The Democratic women of the Senate presented nine challenges to Senate Majority Leader Frist to change the direction, tone, and agenda of the Senate. They are confident that all nine goals can be met in the remaining days of this session of Congress. They would like to see the Senate get back on track, focusing on the pursuits of Americans, instead of “re-election” issues.
Senator Barbara Mikulski introduced the Checklist for Change, saying that all issues are women issues and that what women do is make checklist, to remember all the important things in out lives. The first thing on Senator Mikulski’s checklist was pension and retirement security. She said that “Honor your mother and father isn’t just a good commandment to live by, it’s a good policy to govern by.” In order to make certain that social security is reliable, undeniable, and inflation proof, Democrats promise to never privatize social security. This would give seniors a “guaranteed benefit, not a guaranteed gamble.”
Senator Maria Cantwell presented the second challenge. She addressed the issue of rising educational costs. She pointed out that in 1975 the Pell Grant covered eighty percent of the cost of a four-year public education, today it covers only forty percent. She called for the Senate to increase the Pell Grant to $4,500, to make the college tuition tax credit permanent, and to reduce the interest rate on student loans. She said the Bush administration, “took twelve billion dollars from successful student aid programs to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”
Senator Patty Murray presented the third challenge. She addressed issues of funding for the Veterans Administration. The Veterans Administration is seeing thirty eight percent more Iraq veterans than was budgeted for. She calls on the VA to put forth a realistic budget that reflects the actual costs of caring for veterans. She would also like to have hearings to identify gaps in the Veterans administration transition and mental health programs. Senator Murray said, “Caring for our veterans is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it is an American issue.” She called on Congress to do the most patriotic thing it can do, “Fulfill our promises to care for Americans veteran’s and military families.”
Senator Mary Landrieu presented the fourth challenge. She addressed the issue of security at here at home. Despite a number of federal investigations into the shortcomings of our nation’s disaster response, Congress has not set aside a full day for debate and discussion on how to meet these shortcomings. She challenged Congress to restore our disaster preparedness agency to Cabinet-level status, to build a Department of Transportation Gulf Coast study to develop save and efficient evacuation plans, to reform the Stafford Act, adopt and fund the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Senator Landrieu said, “We an and must be better prepared for when the next disaster strikes.”
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton offered the fifth challenge. She addressed issues related to our dependence on foreign oil. She said that, “Our current energy policy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values and threatening our children’s future.” She called on us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by at least fifty percent by 2025. To achieve this she has introduced the Strategic Energy Fund Bill. This bill would halve our dependence on foreign oil over two decades, invest in alternative energy and efficiency, thereby creating new jobs, strengthening our economy and “freeing our hand to fully protect our nation on a world stage.”
Senator Blanche Lincoln offered the sixth challenge. She addressed issues of affordable healthcare. Forty six million Americans lack health insurance. Senator Lincoln and Senator Durbin have proposed the Small Employers Health Benefits Program to enable small business to provide affordable, accessible, health insurance at an affordable rate. Senator Lincoln said, “Working families should have the comfort of knowing that they can take their child to the doctor---whether they have a cold, a broken arm, or something more serious---and be able to afford their care.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein offered the seventh challenge. She addressed issues of stem cell research. She said the House has passed a bill that would expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines available for federally funded research. This bill overcomes a major hurdle that the bush administration placed on stem cell research when he limited funding to the existing 22 lines of stem cells. These lines have all become contaminate with mouse feeder cells. They already have the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, however, since President Bush has vowed to veto the bill, the Republican leadership refuses to allow the bill to come to the floor for an up or down vote. The senate should pass this bill and give the millions of Americans suffering from disabling diseases and spinal cord injuries some hope.
Senator Barbara Boxer offered the eighth challenge. She addressed environmental issues. She said, “one in four Americans lives within four miles of a toxic waste Superfund site—And EPA is only cleaning up about forty sites a year—half the number cleaned up under the Clinton Administration.” She challenged the Republican congress to put the environment back on the agenda. She called for them to move forward on a comprehensive science-based bill to stabilize and reduce greenhouse emissions, and to fully fund the Superfund program. Senator Boxer said, “We owe our children a clean and healthy environment.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow offered the final challenge. She addressed the issues of keeping new jobs in America. She mentioned that during the Presidents last State of the Union address, he never mentioned manufacturing. “Manufacturing built the middle class of this country. You can’t have an economy without making and growing things.” She challenged the Republican congress to enact tax policies that stop outsourcing of American jobs, to level the international playing field by enforcing our trade agreements, and to raise the minimum wage.
Will the Senate rise to these challenges or will America have to wait until November to go in a new direction?