The 2004 election not only gave Republicans a firm majority in the Senate, it also provided the opportunity for the Republican Party to communicate our vision to the American people. With the election behind us, the Republican Party must keep the promises made to Americans on the campaign trail and enact our ambitious agenda.
Republicans were able to deliver important legislation during the 108th Congress; however, Democratic obstructionism prevented Congress from passing several key items benefiting Americans. I am confident that with a larger Republican majority, we will be able to coalesce as a party and with Democrats to build on our accomplishments of the 108th Congress and finish our outstanding obligations.
Republicans have a plan to keep Americans safe. We must finish what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress can help by providing necessary resources to our troops fighting the war on terror and standing behind the Iraqi people as they look forward to elections.
Republicans have a plan to ensure access to quality and affordable health care to all Americans. During the 108th Congress, we enacted a Medicare bill that included a prescription drug benefit. For the first time, seniors can sign up for a Medicare-approved prescription drug discount card that will deliver savings of 10 percent to 25 percent. In the 109th Congress we must work to ensure a smooth transition to a prevention-oriented Medicare program. The exciting first step toward this transition is the implementation of the “Welcome to Medicare Physical,” which provides a variety of preventive screenings for beneficiaries.
Republicans have a plan to enact meaningful lawsuit-abuse reform. We must focus our efforts on protecting access to emergency rooms and OB-GYNs, as well as passing medical liability legislation that will protect doctors and promote accessible, affordable health care in our communities. Patients across America are being denied critical health care as doctors and hospitals are closing their doors due to skyrocketing liability costs.
Additionally, in the upcoming Congress, we must pass class-action reform legislation. Injured plaintiffs are suffering due to weak state court oversight of class-action lawsuits. On too many occasions plaintiffs receive little or no settlement and, in some instances, lose money after paying attorneys’ fees. We must pass this legislation, which provides a modest means of reforming a very serious problem.
Republicans have a plan to create jobs and spur economic growth. Passing the Workforce Investment and Adult Education Act and a comprehensive energy bill will benefit all Americans and strengthen economic development.
The Workforce Investment and Adult Education Act, which was passed by both the House and the Senate, but held up in conference, is projected to help more than 900,000 dislocated workers get the training they need to get good jobs. This legislation reauthorizes employment and training programs that help meet the needs of unemployed and displaced workers.
In the next Congress we should pass energy legislation that offers increased environmentally responsible domestic energy production as well as incentives for increased energy efficiency, alternative fuels and promising new technologies. We must continue to ensure the access to affordable, reliable energy that has played a key role in the strength of the U.S. economy and the high standard of living Americans enjoy.
It is essential that Republicans continue to advocate reforming the tax code to reduce its complexity and burden on taxpayers. Moreover, our tax system should not penalize married couples; instead the federal government should strive to develop ways to reward individuals entering into the institution of marriage. In the years ahead, we must build on the tax cuts extended in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 and ensure that the death tax is permanently repealed during the 109th Congress.
Republicans have a plan to help those on welfare achieve self-sufficiency, to promote strong families, and to enact legislation that taps into America’s renewed spirit of community, responsibility and unity. Welfare reform should continue to be one of our top priorities. Thousands of welfare recipients have already made the difficult transition to employment, but many still face barriers. Providing additional child care dollars will assist welfare recipients’ transition from welfare to work.
As a means to help people out of poverty, we must support healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiatives. The evidence is overwhelming that healthy, stable families produce the best outcomes for parents and children and are essential to overcoming poverty and ending the cycle of welfare dependency. Republicans must do all they can to stop the action, taken by the minority, to stall Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reauthorization that could prevent millions of families from finding work and a better life for their children.
We must finally pass the CARE Act to leverage new support and resources for a broad range of community and faith-based groups working to serve those in need. The CARE Act encourages giving by creating tax incentives for individuals, businesses, and foundations to give to charitable causes helping those in need.
Republicans have a plan to confirm judicial nominees. Today we face a crisis — too many federal courts lack a sufficient number of judges. Republicans must continue their work to efficiently consider and confirm the president’s slate of well-qualified and diverse judicial nominees in a timely manner, under the “advise and consent” clause of the Constitution.
Republicans want to face our country’s obligation to the next generation. We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that Social Security, our most vital social program, is unsustainable in its current form, and the longer we wait to fix it, the greater the burden we leave on our children and grandchildren.
Social Security must be modernized to meet the needs of the new millennium by providing more equitable treatment for working families, reducing the financial burden on our children and grandchildren, improving the rate of return for all beneficiaries, and creating a nest egg for future generations. Personal retirement accounts provide individuals — not the government — with control and ownership. And they hold the promise of a greater return for future generations than what they are promised by today’s Social Security system.
Republicans have an obligation to allow Americans to have the right to define marriage for themselves, as they did in 11 states in November. Republicans must continue to encourage a strong marriage culture, with people marrying and raising kids, because we know this provides the best, most stable environment for nurturing kids. We cannot allow un-elected judicial activists to redefine the institution of marriage.
Republicans have an obligation to promote religious tolerance both domestically and around the world. The right to worship freely and practice one’s religion is one of our most basic and fundamental rights. Republicans must stand up for the expression of all faiths in the public square.
We must pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, important bipartisan legislation that would restore a more balanced approach to religious freedom in the workplace. This act would require employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees unless doing so would cause significant hardship for the employer.
Republicans have an obligation to lead the fight against the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.
Combating HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Congress has the responsibility to extend aid and adequate funding to the men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS around the world.
This is a very exciting time for Republicans. I am hopeful that we will achieve great things in the 109th Congress — making Americans safer, healthier and more financially secure.
Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) is Senate Republican Conference chairman.