Senator Kyl's End of Congressional Session Report
At the beginning of 2006, I wrote a column outlining some New Year's resolutions for Congress: enhancing border security, working to maintain lower tax rates, reauthorizing the Patriot Act to better go after terrorists, and helping to effectively implement the Medicare prescription drug program. With the 109th Congress coming to a close, now would be a good time to take a look back at the progress with these priorities.
Enhancing Border Security - Over the past two years, Congress approved legislation increasing the amount of federal dollars being dedicated to border security. We've funded an increase of 3,736 new border patrol agents (for a total of 14,555), additional surveillance equipment, roads and vehicle barriers, an increased number of detention spaces, and border fencing. While these resources will better help secure our borders, much work remains to be done, and it is my hope that the momentum that has been built will continue next year.
Maintaining Low Tax Rates - The most recent statistics released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that Arizona is the fastest growing state (according to job growth and gross state product) in the country. In Arizona and nationwide, economists attribute the strength of the economy largely to the pro-growth tax policies of 2001 and 2003.
Almost two million Arizonans benefited from the lower tax rates enacted in 2003. Of this figure, more than 400,000 Arizonans benefited from the reduction of the capital gains and dividends tax rates (35 percent of Arizona's taxpayers who benefited had incomes of $50,000 or less); many of these were senior citizens, who rely on this investment income.
I spearheaded the successful effort this year to extend the lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends through 2010, so that Americans can plan their investments with the certainty of knowing what the applicable tax rates will be.
Keeping America Safe - Congress continues to provide more tools to intelligence agents and prosecutors to fight terrorists. Earlier this year, Congress renewed the Patriot Act, which enhances the capability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to effectively combat terrorism. Legislation I drafted, the Tools to Fight Terrorism Act, supplements the Patriot Act by, among other things, authorizing foreign intelligence search warrants for monitoring suspected lone-wolf terrorists and making it a criminal and deportable offense to receive training at a terrorist training camp; punishing hoaxes perpetrated about terrorist crimes or the deaths of U.S. soldiers in wartime; and creating tough, mandatory penalties for possession of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or anti-aircraft missiles.
I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues next year to ensure that our intelligence and law enforcement officials have all the tools they need to investigate, stop, and punish terrorist conspiracies.
Medicare Prescription Drug Program - This was also the year for implementation of the Medicare prescription drug program. While the rollout experienced startup challenges, over 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are now receiving some form of comprehensive prescription drug coverage (over 500,000 Arizonans are enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan). It's important to remember that seniors didn't have any comprehensive prescription drug coverage before this year.
Also, due to strong competition, monthly premiums are lower than anticipated - the average premium is $24 in 2006, meaning beneficiaries save an average of over $1,100 per year. Robust competition combined with increased beneficiary choice has resulted in better health coverage options, lower prices, and reliable savings.
While I believe we can look back at the past year with some satisfaction over the progress Congress has made, there are still many major issues that remain unresolved. I look forward to returning in January to tackle many pending issues, such as immigration reform; and it is my hope that Congress will be able to work in a bipartisan way to accomplish what's necessary for America's future.
Sen. Kyl serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees and chairs the Republican Policy Committee. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov.
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