A Look At 2003
Nearly one year ago, I joined other members of the Senate leadership to highlight the issues on which we hoped to make significant progress now that Republicans had retaken the majority.
Working with the Bush administration, Congress accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. And our task was even more challenging with a narrow majority that could easily be thwarted by a determined Democratic minority.
Because the Senate is divided 51-49, and many issues require 60 votes to pass, compromise is necessary to get things done. As a result, its hard to view our record as all good or all bad; but there was progress.
Among the achievements:
Tax Relief for American Families: Congress passed $320 billion in tax cuts to benefit American families and aid our economic recovery. We increased the child tax credit, accelerated income tax rate reductions, and reduced dividend and capital gains taxes. The result: our economy grew at the fastest rate in more than 20 years.
My amendment to permanently eliminate the federal death tax fell just short of the 60 votes needed to pass it in the Senate, but we’re making progress in attracting Democrats and Republicans to this important cause.
Medicare Reform: We passed the most significant reforms of Medicare since its creation in 1965. The centerpiece of the legislation was a prescription-drug benefit to help senior citizens cope with the spiraling cost of drugs that have become so essential to 21st century health care. For people who have not yet retired, the legislation creates new Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) which allow people to invest pre-tax money for their own health-care needs.
Healthy Forests: Congress passed important legislation to speed up efforts to treat areas at severe risk of catastrophic wildfires. The legislation was the culmination of year-long and painstaking bipartisan compromise. It does not go as far as I would like, but it is a good step forward in science-based forest management.
Help for Border Hospitals: Congress approved a provision I authored that makes up to $1 billion in federal reimbursements to hospitals and emergency providers to help pay for the costs of federally-mandated emergency treatment of illegal immigrants. Due to a failing federal immigration policy, our hospitals have been absorbing crushing costs because federal law mandates they treat anyone who comes to an emergency room. This money was essential to helping border health-care facilities stay open so they can treat U.S. citizens.
Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion: After years of presidential vetoes during the last administration, Congress finally passed a ban on the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion. Most medical experts long recognized that there was no medical need for such a procedure. This ban was a welcome sign that Congress could still take a clear moral stand against the willful and unnecessary destruction of otherwise viable children.
Parental Choice in Education: The House of Representatives approved a landmark school-choice program for the District of Columbia, whose children have long languished in some of the worst schools in the nation. Additionally, the school-choice cause has gained new and important supporters, including D.C.’s Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California.
Arizona Initiatives: Congress approved funding that Senator McCain and I supported to help purchase land surrounding Luke Air Force Base. The new Medicare law will give “safety net” hospitals in Arizona savings in the $4 to $5 million range every year by allowing them to negotiate lower in-patient prescription drug costs. The House approved, and the Senate is poised to vote in favor of, money that will continue construction of a Hoover Dam bypass, support Williams Gateway Airport, improve transportation systems in Phoenix and Tucson, and allocate $1.4 million I requested for T-Gen.
Protecting Children: Congress approved a nationwide AMBER Alert bill to help law-enforcement find missing children and the PROTECT Act to strengthen laws against child pornography.
On other issues, we’ve had less success. I still believe we need to pass an energy bill that helps modernize our electricity sector without being filled with pork. Too many of President Bush’s judges are being blocked by special interests and their Democratic allies in the Senate. Our government needs to get far more serious about enforcing our immigration laws. And we need to rein in spending.
But these and other issues will, I hope, be the focus of our work in the year to come.