Congress should live by the same rules the rest of us live by. I voted for a “pay as you go” rule that would enforce budget discipline on the government in Washington. We shouldn’t ask working families to pay a dime more to balance the budget when some corporations use tax tricks to avoid their taxes. I led the effort to crack down on multinational companies that dodge their fair share of taxes so that that small businesses and families will not be asked to pay more. In the Budget Committee as well as in the Social Security Subcommittee, I have stressed that we cannot balance the budget on the backs of seniors, and have asked why it is that every time there is a deficit problem, the first thing some want to go is cut grandma’s Medicare and Social Security?
Keeping Higher Education Attainable
Students should be able to receive all the education for which they are willing to work. I secured approval of the “more education” tax cut, also known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, so families spending $2,500 for tuition, textbooks and course materials can have $2,500 taken off their federal tax bill. President Obama has called for a permanent extension of this tax cut, which would be good for $10,000 for 4 years of college. In 2012, it is estimated that it will provide $9 billion in tax relief for those seeking more education after high school. For the first time since higher education tax credits were created, my tax cut expanded the definition of a “qualified education expense” to include textbooks, making them more affordable for students. In the State of the Union and in a speech at Gregory Gym last year, President Obama called on Congress to make permanent this tax cut. Click here to read my op-ed in the Daily Texan about this important tax cut and other issues related to investing in higher education and students’ ability to achieve their God-given potential through higher education.
I also passed legislation to simplify financial aid forms, an idea suggested to me by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, so that more families could take advantage of existing help. With my support, Congress passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which eliminates the unnecessary middleman-role of private financial institutions in the federal student loan system. By cutting red tape, and lending directly to students, the federal government will save $61 billion dollars more over the next decade for our students with more resources left over to reduce the national debt. The legislation represents the largest single investment ever in higher education, with $36 billion more put into Pell Grants. The Pell Grant program is the nation’s vital financial aid program, providing scholarship aid to more than 9 million low and moderate-income students annually, which is why I called on the House Appropriations Committee to keep its promise to college students by maintaining the current maximum award of $5,550.
Standing Up for Our Public Schools
In 2009, Republican state leadership denied our vital Texas schools more than $3 billion in federal aid—in other words, federal dollars made not a dime of difference to our schoolchildren and our teachers. To prevent such budgeting games from reoccurring, I worked with the Democratic Texas Congressional Delegation to secure special protections to ensure federal aid to education actually helped Texas school children. Despite repeated attacks and threats from Governor Perry and others and ultimate repeal by a new majority of the House of Representatives, the “Doggett Amendment,” as the Governor derided it, had some positive impact. The amendment prevented the federal money from being hijacked into the Texas appropriation process where it almost certainly would have been used to hide cuts to public education made by the Texas Legislature in its budget for the upcoming biennium. In addition, the amendment drew attention to the meager amount the State was promising for public education. In the end, over $830 million in federal funds moved directly from TEA to local schools across Texas.
Supporting our public schools is a cause that my family shares. My wife Libby, a former bilingual elementary teacher at Ortega, is a national leader in Pre-K education, and my daughter Cathy is Pre-K Director for Region 13 in Austin. During the debate on our most recent budget, I called on the House Appropriations Committee to provide robust funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start and Early Head Start, and the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Whether or not American’s most vulnerable young children will reach their potential depends in large part on our investment in these programs. Similarly, I urged the House Appropriations Committee to increase its support for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports academic enrichment opportunities for students during non-school hours for children.
As a member of the Congressional Public Service Caucus, I have consistently supported funding for public service programs like Teach for America. In 2010, when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came before the House Budget Committee to discuss the President’s budget proposal cutting this program, I urged him to maintain funding for Teach for America. Last year, I called on the House Appropriations Committee to provide a competitive funding stream for non-profit programs like Teach for America that work to recruit and provide professional development for teachers and help them succeed in the classroom. This competitive funding stream will be available for Teach for America in 2012.
I have been a vocal advocate for a tax code reform that works for working families and have fought tax loopholes that favor Wall Street and special interests at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. This March, I was featured in a CBS News 60 Minutes segment by Lesley Stahl regarding my efforts to address multinational corporate tax abuse, having authored several bills to close corporate tax loopholes. I have also been a leading advocate of greater scrutiny of spending through the Tax Code to ensure taxpayers are getting the most “bang-for-the-buck” from tax expenditures.
Wall Street Reform
I voted against the big bank bailouts and for the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, that helps end bailouts and puts a cop on the Wall Street beat to protect families from corporate greed.
With the goal that every family have access to a family doctor, I am working now to improve on the foundation we have built. The new law will help ensure Big Insurance companies treat families fairly. It’s not right that high medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. and I am working to ensure that affordable health care will be there for American families that need it the most. I also worked to improve Medicare drug benefits by gradually closing the so-called donut-hole coverage gap making drugs more affordable for our seniors and others who rely on Medicare.
I successfully passed legislation in the House to ensure that wounded veterans returning from service are not forced to choose between getting the treatment they need from their injuries on the battlefield and keeping their job back at home. I have also worked to expand veterans’ health facilities, so Texas veterans don’t have to drive long distances for the basic health care they have earned from their service. In Travis County, I helped bring the largest outreach vet clinic of its kind to the area, and to serve vets in the rural area, I helped open a vets clinic in La Grange.
Keeping Your Nest Egg Safe
When your family is counting on something — a home, job, or retirement plan–we should not let big government get in your way, but neither should we let other powerful forces interfere – like Wall Street banks, or insurance monopolies. I have heard from many Central Texas families about the sudden increases in their credit card interest rates, immediate drops in their credit limits, impossible-to-understand contract terms, and high and hidden fees. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act offers consumer protections that families need. Whether it’s saving for home investment or a retirement nest egg, this law will provide some security and peace of mind.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Long Over-Due
Passing comprehensiveimmigration reform should have been accomplished years ago, but remains stalled with the Republican majority in Congress. In addition to blocking progress on the DREAM Act, Republicans have introduced a string of anti-immigrant bills. As a four-time sponsor of the DREAM Act, I believe exemplary young people willing to work hard deserve a chance to succeed in college.