1. The War in Iraq
It is the duty of the President to provide Americans with a plan for returning responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqis and to bring our troops home. It is Congress’s duty to hold the President accountable to do so, and to stop being a rubber stamp for his policy of drift and indecision. The plan must include a timetable.
Without a timetable there is no pressure on the Iraqis to do what only they can do: make the political decisions required to establish stability and create a civil society.
President Bush's "stay the course" policy is a failure. His statement that he will leave it to a future President to figure out how to bring our troops home is an unacceptable negligence of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief.
Along with Vermont's entire Congressional delegation, I opposed the war from the start. I did not believe the President made the case that Iraq posed an immediate threat to our national security.
In fact, the war in Iraq is making us less safe, not more. The National Intelligence Estimate found that the open-ended conflict is fostering terrorism, not combating it. Our troops are now caught refereeing a civil war without a plan for the peace.
It's time for a change in direction.
As a Member of Congress, I would support a plan and timetable that included these elements:
- Redeployment and reduction of American troops in Iraq with a goal of bringing the majority home next year;
- Explicit acknowledgement that the U.S. will not maintain permanent military bases in Iraq;
- Continuing aid to Iraq for security force training and reconstruction, subject to a functioning government; and
- Intensive diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries to minimize the increasing threat of regional instability.
America has real enemies, but to increase our security we must be smart and tough, willing to address reality with more than political rhetoric. By returning Iraq back to the Iraqi people, we can renew focus on fighting the global war on terrorism and protecting our homeland security.
The President and his compliant Congress need a wakeup call. This election is when voters can make it.
2. Middle East policy
The United States must reengage energetically and serve as an honest broker if we are to achieve peace in the Middle East.
The world will never have lasting, sustainable peace in the region without the vigorous, sustained, high level diplomatic involvement of the United States. It is time for President Bush to engage in a way that makes such a peace possible.
That is why I called for President Bush to provide diplomatic intervention led by former President Clinton and President Bush to work for a sustainable peace. Former Presidents Clinton and Bush would bring long established experience with the Arab world and Israel along with decades of involvement in diplomacy. The current crisis in the Middle East provides an opportunity for lasting change, but only with strong, credible, sustained diplomatic intervention by the United States.
We must end our over-reliance on fossil fuels and strive toward energy independence.
Improvements in energy efficiency and renewable energy use provide us with a tremendous opportunity to save money, foster local economic development, improve our national security, and protect our environment.
Perhaps most pressing, global warming threatens the Vermont way of life, from the existence of our ski areas to our maple syrup production. The question is not should we move away from fossil fuels, but how can we begin to do so efficiently and aggressively.
Here in Vermont, with my leadership, we have taken bipartisan strides to improve our own energy independence and reduce fossil fuel consumption.
We created a “Clean Energy Fund” for renewable energy development, funded efficiency programs, adopted high efficiency standards, offered tax credits for alternative energy, and passed global warming legislation with the goal of reducing our green house gas emissions by 75 percent by mid-century. I strongly support wind farms in Vermont, bio-fuel sources such as “cow power,” and other local renewable generation. We have seen how beneficial local energy sources are and the contribution successful Vermont-based green businesses like NRG Systems and Northern Power make to our economy.
I will take my experience fighting for clean energy to Congress and advocate for a 21st century energy policy that includes:
- Immediately doubling fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and supporting incentives for manufacturing efficient, flex-fuel, and alternative energy automobiles;
- Reversing the billions in tax hand-outs given to big oil by the Republican Congress to fund renewable energy development, alternative fuels, and efficiency;
- Developing a market-based cap and trade system to provide incentives for businesses to reduce their carbon emissions;
- Establishing a modern-era Marshall Plan to foster American innovation and green business development and trade;
- Eliminating "royalty-relief" for oil companies drilling on public lands and using the revenue to fund renewable energy development; and
- Promoting green businesses through tax incentives and credits.
These common sense initiatives show that with committed leadership we can take our energy policy in a new direction that protects our environment, offers economic opportunities, and improves our national security.
4. Federal spending
During the last six years under this Republican Congress, federal spending has gotten out of control. In Washington, I will support common-sense Vermont style policies that put America back on track to a secure financial future. That is why I have outlined a “road map to fiscal responsibility” in my campaign.
Fiscal responsibility means paying your bills. Under the President's spending plan, the federal deficit will increase to $423 billion. Instead of solutions, we get more of the same from a fiscally reckless Republican Congress and President that have turned a record $281 billion into a deficit exceeding $400 billion.
The road map to fiscal responsibility is not a complicated one, but it requires discipline and a commitment from everyone involved to work for the common good. Every year in Vermont we fulfill our obligations with a bipartisan commitment. Vermont has set an example that our national leaders should follow.
My “roadmap to fiscal responsibility” for Washington includes:
Pay as you go. In Vermont, we have a commitment to paying for the demands of government and not shifting the burden to future generations. The $423 billion deficit is not consistent with Vermont’s commitment to fiscal responsibility.
Take politics out of earmarks. In Vermont, we have a bipartisan process for making government funds available for local projects that has taken the politics out of the process. Since 1995, when the Republican Party took control of Congress, the number of earmarked projects has risen from 1,439 to nearly 14,000.
Truth in budgeting. In Vermont, we have a commitment to transparent budgeting and recognizing our obligations. The President’s failure to include major expenditures like the war in Iraq in the budget is both dishonest and a roadblock to charting a responsible fiscal course. Since 2003, the President has requested more than $251 billion in off budget funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, and hurricane relief.
Finally, tax cuts should be given to working Americans who need them, not millionaires and billionaires.
Congress, more than ever, must put a stop to this irresponsible agenda. The states cannot continue to bare the burden for federal fiscal mismanagement. This can only happen with new Democratic leadership committed to restoring fiscal sanity to Congress.
5. Health Care
I believe every citizen in the United States should have access to affordable health care. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world without universal health care and meanwhile our costs are skyrocketing — this must change.
Republicans in Washington have idly watched as nearly 7 million more Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured in the last six years and passed the burden onto the states. Their priorities are wrong.
I will take to Washington my commitment and experience advocating for universal health care. In Vermont, I led in the passage of the most progressive health care reform legislation in the country. The legislation expanded coverage, will help contain costs, and will allow for future reforms. I also helped pass tough legislation requiring full disclosure of pricing by pharmaceuticals, and establishing a prescription drug reimportation program for Vermonters to buy safe, cheaper drugs from Canada.
We can expand access and control costs nationally by instituting the same common sense approach used by the Vermont Legislature. The following steps can immediately begin expanding coverage for working families:
- Help businesses by creating a Small Employers Health Benefits Program (SEHBP), to allow small businesses to join into one purchasing pool to provide affordable health care to their employees;
- Help states by removing federal restrictions that impede state-level health care reform initiatives like Vermont’s Catamount Health and improve flexibility;
- Help individuals by lowering the age of Medicare eligibility for seniors and raising the age of Medicaid coverage to include young adults; and
- Help tax payers by requiring Medicare to negotiate discounts with drug companies as part of Medicare Part D and eliminate the burdensome “doughnut hole” gap in coverage.
To read more on my health care plan, please visit: http://www.welchforcongress.com/release/healthcareplan
6. Border security
We need to renew our focus on assuring our national security at home. That starts with a smart and tough plan to secure our borders.
President Bush and the Republican Congress have failed to enact sensible border security legislation by not following the 9-11 Commission recommendations. Chief among those is a commitment to fully fund border security agents and port security measures, which I strongly support. Doing so would reduce or eliminate the need for the National Guard patrols of our southern border.
I do not believe building a 700-mile double layer fence is the best use of border security resources. Furthermore, we must make a commitment to securing our northern border with Canada without adding burdensome restrictions on Vermonters, Canadian tourists, or commerce that is critical to our economy. We can have a secure border that also permits efficient crossing.
7. Minimum wage
I believe that we must raise the federal minimum wage to Vermont’s level of $7.25 an hour.
Here in Vermont, we are proud of our tradition of self-reliance as well as our sense of community, so it is no accident that Vermont has been a leader in the move to reward work with a reasonable minimum wage. Unfortunately, for America's lowest paid workers, the Republican Congress has demonstrated exactly the opposite values.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, a full-time minimum wage worker earns just $10,712 annually, which is more than $2,000 below the poverty line for a family of two. Asking millions of our neighbors to work full time without a wage above poverty is wrong.
We send a message every day that we value work. Government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity to everyone willing to contribute to our community.
The Republican Congress last voted to increase the minimum wage to $5.15 in 1995. Since then, members of Congress have received nine pay raises. The only community the Republican Congress seems interested in securing opportunities for is itself.
Moreover, the Bush Congress passed tax breaks that will give millionaires an average of $40,000 more in their pockets next year, while providing workers who earn less than $20,000 just two dollars. Two dollars — for the whole year. The Bush Congress rewards wealth rather than work.
I believe we need to restore a balance. I believe we need to reward work. And I believe that Congress should raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour to lift every minimum wage worker out of poverty.
8. Immigration policy
It’s time for Congress to pass legislation that will deal with the real immigration challenges our nation faces and put aside the ideological and divisive agenda blocking real reform.
I believe we need an immigration policy that addresses the security and economic challenges illegal immigration presents.
We must secure our borders, enforce the law with a common sense program that provides for an earned path for earned citizenship, and assure we have a guest worker program to meet the needs of labor shortages, such as on Vermont’s dairy farms.
9. Farming and agriculture
I will fight for agriculture policies in Washington that support the family farm and assure our farmers get a fair price for their product so we can strengthen our Vermont agricultural tradition.
I have a long career fighting for Vermont farmers. I led in the creation of the Northeast Dairy Compact while in the state senate in the 1980s and earlier this summer was able to help struggling Vermont farms with much needed aid after low milk prices and high energy costs combined with terrible weather. I know there is much more to be done.
In Congress, I will fight for a Farm Bill in 2007 that helps local farms, not just corporate mega-farms in the Midwest; seek mechanisms to provide a fair and stable milk price for our dairy farmers; promote diversification of Vermont’s agriculture by supporting organic conversion programs; and work to foster community-based agriculture and local food production.
Organic or traditional, small or large, dairy or diversified, I believe that a strong agricultural economy is vital to our future and an important part of our Vermont community. We all share the goal of improving our strong agricultural tradition in Vermont, and I know together with sensible policies we can make that happen.
I believe that one of government’s greatest responsibilities is to assure that all children, regardless of wealth or where they live, have access to high quality public education from kindergarten through college. I am committed to helping provide educational opportunities for all our children.
I have a long record of fighting improve educational opportunities for Vermont’s students. I supported legislation establishing the first kindergarten programs around the state. Through appropriations in the Senate, I have also fought to fund UVM, our state colleges and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC).
The Republican record on higher education has been one of neglect. From refusing to fully fund special education programs and the No Child Left Behind Act to cutting student aid for college, the Republican Congress has failed to provide the support needed to educate our children. While the average college graduate leaves with record debt, last year Congress imposed a $12 billion cut in student aid, the largest cut to student aid in history. This is wrong. As college education costs continue to rise, these funding cuts widen the affordability gap for low and middle income Americans.
While I support the goal behind No Child Left Behind, it has been a burdensome unfunded mandate on states like Vermont and, using narrow standardized testing, fails to recognize the many different ways in which students learn. A “one size fits all” federal mandate does not work. Instead, the federal government should support schools with the resources necessary to succeed and allow education decisions to be made locally.
In Congress, I will fight to repeal the $12 billion in cuts to student aid, increase Pell grants and Stafford loans, and assure reasonable interest rates for students. I will also work with members of Congress to support and develop new higher education initiatives to help our students afford college, such as programs for first-generation college students and programs for training students for undersupplied employment sectors.
In the tradition of Senator Jim Jeffords, I believe Congress must meet its commitment to funding special education programs. In addition, Congress must modify NCLB by assuring it does not overly rely on testing, provides adequate funding and allows for significant implementation flexibility by each state.