Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Congress To-Do List :

As Congress returns to Washington, the first order of business needs to be a return to some of the issues that you may have thought were done – AMT, Farm Bill, and SCHIP.

Although these issues were addressed during the first session of the 110th Congress, they still need to be at the top of the To-Do List.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Faced with the end of the Income Tax year, Congress and the President extended the AMT patch for 2007, but the issue is still looming for the 2008 tax year. Minnesota can be proud of Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz for voting fiscally responsibly against this patch. Now is the time for the rest of Congress to agree that pushing the debt out to next generation is fiscally irresponsible.

This problem has been known for decades, but instead of addressing it, Congress has magnified it. Consider Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) comments (March 8, 2001) when the Bush Tax Cuts were being proposed.
Roughly one in seven taxpayers will come under the shadow of the Alternative Minimum Tax by the end of the decade… That figure will significantly be higher if President Bush’s tax plan is adopted, and that is according to the Joint Tax Committee of the Congress.”

His words have been proven true.

Let’s not fall for Michelle Bachmann’s Taxpayer Choice Act legislation.

The tax code is riddled with loopholes and subsidies that have no justification other than to appease certain political interests. It’s time to address these.

The Farm Bill
First, let’s acknowledge that although it is called the Farm Bill, it actually is the major authorization for nutrition programs (Food stamps, emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), etc.) and conservation programs.
Second, Bush has firmly stated that he will veto the bill. With all the talk of a recession and stimulus legislation, the pork barrel spending will be the justification that Bush uses when he vetoes the bill. As the House-Senate conference committee meets, they should re-consider some of the amendments that the Senate voted down. Specifically, Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) amendment. Senator Brown discovered that during a time when the USDA paid out $10.5 Billion in aid to farmers, it paid $19 Billion out to the private crop insurance industry to help farmers fill out forms and qualify for federal aid when crops are damaged, for example, by disease, freeze, flood, or drought. Perhaps the worst part of the current law ties the insurance agents’ fees to crop prices, which have recently soared. Additionally, Senator Klobuchar’s amendment should also be given further consideration.

The Farm Bill as presently constituted will not be approved, so it behooves Congress to enact a fiscally more responsible bill before sending it the White House.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
Unable to override the President’s veto, Congress has passed another temporary funding program which extends the current program until late 2008 or early 2009 depending upon your state. This stopgap measure alludes addressing the uninsured problem. This legislation had bi-partisan support and many states feel the need to serve their citizens, but the Bush White House continues to object.
Take Ohio , where the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to expand the coverage limit. Currently, states must get at least 95 percent of children in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level enrolled in the program before eligibility could be expanded. This hurdle is difficult to do as no state currently meets that requirement … so while citizens that would like coverage and the states want to increase participation, the Bush White House is rejecting those requests. Remember the states share in the payment on this program. Ohio will not be the only state affected.

Congress should enact legislation that would establish limited trial programs for states that wish to participate. Thereby, if a state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly wants to serve their citizens better, why should a Republican President say no? If it is limited and temporary, it should be able to withstand a Presidential veto.

Obviously, Bush will use his veto power to influence what Congress passes, but I would encourage Congress to counter that with the passage of a new version of the Protect America Act (PAA) which modernized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). The current law will expire in February. Since it has been reported that “late-payment of telephone bills resulted in interruptions of the timely delivery of surveillance results shifts the power to Congress to set the tone of the debate.

My message to Congress, address ATM, the Farm Bill, and SCHIP before FISA.

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