but we now have to use the federal budget process to help restore long-term economic growth in our nation.
In early 2009, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out a new course for our financial rescue called the Financial Stability Plan. The plan provides the oversight, accountability and transparency that was missing from the previous administration's financial rescue package, commonly called TARP.
Finally, in the long term, once the economy recovers, it is crucial that we put our country back on the path to fiscal responsibility and budget surpluses. The federal government has been running deficits for the past eight years, which has added to the national debt. If deficits are allowed to persist once the economy gets back on track, the additional debt burden will lead to slower economic growth and lower living standards for future generations. The President and Congress will look at a range of solutions, including reforms to our tax policies and spending decisions, to bring deficits under control.
The economic crisis that we're witnessing at this time is the worst that I've seen in my lifetime. I do not want to pass this economic crisis onto our children and to their generation. Our recovery will require hard work and some sacrifice, but if we work smart, think outside of the box and don't give up, we will survive this crisis and eventually come back stronger than ever.
The Obama administration inherited the cost of two wars, the longest recession since World War II, the "bailouts" of Wall Street and the auto industry, and a mounting federal deficit. Whereas President Bush inherited record surpluses eight years ago, President Obama took office inheriting a $1.4 trillion deficit on January 20th and a national debt that had doubled in eight years. In other words, the previous Administration ran up as much new debt in eight years as we did in the previous 225 years as a nation.
Denting the Deficit
* Reduce waste, abuse, and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid by expanding post audit recovery programs: The federal government spent $456 billion on Medicare last year. A pilot program started three years ago identified and recovered overpayments made to providers in just three states. The result? $900 million in overpayments were returned to the taxpayer.
* Help close the "tax gap": One of the easiest ways we can reduce the deficit is by simply collecting the taxes that are owed to the federal government. Believe it or not, the "tax gap" today is probably close to $400 billion. I plan to introduce legislation this winter to help close the "tax gap" by focusing on improving taxpayer compliance.
* Curb new major weapon systems spending: A decade ago, we were overspending on major weapon systems cost overruns by about $50 billion. Last year, we were close to $300 billion in major weapon systems cost overruns. Ultimately, we need to align our weapons systems with the kinds of wars we are likely to fight, and avoid writing blank checks to companies that waste taxpayer dollars.
* Enhance the President's ability to get Congress to consider spending cuts: I introduced the bipartisan Budget Enforcement Legislative Tool Act, or BELT Act, to allow the President to help control spending by compelling Congress to vote on eliminating wasteful programs - including earmarks - from appropriation bills, and doing so without vetoing the entire federal spending bill.
Deficits Matter -- One of my top priorities is getting our fiscal house in order. It's clear to me that deficits of this magnitude are not sustainable. In response, Congress and the Obama administration have to start reining in federal spending or we risk leaving a legacy of debt to our children and grandchildren.
Inherited Challenges -- The Obama administration inherited the cost of two wars, the longest recession since World War II, the "bailouts" of Wall Street and the auto industry, and a mounting federal deficit. Whereas President Bush inherited record surpluses eight years ago, President Obama took office inheriting a $1.4 trillion deficit on January 20th and a national debt that had doubled in eight years. In other words, the previous Administration ran up as much new debt in eight years as we did in the previous 225 years as a nation.
On the Path to Recovery -- Today, while our economy is showing modest signs of recovery, it remains fragile and is facing a long road until if fully recovers - particularly when it comes to jobs. While costly in the near-term, the emergency actions of Congress, the ARRA and TARP bills, prevented another Great Depression. It also ensured the pain of the recession - and subsequent loss of tax revenue - would not be prolonged. Recovery is on the way, but we now have to use the federal budget process to help restore long-term economic growth in our nation.
Tough Choices -- Bringing fiscal discipline to the budget process will require some tough choices. Ultimately, it will require a renewed determination from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I remain confident, and believe restoring the fiscal discipline to Washington will enable Congress to focus on such key priorities as enriching our nation's classrooms, making health care coverage more accessible and affordable to more Americans, and investing and developing clean energy initiatives across the country.
* Reduce waste, abuse, and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid by expanding post audit recovery programs: The federal government spent $456 billion on Medicare last year. Any amount of waste, fraud, and abuse comes at a significant cost to taxpayers. A pilot program started three years ago identified and recovered overpayments made to providers in just three states. The result? $900 million in overpayments were returned to the taxpayer. That is real money, and if we can recover that kind of money for overpayments in just three states, there is an opportunity to replicate that success nationwide.
* Curb new major weapon systems spending: A decade ago, we were overspending on major weapon systems cost overruns by about $50 billion. Last year, we were close to $300 billion in major weapon systems cost overruns. Clearly that is an area where we can do better and have to do better. Last January, Defense Secretary Gates proposed a number of cuts to weapon systems we have no use for yet continue to run up astounding bills for taxpayers. Congress has heeded several of these already, including earlier this year when we rejected the purchase of seven additional F-22 aircraft at $191 million per plane. Ultimately, we need to align our weapons systems with the kinds of wars we are likely to fight, and avoid writing blank checks to companies that waste taxpayer dollars.
Every few years, federal farm, agriculture, and food assistance laws are reauthorized through a large, multi-year "farm bill." Throughout the last Congress, my colleagues and I worked to craft an improved farm bill to better address our nation's agricultural needs. The 2008 farm bill - officially the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act - contained numerous provisions to support Delaware's farmers, and preserve valuable land and natural resources.
A significant new provision of the 2008 farm bill is the Agricultural Disaster Relief Trust Fund and the Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance Program. These comprehensive programs will provide instantaneous relief to Delaware's farmers, livestock and property if they suffer losses in a crippling natural disaster.
One key improvement I helped secure in the farm bill was a specialty crop provision. Traditionally, crops like corn, cotton, wheat, soy receive most of the federal subsidies in the farm bill. Unfortunately, in previous farm bills, we have dramatically underfunded specialty crops, organic foods and community food programs. This is a problem because as food prices rise, the most nutritious foods - like fresh fruits and vegetables - become less affordable for American families.
Fortunately, the new farm bill provided $3 billion reserved for specialty crops, organic foods and healthy community food initiatives. Community food programs help ensure that our children, our low-income families and our senior citizens have access to nutritious fruits and vegetables Also, Delaware growers of nursery crops, watermelons, potatoes, beans, strawberries, spinach, and cantaloupes will benefit from these important specialty crop programs.
We must also work to protect Delaware from the damaging effects of crop loss. By promoting agricultural research, we can prevent disease and infestation and improve the quality of the crops that we produce.
This past year was difficult for Delaware's farmers, who have persevered under a serious economic downturn. The agricultural community is a critical part of Delaware's economy, and we must make sure that our farmers receive needed financial assistance during difficult times.
Finally, we need to continue our policies of land conservation, while taking steps to preserve the agricultural way of life.
Agriculture is a vital part of our state's economy and we must work together to secure a better future for Delaware's hard-working farmers.
The creation and application of new farm technologies is vital to the survival and growth of Delaware's farming economy. With recent advances in the field of biotechnology, we are able to increase the number of products that can be profitably derived from the crops that we grow.
Soybeans and corn are now being used in fuel additives and, one day, might help significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The 2005 energy bill includes many provisions that promote the use of biofuels, which is beneficial for Delaware's soybean and corn producers.
We must also work to protect Delaware from the damaging effects of crop loss. By promoting agricultural research we can prevent disease and infestation while improving the quality of the crops that we produce.
We must also remain vigilant in our testing and prevention of avian influenza. In 2004, our state was hit by an outbreak of avian influenza that forced many farmers to destroy their flocks and kept Delaware poultry from entering foreign countries. Once the situation was under control, I worked with the delegation to lift trade barriers and to ensure that we had more resources at the federal level for testing, combating and preventing avian influenza.
To aid our farmers and our state's economy, we must also work to remove trade barriers that prevent Delaware products from being shipped throughout the world. By opening new markets, we develop the opportunity for trade and expand the global marketplace for Delaware products.
We also need to continue our policies of land conservation while taking steps to preserve the agricultural way of life. As the Senate continues to debate the important issues that impact Delaware's farming communities, please know that I will make every effort to protect this vital part of our state's economy.
The agricultural community is a critical part of Delaware's economy, and we must make sure that our farmers receive needed financial assistance during difficult times.
We need to continue our policies of land conservation, while taking steps to preserve the agricultural way of life.
Iran has become a key sponsor of terrorism and threat in the Middle East. The United States and its allies must develop a coherent Iran strategy that establishes both short- and long-term goals. I held a Senate hearing to examine these concerns in April 2008.
Another concern for the United States and its allies is the proliferation of dangerous weapons, and the possibility that they could fall into the hands of someone who wants to do us harm. For example, North Korea is known to have sold its military technology on the black market.
The acquisition of nuclear weapons on the part of either of these regimes constitutes a grave threat to America's security. Stopping the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea should be a priority of our government and our allies. To achieve this, we must continue to strengthen relationships with our European partners and work with the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to give diplomacy its very best chance to succeed.
The first responsibility of the federal government, according to our Constitution, is to "provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States."
Since 9/11, my colleagues and I on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have overseen both the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the historic overhaul of our nation's intelligence agencies.
This is a pivotal moment for the United States. Thousands of our young men and women remain deployed overseas in harm's way in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Events are unfolding in the Middle East that will shape that region for many years to come. Dangerous regimes, particularly in Iran, are rushing to acquire nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Meanwhile, America's important system of security alliances, built in a bipartisan fashion over more than half a century, has shown profound strain in recent years. And today, nine years into a brand new century, there are many global challenges that we must together confront. Americans know that our nation and our world face great perils: From ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to the continuing threat posed by terrorists around the world; from the dangers of climate change to a dangerous proliferation of pandemic diseases; from financial meltdown to worldwide poverty.
If we are to restore America's reputation and keep our people safe, there is much work to be done.
Like many Americans, I have some concerns over the Bush administration's plan to allow Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to oversee the terminal operations of six ports along our nation's coastline, including the one located in Philadelphia.
My initial reaction was one of skepticism. Granted, the United Arab Emirates is an ally of the United States, and its leaders have taken steps to dissociate themselves from radical Islamic factions and aid our country in the war on terror. However, we can't forget that the UAE was also one of three countries to recognize the Taliban in Afghanistan. And as Tom Kean, co-chairman of the September 11th Commission pointed out, Al Qaeda used UAE banks to wire funds to the 9-11 hijackers, two of whom were citizens of the United Arab Emirates.
My sincere hope is that the administration is correct and there is nothing to worry about. In a post 9-11 world, however, you simply can't be too careful. That is why I have joined my colleagues in the U.S. Senate in calling for a more thorough review of this deal. Enough concerns have been raised to justify a hard second look before we make a final decision that could negatively impact the safety and livelihoods of thousands of Americans.
I also met with officials from the Port of Wilmington this past Monday to discuss this proposed deal and port security in general. After listening to their concerns, I remain committed to doing everything I can to make sure that America's ports are as safe as possible. Since September 11th, we have made great strides in increasing airline security but continue to lag behind in rail and port security. With hundreds of thousands of shipping containers passing through our ports each year and continuing their journey across America on our nation's rail system, this neglect could have tragic consequences.
The fact is, while there has been some progress made since 9-11 -- including at the Port of Wilmington -- we haven't come [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
In addition to man-made threats, this country has seen its own infrastructure - roads, bridges, tunnels, utility grids, sewers - slowly start to decay. As a result, our country has been presented with a new set of challenges. This breakdown of critical infrastructure, such as with the Northeast power outage of 2003, the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the Minneapolis Bridge collapsed in 2007, can disrupt our daily routines and even put lives at risk. We must ensure that the infrastructure Delawareans depend on - from the Port of Wilmington to the vital passenger and freight lines that run through our state - are safe and secure. And with Delaware at risk for hurricanes and flooding, we need to be prepared for any event. It is vital that the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue the improvements it has made since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and maintain a close partnership with first responders and emergency management officials in Delaware and our region.
Enhance the President's ability to get Congress to consider spending cuts: I introduced the bipartisan Budget Enforcement Legislative Tool Act, or BELT Act, to allow the President to help control spending by compelling Congress to vote on eliminating wasteful programs - including earmarks - from appropriation bills, and doing so without vetoing the entire federal spending bill.
As we work to provide health coverage to more Americans, we must also improve the quality of health care in this country. Right now, almost one-third of health care services delivered in the United States do nothing to improve health outcomes. We can do better and we must do better. By giving healthcare providers incentives to coordinate care with their patients' other doctors and by bolstering the use of health information technology, we will not only improve the quality of care, but also reduce health care costs.
Throughout the last century, the world has experienced a number of dangerous strains of the flu and other viruses. Whether it was the global outbreak of 1918, the SARs epidemic in 2002 or the H1N1 outbreak we are facing in 2009, the federal government must continue to work with states and localities to prepare our country for current and future waves of viruses. Since the identification of the H1N1 ("swine flu") virus back in April 2009, the federal government has aggressively developed a vaccination program for the public. This program has begun to vaccinate our communities from more infections, as well as help curtail their spread.
I will continue to work to ensure Delaware's Departments of Public Health and Safety receive the assistance they need to combat this outbreak. Our health and emergency workers are the first responders in this crisis and deserve Congress's full support. I will continue to work with my colleagues to help pass legislation that bolsters our nation's capability in dealing with these viral outbreaks, and make sure states like Delaware receive the necessary funding and services to prepare and respond to any type of health related incident.
Under current payment practices, our health system does little to incentivize providers to focus on prevention and wellness. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are rampant in this country, but also in most cases, preventable. Instead of keeping people healthy, we struggle just to keep the sick from suffering or death. Prevention and wellness must be at the heart of any health reform debate by encouraging initiatives and policies that will promote healthy behavior.
Recent comprehensive studies suggest that without changes, health care spending will increase from less than 20 percent of GDP to 25 percent in 2025. Meaningful health care reform must strengthen our economy by giving both large and small businesses the tools to improve their productivity, stay competitive in a global market, and increase their capacity to create more jobs.
There is no one magic bullet that can fix our health care system, but there are changes we must make to improve the lives and health of Americans. While many challenges remain, we cannot afford to let the current health system continue draining our resources and undermine the future well being of all citizens. To ensure the people of Delaware and all Americans have comprehensive, effective, and equitable health care, we must meet the following goals:
* Ensure Access to Quality Affordable Health Care
* Contain the Rising Costs of Health Care
* Improve Health Outcomes and Qualities by Focusing on Wellness and Prevention
* Keep Our Nation Competitive in Health Care Research
Recent comprehensive studies suggest that without changes, health care spending will increase from less than 20 percent of GDP to 25 percent in 2025. Spending on Medicare and Medicaid alone will reach 12 percent of GDP by 2050. IF we fail to rein in the growth of health care costs, whatever new coverage we extend will be short-lived.
In less than 10 years, the United States will be forced to spend $13,000 on health care for every American, every year. Meaningful health care reform must strengthen our economy by giving both large and small businesses the tools to improve their productivity, stay competitive in a global market, and increase their capacity to create more jobs.
I've been working with my colleagues throughout the year to develop legislative policy that improves health care outcomes in America, while reining in the growth of health care costs, to enable us to begin to extend coverage to those who lack that coverage today - including about 95,000 Delawareans.
As the world becomes more interconnected everyday through technology and faster, more efficient transportation systems, the ability to protect our citizens from crime and terrorism becomes ever harder. Whether it is programs such as the Visa Waiver Program or our Border Patrol's Secure Border Initiative, we must balance a strong national security policy with the unimpeded flow of commerce and legal immigration into our country. Like most of my colleagues, I have been a strong and consistent supporter of comprehensive immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical. We should continue to secure our borders not only from illegal immigration, but also to prevent the movement of contraband and narcotics into our communities. Moving forward, we must put politics aside and focus on a sensible way of reforming our immigration laws without offending our friends and allies abroad.
The September 11 terrorist attacks triggered one of the greatest reorganizations the federal government has seen since World War II, and brought to light vulnerabilities that may exist within our borders. Throughout these past eight years, we have learned as a country that we need to proactively plan and prevent for potential disasters, whether natural or man-made. The December 25, 2009 attempted plane bombing by a Nigerian national was a wake-up call for our intelligence community that we can never let our defenses down and that we must continue to work together. This means, among other things, ensuring that our intelligence and law enforcement officials at every level of government openly share the information needed to help prevent the next terrorist attack.
In an effort to address our vulnerabilities and keep our communities safe, I have worked side-by-side with my colleagues on the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee to help pass key legislation that not only bolsters the Department of Homeland Security, but also strengthens our nation's transportation systems, borders, critical infrastructure facilities and cyber security. In the coming months, our Committee will hold hearings to determine how we can also improve airline security and terror watch lists. I will also continue to help ensure that the men and women we count on to keep us safe receive the support and resources they need from the federal government.
Whether they are dealing with a hurricane, a terrorist attack, or an everyday fire, the men and women of our first responder communities are truly on the front lines daily. They deserve our fullest support. I believe it is a shared responsibility to build a culture of readiness that ensures our families, communities and businesses are prepared for emergencies of any kind. I will continue to work with partners throughout Delaware to make sure they have the most up-to-date equipment, technology and resources they need to attract and train the most talented public servants.
The homeland security legislation my colleagues and I have passed in recent years have made places like the Port of Wilmington more secure, the planes we travel on daily safer, and urban areas like New York City and coastal states like Delaware better prepared for man-made or natural disasters. While we have certainly come a long way in protecting our country since 9/11, there is much more that needs to be done.
Over the past two decades, we have seen the Internet become ubiquitous throughout our society. More and more Americans go online to read their news, manage their bank accounts, and even meet new people. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an activity that is not connected to the Internet in one way or another. Pretty soon the Internet will even help to make our nation's energy grid more efficient by directing energy to where it's needed, when it's needed. And someday soon, the Internet will also help hospitals more easily share patient information to drive down healthcare costs and reduce preventable medical mistakes.
But as Americans come to rely on the Internet more and more, we risk making ourselves vulnerable to new types of attacks. Since 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has reported a dramatic increase in cyber attacks against financial institutions, critical infrastructure such as the electric grid, and even government websites. Just last year, the Department of Defense reported that the plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America's most advanced fighter jet, were stolen in a cyber attack.
In an effort to protect our nation's critical infrastructure and sensitive networks, I have introduced legislation that will better focus our cyber defense efforts. My bill would enhance the Department of Homeland Security's ability to share information with the private sector and other federal agencies so that all players, from private businesses to federal agencies, are aware of any threats and are able to coordinate their efforts. Further, my bill would eliminate the wasteful paperwork burden that many agencies are currently required to endure; a burden I've learned does not do much to actually improve agencies' cyber defenses. I look forward to working with colleagues in Congress and the Administration as we tackle this emerging and dangerous threat.
Making Home Affordable Program is now helping millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying at-risk loans or refinancing into lower interest rates. As of August 2009, 2.7 million loans have been refinanced through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and more than 360,000 trial modifications are underway.
We are now more than one year removed from the collapse of Lehman Bros. and a crisis that nearly brought about the collapse of our financial system. The ensuing downturn in the housing sector has continued, and poses the most serious threat to the American dream of homeownership since the Great Depression.
To be clear, we have a long way to go until our housing market fully recovers, but we're beginning to see modest signs of recovery and hopefully, the worst is behind us. In fact, home prices are beginning to stabilize, and existing home sales have increased five months in a row.
Having said that, the foreclosure crisis remains a clear and present danger to millions of American families, evidenced by the nearly two million foreclosure filings in the first half of 2009. Thankfully, the Obama administration is committing every resource at its disposal to stem the tide of foreclosures nationwide.
Specifically, the Making Home Affordable Program is now helping millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying at-risk loans or refinancing into lower interest rates. As of August 2009, 2.7 million loans have been refinanced through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and more than 360,000 trial modifications are underway.
That's why I, along with a number of my colleagues, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in July suggesting they encourage the banks and servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program. I also worked with my colleagues to enact, in May 2009, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. The bill fine-tunes the Hope for Homeowners program to give families another viable option to avoid foreclosure.
To be clear, we have a long way to go until our housing market fully recovers, but we're beginning to see modest signs of recovery and hopefully, the worst is behind us. In fact, home prices are beginning to stabilize, and existing home sales have increased five months in a row. Three main factors - the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, the Federal Reserve driving down 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates, and low home prices - have made this one of the best times in my lifetime to buy or refinance a home.
Specifically, the Making Home Affordable Program is now helping millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying at-risk loans or refinancing into lower interest rates. As of August 2009, 2.7 million loans have been refinanced through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and more than 360,000 trial modifications are underway. These results are encouraging, but it's not enough.
The Making Home Affordable program, unveiled on March 4, 2009, is the most comprehensive effort to date to address the prolonged contraction in our housing market and to stanch foreclosures across the United States. The Making Home Affordable program allows homeowners who played by the rules access to more affordable fixed rate loans, while providing financial incentives for servicers and borrowers to modify mortgages to avoid foreclosure.
Having been to Iraq twice, I still cannot say with any certainty that we are winning the war in Iraq, but I do believe we have created a window of opportunity for the Iraqis to move forward with the difficult yet necessary political decisions required of them to salvage their country.
The United States must continue to put pressure on Iraqi political leaders to take positive toward political reconciliation. Above all, as we begin to draw down our troops along the lines of the plan outlined by President Obama, we must ensure that two main objectives have been accomplished: that Iraq will not be a threat to America; and that the Iraqi people will be better off after we leave than they were under Saddam Hussein's reign.
I am deeply concerned about the deteriorating situations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Within the last half-decade, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have posed increasing threats to the national security of the United States, which we must continue to aggressively address.
To protect our homeland from attacks, I, with support from many of my Senate colleagues, have urged President Obama to re-focus our counter-terrorism strategy and our national security resources on this region and implement a comprehensive new strategy to keep America safe. He has already signaled his commitment to do so.
Investing in our troops means that we must provide our armed forces with enough rest time in between deployments so that they may be as effective as possible. Currently, our military is being stretched too thin by extended deployments and minimized dwell time, which many retired military leaders have warned will push our forces to the breaking point. To address this concern, I joined Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) in cosponsoring legislation to ensure our brave men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will receive the same amount of time at home with their loved ones as time they serve on the battlefield.
Reduce waste, abuse, and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid by expanding post audit recovery programs: The federal government spent $456 billion on Medicare last year. Any amount of waste, fraud, and abuse comes at a significant cost to taxpayers. A pilot program started three years ago identified and recovered overpayments made to providers in just three states. The result? $900 million in overpayments were returned to the taxpayer. That is real money, and if we can recover that kind of money for overpayments in just three states, there is an opportunity to replicate that success nationwide.
Our system of health insurance in this country -- with its respective private and public components -- resembles a patchwork quilt. It is a patchwork quilt that is fraying a bit at the edges for many Americans. Over forty million people in our country are without health insurance today. Millions more who have coverage strain to meet their rising premiums, copayments, and deductibles.
This is not a problem that is limited to the very poor. Four in five of the uninsured come from families with a full-time worker. The uninsured and the barely insured in America are people with whom we interact in ways big and small each and every day. They are the people who care for our elderly parents. They are the people who drive the buses taking our children to school.
While it is important to recognize the growing holes in our patchwork quilt of health coverage in America, it is also important to recognize that ours remains the very best health care system the world has to offer. The great majority of all the pharmaceuticals, the medical procedures, and the simple routine miracles that we expect every time we go to the doctor's office have been developed and perfected right here in America.
We need to focus on fixing what is broken in the system, while leaving well enough alone for those who have good health insurance that they want to keep. We also need to respect the fact that what many of those Americans who have lost coverage in recent years want most for themselves and for their families is not another government program, but rather to have access again to quality, affordable health insurance in the private market.
During the last campaign, there were a number of things proposed by then-Governor Bush that then-Governor Carper agreed with. One of those was the idea of offering a refundable tax credit to help bring health coverage within range of millions of those who are currently unable to afford it. It was an idea that I agreed with last fall, and it remai [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Victories in the war on terrorism will be won on the backs of the men and women of the armed forces, and not through the use of any single weapon system or technological achievement. We must, therefore, use our defense dollars to make sure that our troops have the skills needed to fight 21st century wars. That means that we strengthen our fighting force by providing our troops more training in counterinsurgency and antiterrorism tactics.
We must continue to incentivize the recruitment of capable young men and women into the military to make sure that America retains as effective a fight force as we developed over the past eight years. That's why I voted for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This new program will encourage more military recruits by promising to pay for their college tuition and their housing costs after they leave the military just as long as they serve 90 continuous days and 36 total months of active duty service. We all know that the cost of college has risen dramatically and that the job market has seen better day. This bill will make sure that young Americans who serve their country in the line of duty will be able to attend college or graduate school at no cost to them and will not be burdened by college debt upon graduation.
Investing in our troops also means that we must provide our armed forces with enough rest time in between deployments so that they may be as effective as possible. Currently, our military is being stretched too thin by extended deployments and minimized dwell time, which many retired military leaders have warned will push our forces to the breaking point. To address this concern, I joined Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) in cosponsoring legislation to ensure our brave men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will receive the same amount of time at home with their loved ones as time they serve on the battlefield.
Last April, the Government Accountability Office released its annual assessment of Department of Defense's major weapon systems and revealed that the cost overruns on the 95 largest programs now amounted to $295 billion more than their original program estimates, putting the sum total of these costs at $1.6 trillion.
If our nation is to navigate the economic crisis and continue to fight two wars, we must curb this inefficient use of defense dollars. That means that we must end no-bid defense contracts, reform the weapons acquisition process so that our weapons are developed in a cost-effective way, and we must incentivize defense contractors to deliver weapon systems on time and under budget.
Last September, I held a hearing in my Federal Financial Management subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to examine this issue. These findings prompted me to become a cosponsor of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act, which, among other things, creates an independent "Cost Czar" for the Department of Defense who will hold acquisition officials and defense companies' feet to the fire to reduce cost overruns in our biggest defense projects.
While must make sure that we are developing our weapon systems in a cost-effective way, we also must be sure that our defense dollars go to weapons that will enable us to succeed in our battles against terrorists and will prepare us for the challenges yet ahead. I strongly support Secretary of Defense Gate's effort to curtail some of these obsolete programs.
We need to work together to find ways to lower prescription drug prices. The recent vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill was among the most difficult ones that I have cast during my time in the Senate. After careful and thoughtful deliberation, I chose to vote for the measure because I concluded that this may be the last opportunity for a long time to provide a prescription drug plan for Medicare-eligible seniors who wish to participate. While it may not include all that we want, this legislation represents a beginning. It is something we can build on, and we will.
President Bush has indicated that he wants to privatize Social Security. Let me say clearly, I oppose what I've seen of the president's plan because it would increase our national debt and result in benefit cuts for our seniors. We can do better than this and I will make every effort to minimize the negative impacts of any proposed legislation.
It is important to recognize that it will be several decades before Social Security experiences a shortfall and that, even then, the system will have sufficient resources to pay a majority of the benefits that are owed well into the second half of this century.
I believe the President should appoint a new bipartisan commission to study the future of Social Security. Our nation currently faces mounting budget deficits and rising government debt. A bipartisan commission would bring open and honest debate to this issue and help build consensus around sensible solutions that will secure Social Security's solvency and provide new investment opportunities for future generations.
Should the Senate address the issue of Social Security reform next year, I will be sure to keep your views in mind. I am open to the idea of establishing personal retirement accounts, but not if they result in an increase to our national debt or a reduction of benefits for seniors.
Social Security has been a remarkable success since its establishment more than 70 years ago. As a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I understand that nearly 50 percent of today's seniors would be living in poverty were it not for our Social Security system. We have a sacred obligation to ensure that retirees continue to receive the benefits that they were promised, while also guaranteeing that the program will be there for future generations.
Help close the "tax gap": One of the easiest ways we can reduce the deficit is by simply collecting the taxes that are owed to the federal government. Believe it or not, the "tax gap" today is probably close to $400 billion. I plan to introduce legislation this winter to help close the "tax gap" by focusing on improving taxpayer compliance.
One of my main priorities since coming to Congress has been a healthy Amtrak. Regrettably, the Bush administration has repeatedly chosen to underfund Amtrak and this year proposed to reform it through our bankruptcy courts.
There is a better way to bring wholesale changes to Amtrak and build for the future of passenger rail. The Senate this fall -- on a 93-6 vote -- passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which would provide capital grants to improve Amtrak's aging infrastructure and build new lines for passenger rail service across the . It also calls for tighter financial management at Amtrak, as well as a plan to improve long-distance service. I hope the house takes up this bill in 2006.
Also included in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was $27.5 billion for highways and $8.4 billion for transit investments to repair crumbling infrastructure and create jobs.
This is an important step to strengthen and improve our transportation system, but we have a big challenge ahead of us. Because of high fuel prices followed by a slumping economy, Americans have been driving less. And because we fund our transportation programs through the gas tax, this has created a transit funding problem. Congress will need to explore many options to ensure that we have the funding necessary to maintain and expand our transportation system.
We will also need to make sure that this funding is going to a program that Americans have faith in; one that is less reliant on foreign oil and one that reduces costs to American families. Transportation is the second largest budget items for most families, just behind housing. This is because we built homes far from work places, provided few transit options, and we made it unsafe for a child to even walk to school. We must address these issues in the next transportation bill, especially if we are going to ask Americans to pay more for it.
In addition to man-made threats, this country has seen its own infrastructure - roads, bridges, tunnels, utility grids, sewers - slowly start to decay. As a result, our country has been presented with a new set of challenges. This breakdown of critical infrastructure, such as with the Northeast power outage of 2003, the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the Minneapolis Bridge collapsed in 2007, can disrupt our daily routines and even put lives at risk. We must ensure that the infrastructure Delawareans depend on - from the Port of Wilmington to the vital passenger and freight lines that run through our state - are safe and secure. And with Delaware at risk for hurricanes and flooding, we need to be prepared for any event.
One of my legislative priorities since coming to Congress has been building a healthy intercity rail system. Amtrak meets the transportation needs of millions of Americans and thousands of businesses nationwide, including more than 700,000 Delaware riders each year.
On October 16, 2008, then-President Bush signed into law the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act. This measure included a substantial new investment in intercity passenger rail to provide more rail service nationwide, and bring the Northeast Corridor into a state of good repair. The measure also requires trains be equipped with sensors to help prevent crashes. This bill was a bipartisan vote of confidence in America's rail system, and its enactment provides Amtrak the comprehensive assistance needed to operate a modern and safe national passenger rail system that millions rely on each year. The bill also puts Amtrak on track to become more self-sufficient, allowing federal operating subsidies to be redirected to innovative revitalization projects like those planned near the Wilmington train station.
An additional major commitment to creating a strong, national passenger rail system was included in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That economic stimulus package included $8 billion in competitive grants for new intercity passenger rail and high-speed rail. This is a critical step toward modernizing our transportation infrastructure, with a focus on reducing our reliance of foreign oil and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
We must utilize an integrated approach to solve our transportation problems. While building a strong roadway system is essential, we must work to provide people with alternative methods of transportation as well. Alternatives - such as mass transit, passenger rail, and bike lanes - improve air quality, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and support healthier lifestyles.
I recently participated in the development of the national transportation bill. This legislation provided nearly $1 billion in transportation funding for Delaware - a 30 percent increase over previous levels.
This new funding will be used for a wide variety of projects that will make Delaware's infrastructure easier and safer to navigate. With high priorities in all three counties, projects like a new interchange along I-95, an improved Rehoboth streetscape, a new Woodland ferry, and the rerouting of truck traffic around downtown Harrington will make a big difference in the lives of Delaware's commuters.
The prosperity our state and nation experienced in the past eight years did not reach many of our hardest working families -- those earning minimum wage. It is time these families received a raise.
Delaware's minimum wage is higher than the federal requirement of $5.15 an hour. But if you work full time at a minimum wage job in Delaware and never take vacation, never show up late for work, and never miss a day due to sickness, your hard work will still net you only $12,792 dollars in pay for an entire year. Someone working in another for the federal minimum will bring home even less, only $10,700.
Thirteen thousand dollars a year is not enough to raise a family. That's not enough to pay your bills and save for their future. That's barely enough to provide for even the most basic needs.
This needs to change. That's why I have joined with other Senators concerned about our working families to cosponsor the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2001. Our goal is to give Delaware's most struggling working families a raise.
The Fair Minimum Wage Act raises the federal minimum wage by $1.50 in three steps. Thirty days after the Act is signed into law, the federal minimum wage will increase by sixty cents, which is a twelve percent raise. On New Years Day of next year, the minimum wage will increase again, by another fifty cents, and then by forty cents again the following year.
While the growth of our state's economy helped create over 80,000 jobs from 1992-2000 and raised the standard of living for many of our residents, minimum wage earning families saw their buying power shrink. As I visit towns throughout our state, I hear story after story from Delawareans about how much cheaper things were thirty years ago and how they used to be able to get a lot more for their money. For minimum wage earning families, that holds true most of all. The real value of the federal minimum wage is far below what it was in 1968. Since 1969, the ratio of the minimum wage to hourly e [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
When Bill Clinton declared in 1992 that we needed to "end welfare as we know it," many of the nation's governors cheered. We wanted to experiment - in some cases boldly - with our states' welfare programs.
At our annual meeting in early 1996, the National Governors Association unanimously adopted a set of principles to guide welfare reform. Families, we said, should be better off when a parent works rather than remaining on welfare. Cash benefits should be time-limited as a general rule. Reform should focus on performing actual work rather than simply attending job- training classes. Fathers should not have to abandon their families in poverty so that they can qualify for welfare. And states should be freed from the one-size-fits-all mentality that governed how welfare operated.
Not everyone agreed on the need for comprehensive welfare reform. Nor did everyone agree with the notion of devolving power to the states. Critics warned of a "race to the bottom" in which states would slash recipients from the rolls and use the money intended for them for other purposes.
In most states, however, the feared race to the bottom turned out to be a race to the top. States have used waivers from Washington and the flexibility granted them by the 1996 welfare reform law to ensure that the majority of families who move from welfare rolls to payrolls would truly be on their way to becoming better off.
My home state, Delaware, is a case in point. When a person walks into a welfare office in Delaware seeking cash assistance, she - or he - is asked, "How would you like to go to work instead?" If they lack the skills needed for an available entry-level job, the state provides her with training. The government contractors who actually do the training are paid in part on the basis of whether their trainees actually remain in the workforce.
Not all of these new workers have their aid cut off all at once, either. Instead, for those whose income initially is well below the [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]