January 22, 2010
Our hearts are with the people of Haiti who are suffering so much as a result of the recent earthquake and aftershocks. The devastation is stunning and the loss of life is heartbreaking. If you need information about loved ones, the State Department has established a hotline: 1-888-407-4747. Anyone seeking information about U.S. citizens in Haiti can also e-mail the State Department at Haiti-Earthquake@state.gov. Those seeking updated travel alert and situation information may use the following link: http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1134.html.
The House has passed legislation (H.R. 4462) allowing those making a charitable contribution to Haiti by March 1, 2010 to apply that contribution to their 2009 tax return. The Obama Administration, at the urging of many Members of Congress, including myself, has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians now living in the United States. Eligible persons must apply for TPS and file also for employment authorization, which will allow them to work legally. TPS has been granted for 18 months and could be extended depending on conditions in Haiti.
The 8th district is home to many Haitian Americans. Many have loved ones still in Haiti. We have been getting many calls from constituents looking for a wide range of assistance from help locating loved ones to information about traveling to the region. If you have questions or need help, please call my office and we will do our best to assist you. These links will help you get additional information about how to help relief efforts. InterAction; Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI)
The health care debate continues in Washington and it is not yet clear how the House and the Senate can achieve these essential reforms. Many constituents have called asking that the House approve the Senate version. Others constituents believe both House and Senate version fall so far short of the ideal that both should be scrapped.
In Congress, there is intense ongoing discussion about how to proceed. While some Members think the House should pass the Senate bill unchanged, others are pushing for adjustments through separate legislation that will pass before the House votes on the Senate bill. Still others believe it is time to focus on those aspects of health care reform upon which a majority agree, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, and pass a series of smaller bills. I am among those who believe that there are not enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill unchanged. I recognize the critical importance of making progress on real health care reform and I remain hopeful that we will succeed in passing legislation. I think most Members feel as I do, that health care reform is too important to leave unfinished.
I expect that there will be much discussion in the weeks ahead and as always, I will keep you informed.
Supreme Court Ruling
I am very disappointed by yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United V. FEC. By eliminating the restrictions placed on corporate treasury fund expenditures, our highest court has just allowed private entities to vastly increase their financial involvement in elections. We should be moving in the exact opposite direction – limiting outside influence in our democratic elections process, not giving corporations an unrestricted and disproportionate voice. As a member of the Committee on House Administration, I will work with Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson to explore a legislative response to the impact of this ruling.
TARP and Bonuses
Today, I sent a letter to TARP Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg and Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, urging them to prohibit TARP recipients who still owe money to taxpayers from paying out big bonuses. Fifteen of my colleagues joined this effort.
We asked the Administration to explain how the compensation rules they issued were "sufficient in stopping TARP recipients from paying out excessive bonuses." Recent reports indicate that AIG, which received $185 billion in TARP assistance last year, is planning to pay out big bonuses again in March.
This is insulting to taxpayers who are struggling to make ends meet for their own families and shows what these firms think of Treasury's so-called "enforcement" so far. To give these rules some teeth, we are urging the Administration to retract TARP funds from institutions that award bonuses while still owing taxpayers.
What's Up Next
Next week President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address.