What You Are Writing About
Each year, I hear from thousands of Idahoans who write, e-mail, fax and call my offices to let me know how they feel about issues facing our country today. On average, I receive approximately 1,000 letters and e-mails a week. In recent years, an increasing number of that correspondence has come via electronic means. Even with such a volume of correspondence, I try to respond to each Idahoan as promptly as possible. In an effort to be even more responsive and to fully utilize the technology available through the Internet, this web page features the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my response on each from the previous week. You may also wish to review information in the Issues Section or details from my Legislative Record, which lists bills I have sponsored and co-sponsored.
Here are the top issues Idahoans have recently written me about:
As you may know, this legislation was introduced on May 22, 2013, by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana).�� I am an original co-sponsor of this legislation, along with a strong, bipartisan coalition of my Senate colleagues.�� S. 1009 seeks to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, which governs how chemicals are regulated by the federal government, in addition to setting record-keeping and testing requirements. Specifically, this legislation would expand the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the safety of all chemicals used in commerce, and would establish a priority system for evaluating chemicals based on risk.�� The bill would also provide EPA with the tools to take action if chemicals were determined to be unsafe, such as establishing labeling requirements or outright bans.�� Also noteworthy, S. 1009 would establish the proper safeguards to protect intellectual property and business information of manufacturers so the new regulatory framework would not undermine innovation and preserve competition.�� CSIA has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which I am a member, for further review.����
Achieving TSCA reform will require Congress to work in a bipartisan manner and with all affected stakeholders.�� Broad agreement has existed for many years, by both public health advocates and chemical manufacturers, that the nearly 40-year-old law is in need of an update, and I am encouraged by the support this breakthrough compromise legislation has enjoyed thus far.�� I am committed to protecting the health and safety of Americans and support efforts to improve the framework for regulating chemicals within the U.S. In so doing, it is important that we effectively target our efforts to produce a workable regulatory regime that protects health and safety, and does not compromise competition, innovation and job creation. As such, please be assured that I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve these goals.
Rarely does an issue invoke more interest from so many Idahoans and people across the nation than the issue of immigration reform and border security.
As you may know, on April 16, 2013, several of my colleagues in the Senate introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). After the measure was reviewed and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full Senate considered the measure. On June 27, 2013, despite my dissent, the Senate passed S. 744 in a 68-32 vote. The legislation will now head to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
During the course of the Senate’s consideration of S. 744, Members introduced many amendments to the measure reflecting a wide range of topics and issues. I reviewed the lengthy measure and its proposed amendments to ensure it was consistent with my long-held principles on immigration. I have consistently maintained that there is a real need for a rational immigration policy that is built on several important principles:
��� First, the United States must commit the resources necessary to have the strongest border enforcement realistically possible. Preservation of the integrity of our borders is essential to both a sensible guest worker program as well as our national security. When we have a stable and manageable guest worker and immigration system, we will be able to ensure that those who come to our country, whether they seek to come as a temporary worker or to obtain permanent residency, do so in compliance with our rule of law. This must be in place prior to granting legalized status.
��� Second, our immigration system must not grant amnesty to those who enter our country illegally or illegally overstay their visas. No person who breaks the law should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct. This is unfair both to American citizens and to those who have gone through legal channels for immigration to the U.S.
��� Third, immigrants must not automatically be afforded the same means-tested, federal benefits available to U.S. citizens. Federal public benefit programs exist as a manifestation of the American aspiration to take care of our own less fortunate. In today’s fiscal climate, the solvency of these programs is ill-fated at best, making it nothing less than irresponsible to exacerbate these programs’ financial constraints by extending eligibility to individuals who are not U.S. citizens.
��� Fourth, our guest worker programs must assure that American citizens have the first right to access available jobs. There is significant debate about whether American citizens are losing U.S. jobs to workers from other countries. However, this debate can be resolved by assuring that any jobs made available in a guest worker program are first available to U.S. workers. Manageable ways to assure this have already been identified.
��� Fifth, an efficient and workable guest worker program must be developed that will provide employers with a reliable, verifiable and legal system to identify guest workers who are legally in the country.
Ultimately, the final version of S. 744 did not reflect my long held principles and did not provide sufficient reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike. As one example, the changes in the border security measures contained in S. 744 were nowhere near acceptable and amendments that may have addressed some of my concerns were consistently denied votes. In the end, I had to vote against final passage.
Nonetheless, I remain committed to the enactment of sound immigration policy. I understand the urgency expressed by many to enact a federal response to address our nation’s immigration and border security needs. However, realizing the significant impact of legislation of this magnitude, I will continue to press for a solid solution that will secure our nation’s borders, not provide incentives for further illegal immigration through rewarding illegal entry, provide Americans with the first right to access available jobs, and enable an efficient and workable guest worker program.
I am strongly committed to protecting the rights of the unborn.�� I shaped my position by the conviction that abortion is wrong and should be limited to cases of criminal rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in imminent danger.
Life is a precious gift from God.�� Our devotion to fostering respect for human life from the moment of conception to natural death will benefit generations to come.�� As we educate our children about the dangers of abortion, we must also reach out to women who are pregnant and in need of help.�� Educating women on adoption and other support options can bring hope at what seems to be a desperate time.�� More than anything, these women need our compassion and prayers.
Thank you for contacting me regarding the U.S. Armed Service’s Survivor Benefits Plan (SBP).�� I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.
The SBP was created to permit military retirees to set aside a portion of their monthly retirement pay so that, should they predecease their spouse, the survivor would continue to receive some income.�� Because military retirees have been covered by Social Security since 1955, SBP was intended to operate as a supplemental source of security and must be voluntarily elected.�� As a secondary source of income, SBP was designed to pay out 55 percent of the military benefits of the deceased spouse.��
As you may know, S. 734 was introduced by Bill Nelson (D-Florida) in April 2013.�� If passed, this legislation would repeal certain requirements to offset the amount paid in Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from SBP annuities for the surviving spouses of former military personnel who are entitled to military retired pay.�� This legislation has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee.�� Although I am not a member of the Armed Services Committee, I look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Committee.I am a strong supporter of our nation’s veterans and military retirees and have long pressed for increased benefits for those who placed their lives on the line for our country.�� Please rest assured I will continue to work with my colleagues to improve the benefits and programs available to our nation’s veterans
As you may know, a number of states have recently voted to legalize same-sex marriages.�� There are currently 17 states and Washington, D.C. that have legalized same-sex marriages.�� Following a recommendation by President Barack Obama, on February 23, 2011, the Justice Department announced that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal marriage law enacted by Congress in 1996. DOMA affirms, for the purpose of federal law, the definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. It was passed with bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.�� I voted in favor of this legislation and continue to support vigorous enforcement of the law.�� I am disappointed that, in directing Attorney General Eric Holder to cease enforcement of federal law he has sworn to uphold, President Obama has politicized the Department of Justice, putting his agenda before the laws of the United States.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.�� Section 3 dealt with the definition of marriage with regard to federal law.�� Section 2 of DOMA, which was not overturned by the court, reserves to the states the right as to whether or not to recognize a same sex marriage that legally takes place in another state.��
As you may know, the State Marriage Defense Act, S. 2024, was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on February 12, 2014.�� This bill would prohibit Congress or any federal agency�� from defining or interpreting the term “marriage” to include a relationship that the state or territory does not recognize or the tem “spouse” to include an individual who is a party to a relationship that is not recognized as a marriage by that state or territory.�� S. 2024 is currently awaiting further action on the Senate legislative Calendar.��
I support actions to preserve marriage as the institution we know it to be today.�� Several states have enacted state constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman, including Idaho.�� On November 7, 2006, Idaho voters approved a constitutional ban by amending the Idaho constitution to include the following:���� “A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”��