Progress (But not Enough)

Congress is on a summer break, a good time to look at what has and has not been accomplished during the first seven months of this session. The good news is that there has been progress - not enough, but some progress - toward helping veterans, improving conditions for working people, making college more affordable, reversing our disastrous energy policies and increasing access to health care. The bad news is that six years into the worst administration in the modern history of our country Congr

Congress is on a summer break, a good time to look at what has and has not been accomplished during the first seven months of this session. The good news is that there has been progress - not enough, but some progress - toward helping veterans, improving conditions for working people, making college more affordable, reversing our disastrous energy policies and increasing access to health care. The bad news is that six years into the worst administration in the modern history of our country Congress has failed so far to significantly reverse President Bush's most misguided policies and change the direction that he has taken our country.

Exhibit A in what has not been accomplished is ending the war in Iraq. In the election last November, the war was the single biggest issue and the main reason why voters threw Bush loyalists in Congress overboard. The people wanted a change of course. The president changed course in Iraq alright. He sent even more troops over there. Ignoring opposition in Congress, Bush mounted a "surge" in Iraq that put more American soldiers in the middle of a sectarian civil war. Congress then passed a bill that set a timetable for withdrawal. Bush vetoed it. Unfortunately, we do not have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Action to end the war in Iraq also has been stymied by Senate rules. It takes 60 votes to end debate on any bill in the Senate. While opposition to the war is gaining ground, the reality is that there are not now 60 senators who will vote to end a filibuster. We must not give up. We must bring our troops home as soon as possible. We must ratchet up pressure on the president. We must make senators and congressmen accountable for their votes. As someone who has opposed this war from the very beginning, it is my view that we must keep the Senate in session for however long it takes, not just one all-nighter, to end the filibuster and end the war.

There is good news.

In both the House and the Senate legislation has been passed which would break our dependency on fossil fuels, move us toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy and help us reverse the crisis of global warming. Do these bills go far enough? Absolutely not! But they are a start. I am proud that the Senate bill included a provision I introduced to create "green collar jobs," a whole new workforce in the emerging field of making homes and businesses more energy efficient. I also was able to include language in the bill to create an Environmental Block Grant Program for states, cities and towns as well as a similar type program for colleges and universities.

As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee I will do everything I can to see that the bill that I introduced, S.309, the strongest and most comprehensive global warming bill in Congress, is passed. This bill, which has been endorsed by Al Gore, has 19 co-sponsors, including Senator Barbara Boxer, the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Senator Patrick Leahy. It also is cosponsored by every Democratic senator running for president from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Barak Obama to Joe Biden to Chris Dodd.

At a time when the middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing a step forward was made in helping some of the lowest-paid workers in America. The national minimum wage was finally raised for the first time in a decade - going from a pathetic $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over a three year period. Not enough, but a start.

At a time when college costs are soaring, higher education would become more accessible under a Senate-passed bill. The legislation would provide $17 billion in additional college aid to students, including $39 million in additional Pell Grants for Vermont students. The bill also would increase grants to low and middle-income students, raise the number of students eligible for the maximum Pell Grant, decrease the penalty for students who work and receive financial aid, and forgive the debt of many of those who pursue public service careers.

Health care, veterans and children would benefit from a $2.9 trillion budget resolution Congress passed. We secured additional budget authority for a network of federally funded community health centers. The budget resolution also creates a $5 billion reserve fund for childcare assistance. It sets aside another $43.1 billion in discretionary spending for veterans -- $3.6 billion more than Bush requested -- including the largest increase for veteran's medical care in U.S. history.

This country faces some very serious problems. In the last seven months Congress has made some progress, but much, much more needs to be done.