WASHINGTON D.C. - Members of the 107th Congress sworn in to office in early January face many new challenges and unique opportunities as they set out to get the people's work done. Topping the Democratic agenda is unfinished businessfrom the last Congress that working families care deeply about:
- Fiscally responsible tax relief
- Raising the minimum wage
- Protecting our environment
- Improving education
These are common-sense issues that can and should be dealt with in abipartisan fashion in the new Congress to improve the quality of life for working families.
Tax Relief. In the current era of budget surpluses, it makes sense to give hard-working Americans the tax relief they deserve. We need to make sure that the majority of tax relief goes to working families - not the wealthiest 10 percent. First, these families need meaningful tax relief to help them bear the costs of child care, health care, higher education, and long term care of elderly relatives.
In addition, we can reach agreement on measures to eliminate the marriage tax penalty and reduce the estate tax. Elimination of the marriage tax penalty is a matter of simple fairness. And a reduction in the estate tax is necessary to ensure that small business owners, family farmers, and other working Americans can keep their assets in their family after their death.
As we seek to reduce taxes for American families, we need to be careful that we do it in a context of fiscal responsibility. Over the past eight years, we have made great strides in paying down the national debt and balancing the budget. A $1.9 trillion tax cut could eat up our entire budget surplus, threaten our economic security, and result in rising interest rates. We need to use our surplus not just for tax cuts, but also for continuing to pay down the national debt, investing in the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds, and devoting resources to meet the growing needs of our nation's families. These are investments we need to make now to ensure that our prosperity will continue well into the future.
Raising the Minimum Wage. A top Democratic priority in the coming year is a long-overdue raise in the minimum wage. Last Congress, I fought to increase the minimum wage, but my efforts to restore its buying power were blocked by the Republican Congress. Today, the minimum wage is only 65% of its 1968 value.
In just the last two years, inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the minimum wage by nearly 40 cents an hour. It has been almost five years since the wage was last increased, and individuals working minimum wage jobs need the extra dollars now more than ever. For these workers, a raise in the minimum wage makes a big difference in their efforts to pay for food, rent, education, or save money for the future.
This Congress, we will be fighting to see that the value of the wage is increased to where it should be so that the earnings for an hour's work goes farther.Protecting our Environment. Particularly important for the health and security of our families is the preservation of our environment for future generations. Ensuring that our water is safe to drink and our fish are safe to eat is a crucial part of that goal. We need to fully enforce the Clean Water Act and monitor the amount of pollution that is reaching our rivers, lakes, and water supplies. In addition, we need to take steps within our own communities to make improvements in our sewers and water treatment facilities to protect water quality and reduce the amount of run-off reaching our water sources.
Improving Education. Time and time again, working families have expressed to me that improving the quality of public education is one of their greatest concerns.
In the last Congress, we were successful in securing funds for new school construction, after-school programs, and reduction of class sizes, but more needs to be done. We need to build upon these successes to fully meet the needs of our nation's schools.
Particularly in the area of school construction, we have a long way to go. Across the country, students are sitting in crowded, inadequate, and deteriorating classrooms. We need to devote more funds to building and renovating schools so that students can learn in a healthy environment. And as we invest in school construction and renovation, we need to ensure that all new projects comply with Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws.
Clearly, Congress has a lot on its plate in the coming year and it will require that we all work together in new ways to get things done. With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, Senate, and Presidency, we need to be particularly vigilant in our protection of policies that support workers rights and address the needs of working families.
We need to ensure that the gains working families have made are not rolled back or threatened in any way. In particular jeopardy could be Davis-Bacon protections, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) recent regulations on worker safety, and even the right to collective bargaining. With America's working families depending on us to stand up for them, there's no time to waste. We must be steadfast in our commitment to championing their needs - not the demands of special interests.