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. I have introduced legislation to provide a permanent extension of this tax cut, which is good for $10,000 for 4 years of college, and to make it work better for students who receive Pell Grants. 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.
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 a 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, and I have continually called for the preservation and increase of this critical aid that helps students achieve their God-given potential.
My amendment to the Higher Education Opportunity Act first gave the Department of Education the option to use earlier tax information on a student’s FAFSA form than they were previously allowed to consider. Following a request I made, President Obama announced that the Department must accept this easier-to-obtain information. The new plan will allow students to submit applications months earlier than previously possible, making applying for aid easier.
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, serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of 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.
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. 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.
The President signed my AARP-endorsed NOTICE Act into law. The NOTICE Act requires hospitals to provide meaningful written and oral notification to patients who are in the hospital “under observation” for more than 24 hours. Providing this notice can help Medicare patients avoid thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket, unexpected expenses.
With the goal that every family have access to a family doctor, my work remains to improve on the foundation we have built. The Affordable Care Act helps 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 am also working to stop the rapidly rising costs of prescription drugs.
Protecting Vulnerable Children
I successfully authored the “Protect Our Kids Act,” which created the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect. After holding its first field hearing in San Antonio on my request, the Commission has been holding field hearings around the country to create a coordinated national strategy to ensure every child has a happy, healthy upbringing.
The House passed the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.” This law takes steps to prevent sex trafficking among foster youth, improves the adoption programs to move more kids from foster care to adoption, and strengthens enforcement in international child support cases.
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.
The wait time and data manipulation issues at the VA that have been uncovered this year are truly appalling. We need to honor our veterans and their sacrifice by delivering timely, quality healthcare. If there are individuals within VA management who “cooked the books” in order to get a bonus or obstruct oversight, they need to be removed immediately.
As I have visited with veterans and veteran leaders in Texas, the most frequent comment I hear is that the VA is providing quality care, often provided by veterans, but that wait times are too long and veterans sometimes have to travel for certain services. Our goal needs to be to fix the VA, but not to end or dismantle the system. More timely, efficient service is what is needed for those who have dedicated their lives to protecting our families.
Keeping Your Nest Egg Safe & Identity Protected
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.
And my longstanding efforts to remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards were finally successful. The “Medicare Identity Theft Prevention” Act will ensure more seniors are protected from identity theft.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Long Over-Due
Passing comprehensive immigration 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.
It has been more that a year since that U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill to fix our broken immigration system. Instead of allowing a vote on this legislation, House Republican leaders have prevented the House from considering this or any other meaningful comprehensive immigration legislation. The House needs to act now so that those who are willing to pay a fine and play by the rules can be afforded a path to citizenship.