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My Agenda for the 109th Congress

April 28, 2005
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The 109th Congress is now in full swing. Throughout the halls of Congress, members have gotten used to their new offices and their greatly increased responsibilities. For some, like me, that includes new titles and, with them, the increased opportunities they bring to advance and promote legislation to address the issues of concern to us all.

    I was greatly honored and humbled earlier this year, when, with the approval of my colleagues, I was elected to serve as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. In the months to come, I am looking forward to continuing to work with members on both sides of the aisle, stakeholders and the administration on an agenda for the committee that will include work on major initiatives like drug importation and drug safety--legislation from the previous session that was not approved.

    It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with the previous chairman, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, and help pass legislation like the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and other important bills. In addition, over a year ago, the committee unanimously approved a comprehensive job training bill (the Workforce Investment Act) that, unfortunately, fell victim to election-year politics.

    In my new role as chairman, I’ll be asking the federal departments and agencies important questions like, what are you doing with taxpayer money and how can we tell what progress you’ve made toward the goals you have set? I believe closer scrutiny of the departments of Health, Education and Labor and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. would assist these entities in effectively and efficiently accomplishing their mission, which is to serve the American people.

    Among our priorities in each of the specific areas of jurisdiction for our committee are the following:

Health
   
We can make health insurance more affordable and accessible by working to simplify and streamline insurance market standards and regulations, which can often vary greatly from state to state and which, in some states, also place real strain on the ability to offer affordable coverage. I am also looking for ways to better harness market forces and competition in health care--a good example of which is the recent arrival of health savings accounts, which give medical consumers direct control over a larger portion of their health care dollars.

    Increasing access to community health centers, free clinics and other providers of low-cost care to low-income and uninsured families are all part of President Bush’s health care agenda, and I will continue to work with the president in these and other areas.

    Additionally, I will work on strategies to ensure an adequate supply and distribution of doctors, nurses and other critical health professionals, especially in rural and frontier areas.

Education
    It’s important to reauthorize federal programs in a way that would ensure that career and technical education programs are aligned with other workforce preparation programs. In this technology-driven, global economy, school is never out for America's students and workers.

    I look forward to developing a comprehensive approach to education and training that promotes a lifetime of learning for the American workforce and ensures our long-term competitiveness in the global market.

    I believe using common performance indicators across programs will ensure that federal, state and local education and training programs are collaborating to achieve common goals. I hope that this approach will create a more seamless transition for learners of all ages to participate in a "P-16 plus" (preschool through post secondary education) type of educational system, which will result in better lifelong learning opportunities for students of all ages. A skilled workforce is the key to remaining competitive in a global market; education is the key to attaining skills.

Labor
    Issues that will achieve greater safety and health for our most important resource--our great American worker--through meaningful Occupational Safety and Health Administration reform and Mine Safety and Health Administration oversight must be addressed.

    I authored the Safety Advancement for Employees Act of 2004, S. 2719, which is helping to improve the safety and health of the workplace environment. The "SAFE Act" will encourage greater compliance with OSHA regulations through joint cooperation of employers, employees and the secretary of labor in the effort to ensure safe and healthful working conditions. It will also permit the establishment of drug and alcohol abuse testing programs in the workplace and improve the accuracy, consistency and comprehensibility of workplace-hazard communication.

Pensions
    Undertaking comprehensive pension reform to stabilize the private pension system to ensure the retirement security of hardworking Americans is also a top concern. I am anxiously looking forward to having a greater role in oversight and reform of our nation’s pension and benefits programs.

    The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which I had a hand in authoring, will help to strengthen the accounting and auditing professions. Key provisions of that law will protect plan beneficiaries from the insider trading activities of pension fund insiders.

    As you can see, we have already set--and begun--an ambitious agenda for the committee. We have held hearings on the president’s nominees for his Cabinet and begun our work on drug importation and safety legislation. Although it is early in the year, there is a lot more already on our schedule.

    I am looking forward to building on the successes of the past months and the great start we have already had this year to craft bipartisan bills that we can quickly move to the floor and pass on to the House. My colleagues and I are committed to getting results, and I have every confidence that, working together, we will continue to do so.

Workforce Management Online, May 2005 -- Register Now!

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