Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, July 21, 2006

“Stem-ulating” Debate

by Senator Larry Craig

When I think of a boundary, the first thing that comes to mind is an old, barbed-wire fence, like the ones I had to help my dad fix on our family ranch when I was a boy. But the more I think about that fence, the more I realize how slippery the concept of a boundary can be. If only every border could be as easily seen and touched as that old fence, life would be a lot easier. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Boundaries can take on as many forms as the imagination can conjure. Whether they are physical or philosophical, boundaries challenge the mind. Ethical boundaries are no less difficult. Recently in the Senate, we were asked to reexamine an important ethical line regarding stem cells and medical research. Like many issues that come before us, reaching a decision on whether to support or oppose the President’s restrictions on stem cell research was not easy and took a great deal of consideration.

Research on stem cells holds a great deal of potential, and without question, this potential is very exciting. Stem cells are a unique kind of cells that can – with their ability to reproduce and form into many different kinds of cells – direct tissue growth to meet the body’s needs. They are found in varying forms throughout our lifecycle: in embryos, umbilical cords, bone marrow, and elsewhere.

Scientists have already found ways to harness the regenerative power of stem cells taken from adults. For example, stem cells found in the bone marrow of a healthy adult are commonly transplanted into a cancer patient with lifesaving results.

In recent years, researchers uncovered a method for extracting stem cells from days-old human embryos. These stem cells are pluripotent—different from adult stem cells, since they can reproduce nearly any cell found in the body. Scientists hope that pluripotent cells may one day allow us to regrow nerve and other tissue that adult stem cells cannot. We could then apply this knowledge to reverse the damage of spinal cord or brain injuries, and combat diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. At least, that’s the theory. At this point, embryonic stem cell research has a long way to go before it yields any cures to diseases or injuries.

What is troubling is that stem cells extracted from embryos with current techniques result in the destruction of an embryo—a potential human life. However, recent advances in creating pluripotent

stem cells avoid the destruction of embryos. Therefore, I strongly supported S.2754, a bill authored by Senators Santorum and Specter, that will provide funding and research for these alternative methods. Should they prove successful, we could reap all the benefits of stem cell research without crossing the ethical boundary of destroying a developing human life.

I could not support H.R. 810, which would have overturned the President’s policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from paying for stem cell research requiring the continuing destruction of human embryos. Given the current state of embryonic stem cell science, and the emergence of alternative, and equally promising sources of stem cells, it is a line that I think we ought not cross if we can avoid it.

Just like that fence on the old ranch, we have reached an important barrier in the stem cell debate. The grass indeed looks green on the other side, as stem cell research could yield great benefits to the human race, greatly easing the suffering of many. It is my hope and belief, however, that science can help us reach that promised land without crossing solemn moral and ethical lines.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Don’t Be Fooled

by Senator Larry Craig

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This old saying makes a lot of sense, especially when I look at the people and communities of Idaho.

Don’t be fooled. Although our state has grown a lot over the last 20 years, Idaho’s rural communities are still a very important part of our state’s culture and values. While the state’s bigger cities may get most of the attention in the papers or on the evening newscast, Idahoans’ character and past can easily be traced to a small town. Having grown up in a small Idaho community, I am determined to make sure that rural Idaho does not fade into memory, but remains vibrant, and that rural Idahoans have every tool they need to be successful.

One of the most important tools to success is a high-quality education. Too often, Idaho’s schools suffer from a lack of financial resources, because the economic base of many counties in which these schools are located is severely limited. Limited by what? By a high percentage of federally owned lands. Some counties, like Custer County and several others, are more than 90 percent federally-owned.

This might be nice for recreationists, but Idaho’s schools are largely funded by property taxes, and the federal government is exempted from paying those. So in counties like these, the limited supply of private land means economic activity is limited too, and therefore, so are the property tax revenues available to these counties and their school districts.

Recognizing this problem, Congress, in the early part of the 20th Century, reached a solution. The federal government would send 25 percent of the annual federal timber receipts harvested in that county to the coffers of the county government. For generations, this arrangement worked fairly well, until timber harvests began to dwindle on public lands in the 1980s and 1990s. As a consequence, the timber dollars coming into county coffers did too.

So in 2001, I teamed up with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and a number of other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to craft a temporary fix. What became known as the “Craig-Wyden” bill (the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act) set a floor on the amount of federal funds rural counties would receive. The program was intended to help begin an economic transition for counties who were heavily dependent on timber to a broader-based economy, and it has helped do that in many places. And while it always was intended to be a temporary program, the time has not yet come to end it.

The difficult question that faces us today is how to pay for the Craig-Wyden program. The Bush Administration suggested selling off parcels of public land to raise the necessary funds, which was soundly rejected by most Westerners, myself included. Others have suggested expanding federal income tax withholdings on private contractors, which I also cannot accept.

At the same time, Congress and President Bush are working hard to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce the federal budget deficit. It pleases me to report that the Office of Management and Budget estimates that by 2008, we will have cut the deficit in half – one year earlier than President Bush’s target date of 2009. But the question remains: How do we raise more than half a billion dollars at a time when Congress and the President are aggressively squeezing the budget (an action I strongly endorse)?

We may have to pass a one-year extension of the program to buy a little more time to find a longer-term solution.

I admit, we have not found an answer yet, but let me assure you, we are looking for one. This is turning out to be a tough nut to crack, but I didn’t come to the Senate to only solve the easy problems. Don’t be fooled – we’re not done with this one just yet.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Healthcare Choice for Veterans: the American Way

By Senator Larry Craig
Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Much stir has been created about the new Superman movie. In case you missed it, the critics are abuzz with the fact that the new film uses the phrase, “Truth, justice and all that stuff,” instead of the traditional Superman phrase: “Truth, justice and the American way.”

I am disappointed that “the American way” was dropped by producers of the film, and I thought about their actions as our nation celebrated its 230th Independence Day on this most recent Fourth of July.

What is “the American way” anyway?

The first two words in Superman’s motto lay it out quickly: Americans believe in truth and justice. The later words, “the American way,” encompass a broader thought. It is my belief that “the American way” includes freedom from government oppression and fairness for all in our laws.

It is freedom and fairness (in addition to truth and justice) that in large measure drive my own political efforts, and the reason I will soon introduce legislation to allow military veterans to establish Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

HSAs are a new trend in health care. They were enacted as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 and already three million Americans have opened health savings accounts. With an HSA, individuals or companies can contribute to an account on a pre-tax basis. Those funds can then be withdrawn by individuals to pay for qualified health care expenses. When coupled with a high deductible, low premium health insurance policy, HSAs allow people to provide for their own health care needs and do so tax free.

HSAs are so new that some of the current laws on the books when applied to these new accounts make no sense. For example, one current interpretation prohibits veterans who use the VA health care system from obtaining an HSA at all. That’s crazy. And it is why I will soon introduce legislation to correct the situation.

Let me explain. Like any employer, the government must meet its obligations to provide medical treatment for on-the-job injuries for its employees. When it comes to our service men and women, we provide the medical care through the VA health care system, a system that is now among the top-rated in the country.

So what’s wrong with that you might ask? Current HSA rules prohibit a person with medical coverage from contributing tax free to an HSA. That means a service-connected veteran, using the system the government established to care for his or her injuries now, must surrender a tax advantage. That’s not right.

But, if that wasn’t enough, under current law rulings, private workers’ compensation insurance is exempt from the rule I just noted above pertaining to veterans. That means a person who is receiving worker’s compensation for an on-the-job injury incurred in the private sector can also open an HSA. But that’s not so for veterans receiving treatment from VA for their on-the-job injuries.

In addition to that unfairness, as many people know, with limited exception, VA is not a family health care provider. That could mean that a veteran who uses the VA health care system may be cheating himself out of contributions to an HSA that could cover his entire family for care that VA will not provide to them. Again, what is the purpose of such a rule? I believe there is no purpose. Veterans are just being treated differently under the law, and cannot enjoy a tax break others enjoy. Superman fans might call that discrimination "un-American." So, my bill will provide all veterans, who use VA, with the freedom to establish HSAs.

My hope with this legislation is that by allowing more veterans and their families to join the growing community of HSA fans, we can: reduce the ranks of the uninsured; bring some consumer awareness and behavior to the health care system; and ultimately help drive down the costs for everyone who wishes to provide for their own health needs.

That’s the American way.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Time to Pack in Iraq?

by Senator Larry Craig

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The story goes that this was the definition Albert Einstein gave for insanity. It reminds me of the plan some congressional Democrats have to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. None of my colleagues in the House and Senate are insane, but this so-called “cut and run” strategy has reared its head before. It’s the same bad plan, but with new salesmen.

Almost as soon as Baghdad fell in 2003, some in Congress began to call for withdrawal of U.S. forces based on dates that were basically pulled from a hat. As time passes, these calls resurface, perhaps slightly repackaged with different labels. Again and again, the American public rejects them, and rightly so.

Sadly, the idea of leaving early is not unique to Iraq. We left Vietnam before the mission was completed. The same was true of Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. History has been harsh in showing us what happens when we leave before the mission is accomplished. Somehow, though, congressional Democrats are convinced that this time, the consequences will be different.

Don’t be fooled, though. The outcome, just as before, would be lasting damage to the United States abroad, making us a target for future attacks. It’s difficult enough fighting terrorists who promote a fascist ideology. We shouldn’t look for ways to undermine ourselves too.

What we must do is, for the most part, what we and 28 allied nations have been doing: providing a stabilizing force in Iraq, and killing or capturing terrorist forces, so that the budding democracy can take root there and grow.

A stable, democratic Iraq benefits not just the United States, but the entire region of the Middle East, which, until a few years ago, had little hope for peace and prosperity in our lifetime. Just across the border in Iran, pro-democracy groups and progressive students look to the U.S. and Iraq for inspiration and encouragement. What will they see? Hopefully, two governments that will stand firm for their founding principles in the face of difficulty.

Without question, things have not gone perfectly in Iraq, and no one makes that claim. Progress has been sometimes hard to distinguish. Like many Americans, I have had my moments of doubt, and have at times felt overwhelmed by the challenges our country, the coalition, and the Iraqi people face in establishing a stable country in a volatile region.

However, recent events tell us things are changing.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki successfully formed a national unity government of officials elected by Iraqis. That same day, another hurdle was overcome. The annihilation of Zarqawi was an achievement that signifies many things. It is unquestionable proof that support for Al Qaeda in Iraq is dwindling. And it is dwindling at the hands of former supporters, who not only led coalition forces to Zarqawi, but will also turn others like him over to Iraq and U.S. forces in the near future. This human intelligence has already led to many arrests and seizures of terrorists and their resources.

Getting Zarqawi also demonstrates that U.S. and Iraqi forces are learning and adapting. As Iraqi forces grow and improve in capability, American men and women in uniform will relinquish the reins of security to Iraqis.

That is the standard that must be achieved, not some arbitrary date on a calendar that comes whether we’ve succeeded or not.

The people of the United States know how important it is to receive a little help sometimes. At Yorktown, American troops brought an end to the Revolutionary War, but not without help from French naval ships. The French prevented the British Navy from coming to General Cornwallis’ rescue, and he was forced to surrender to George Washington.

In the same way, the United States must continue to stand by Iraq in its hour of need. We cannot leave before Iraqis are ready to take control of their own security. Abandoning Iraq now would be “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Insanity indeed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

O Long May it Wave

by Idaho Senator Larry Craig

Few symbols in our world stir up more emotion than the American flag. For Americans, it embodies all that we stand for. For our enemies, it represents all they seek to destroy.

It has served as the banner of freedom from Iwo Jima to Normandy, from Korea to Baghdad, from Atlanta to Baltimore. For well over two hundred years, its “broad stripes and bright stars” have stood for the freedoms tens of thousands have died to preserve. We are reminded of that every time we drape our flag over the coffin of an American who has served our country.

Our enemies know what our flag means and the emotions it stirs in our souls. That is why, when terrorists in the Middle East vilify all things American, they burn our flag, and when our soldiers face the enemy, the enemy seeks to destroy our flag. And, it is why when American protesters want to ensure attention is paid to their pet cause, they desecrate a flag.

When Americans desecrate our flag in the name of free speech, they destroy the very symbol of the freedoms they seek to celebrate, inciting fellow Americans. While our Constitution protects speech, it does not protect every conceivable expression, and it was this capacity to incite that our anti-flag desecration laws were designed to protect us from.

Unfortunately, in 1989, the United States Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson, disagreed and struck down a Texas law banning desecration of the American flag on a 5-4 decision. Justice Rehnquist wrote in his dissenting opinion:

“The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another ‘idea’ or ‘point of view’ competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have. I cannot agree that the First Amendment invalidates the Act of Congress and the laws of 48 of the 50 States, which make criminal the public burning of the flag.”

Justice Stevens, a liberal member of the Court, joined in the dissent, stating that our flag, “is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other people who share our aspirations. . . The case has nothing to do with ‘disagreeable ideas.’ It involves disagreeable conduct that, in my opinion, diminishes the value of an important national asset.”

Because the Supreme Court narrowly struck down anti-flag desecration statues, both in 1989 and 1990, Congress is forced to amend the Constitution in order to protect our flag. The Senate is slated to once again debate the Flag Protection Amendment, which boasts the cosponsorship of 60 Senators, including myself. The House has already approved the amendment, as it has done six times before.

Our Constitution is designed, with good reason, to be difficult to amend. It is the foundation of our democracy, and the amendment process is the sentry that guards against those who would chip away our foundation. We cannot take this lightly – nor can we take lightly those who seek to incite Americans by desecrating the very symbol of all that America stands for.

As the Senate debates and votes on this amendment, we will not take it lightly. I truly wish we did not have to do this, but the courts have driven us to it. It is the only option to protect the symbol of America and the freedoms she stands for and has fought to protect the world over.

America is the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Our flag reminds us of that every day, and it deserves the same protection as our inalienable rights.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

TRACY OPENS PR FIRM IN BOISE

(Boise) Mike Tracy, the long-time Communication Director for U.S. Senator Larry Craig, has opened the public relations firm, Tracy Communications, Inc.in Boise, Idaho located on the 5th Floor of the Hoff Building.

Tracy recently retired from a decade of service in the U.S. Senate as the Communication Director for the leader of Idaho’s Congressional Delegation, U.S. Senator Larry Craig. Craig made the following comments on the Senate Floor about Tracy’s service to Idaho.

“Mike has been an invaluable asset to me and the people of Idaho. He provided tremendous experience, enthusiasm, and good humor, and we will miss having him around every day. When you are around Mike, you cannot help but be boosted by this man’s passion,” Craig said.

Tracy Communications, Inc. will offer a full range of public relations services including strategic communications, crisis communications, public relations consulting, media training, issue management, and media relations.

Prior to his work in the Senate, Tracy served for eight years as the Information Director for the state’s largest general farm organization, the Idaho Farm Bureau. He also was the sales manager for KPVI-TV in Pocatello and worked in the public relations department at the University of Idaho’s Agricultural Communication Center.

Tracy is a 1977 graduate of the University of Idaho with a BA in Communications and a 1990 Graduate of Idaho State University with a MA in Rhetorical Studies. In 2003 Idaho State University awarded him with the Professional Achievement Award from the College of Arts and Sciences.

You may listen to (MP3, 1:26, 1.35 MB), watch (streaming), or read Craig's full remarks.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Finding a Family for Every Child

by Senators Larry Craig and Mary Landrieu

Over half a million abused and neglected children in the United States have taken temporary refuge in foster care, and almost 120,000 of these children are currently waiting for adoption. On average, children will remain in foster care for at least three years and, while in care, will move from home to home at least three times. They will be separated from friends, siblings and family. And nearly 19,000 of these children will age out of foster care this year without finding a loving, permanent family. Despite the success of hundreds of foster children, too many of these youth become homeless, incarcerated, or suffer from mental illness.

Last week, ABC’s Primetime and Nightline offered a glimpse behind these statistics, illustrating the hope and pain embodied by these numbers. Under the header “Calling All Angels” the programs featured foster youth, birth, foster and adoptive parents who told their stories and shared their experiences.

Foster youth expressed the uncertainty associated with being moved from home to home, the experience of living with different people – some moving between as many as 19 homes, and waiting to find their forever family. Youth who aged out of foster care spoke of the experience of leaving foster care to live on their own with no stable family to rely on. Foster parents, caseworkers, and other child welfare workers advocated their concern with the type of abuse and neglect these children have suffered, and a commitment to improve the outcome for them.

The Congressional Directors of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and the 196 members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption support efforts to increase awareness of these issues and find solutions. CCAI, which does not receive government funding, is dedicated to raising awareness among members of Congress about foster youth and orphans and the issues that they face.

A recent survey conducted by ABC and Time magazine found that only one in four Americans say they know about the foster care system. In order to effect true change and help foster children join safe, loving, permanent families, we must ensure that more people know about the state of the foster care system, the challenges faced by these children, and the ways in which we all can help.

We recognize that, in order to truly impact the lives of children in foster care and improve the system, we must not only focus on the state of the foster care system, and the need for systemic reform, but also emphasize the positive stories and contributions of those who are working to reform the foster care system and to make a lasting difference in the lives of children in foster care through adoption.

This week, CCAI is proud to welcome the fifth annual class of interns who come to work on Capitol Hill through the Congressional Foster Youth Internship Program. These former foster youth spend the summer interning in the offices of members of Congress. And, each year, CCAI and members of Congress partner to recognize Angels in Adoption™ – individuals from all 50 states working to enrich the lives of foster children and orphans. Last year, more than 190 members of Congress participated in this event, making it the year’s largest Congressional event pertaining to child welfare. Recipients included judges, foster and adoptive parents, social workers, legislators, philanthropists, doctors and leaders of local and state organizations. Despite their varying backgrounds, all share a dedication to bettering the lives of children in our nation’s foster care system and orphans around the world.

As the ABC specials illustrated, these vulnerable children deserve our best effort to improve their lives and circumstances and to provide a safe, loving, and permanent home.

Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Senator Mary Landrieu, D-LA, are Co-Chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and Congressional Directors of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. For more information on CCAI, go to www.ccainstitute.org.