As the first New York Senator to serve on the Armed Services Committee, one of my top priorities is to insure that our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to be safe and secure as they do their job.
New York has a proud history of military service and it has been a great honor to meet the soldiers and their families at New York's various military installations and to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where men from the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, NY who were wounded in battle in Afghanistan are recuperating. Their bravery, patriotism and determination is awe-inspiring, and we must never forget what they have done to protect our nation.
In early 2005, I joined several other Senators on a Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Pakistan. In Iraq, we visited Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk and met with U.S. troops, Iraqi leaders and ordinary Iraqis. In Afghanistan, we visited with Afghan leaders in Kabul and with U.S. troops at Bagram air base. During our trip, we expressed our support and the American people's support for the servicemen and women that we encountered. It was a privilege to thank these men and women in person for their service.
This was my second visit to Iraq and Afghanistan - I previously spent time with our troops in both nations over Thanksgiving weekend in November 2003. During that trip, I was honored to share Thanksgiving dinner in Afghanistan with servicemen and women from the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum and to fly with members of the 914th Airlift Wing of Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. On my most recent trip, I encountered the same images I witnessed on my first: brave soldiers serving with courage, valor, and honor in defense of freedom. I am so proud of them and of their service.
We owe our men and women in uniform an enormous debt of gratitude for their sacrifices. And recent experience has reminded us that they deserve more than just our thanks. We need to ensure that we are providing them with the support and resources that they need to get the job done.
One of my top priorities continues to be supporting the local small businesses and entrepreneurs that are the engine that drives economic growth. I firmly believe that our state has the infrastructure, the labor force and the economic and intellectual capital to remain competitive in the 21st century. I am proud to promote a number of programs that support these businesses throughout New York State.
Since joining the Senate, I have proudly served on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where I have fought to clean up the air that New Yorkers breathe, protect the water they drink, and revitalize contaminated sites in their communities. I have also worked to protect the natural treasures that New Yorkers enjoy, from the waters of Long Island Sound to the Adirondack Mountains, to the Great Lakes. I strongly believe that it is our duty to be better stewards of our environment-for the sake of our own health and the natural legacy that we will pass along to future generations.
I have also worked to advance a balanced energy policy that will increase our energy independence, create jobs, and provide cleaner, more reliable energy. I support policies to diversify our energy supplies by investing in renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar, developing advanced energy technologies such as clean coal and hydrogen fuel cells, and promoting environmentally responsible recovery of oil and gas resources. We also need to take steps to use energy more efficiently, in our cars, homes, and offices. Taken together, these steps will help to reduce the high energy prices facing New Yorkers and the rest of the country and move us away from dependence on foreign energy sources.
Our current immigration laws need to be reformed: we need a better solution to the question of illegal immigration which recognizes the conflict between the need to enforce the law, and the reality that too many employers are using undocumented workers today. That's why in the last Congress I was pleased to join Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and 60 other senators to cosponsor the Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 2003. Unfortunately, this bipartisan bill, which reflected a consensus among growers, labor and immigration advocates, was blocked by the Republican Senate leadership. Earlier this year, Senator Craig re-introduced this legislation, which I again cosponsored. I hope that this year President Bush and the Republican Senate leadership will finally support this legislation so that we can begin to address in a comprehensive way the significant challenges of illegal immigration that are confronting our nation.
Few issues touch all of our lives more closely or cause us more anxiety than healthcare. While Americans receive some of the best care in the world, unfortunately our healthcare system has some serious flaws. We see it in the increasing cost of health care and health insurance premiums, the rising number of people who lack coverage or have limited coverage, and lack of access to needed services. And despite the fact that the United States spends more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation, we still rank far below other countries on key quality indicators such as life span and infant mortality. Clearly, we must address these problems so that we can strengthen our health care system and prevent it from collapse.
Social Security has been our nation's most successful domestic program, protecting millions of Americans from poverty due to old age, death and disability. Since its inception in 1935, Social Security has guaranteed a life-long, inflation-protected defined benefit that families can rely on. The task before us now is to ensure the long-term health of the Social Security program.
I think it is essential that the Administration and Congress take the necessary steps to secure the solvency of this important program for current and future retirees. As we review the options for strengthening Social Security, it is important that we acknowledge the advantages that are built into the existing system. Social Security benefits are progressive, recognizing that workers with low earnings or women who take time out of the workforce, have little opportunity to save. In addition, Social Security is almost completely universal, offering workers a nearly perfect portable pension. Finally, monthly Social Security benefits are dependable and protected by law.
The first responsibility of all federal officials is to secure the homeland and keep our nation safe. After the horrific attacks of September 11th, it was obvious to most Americans that our intelligence services were in need of a dramatic overhaul and reorganization. The families of the victims of September 11th showed courage and persistence in working with the Congress to ensure that the 9/11 Commission's recommendations were put into law and I was pleased that last December, at the very the end of the 108th Congress, we passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
This bill made historic changes in the way our government collects and analyzes intelligence. It created a Director of National Intelligence, ensuring that there is a high level official, answerable to the President, whose primary responsibility is to ensure that our intelligence agencies are sharing information and communicating with one another.
It also called for dramatic improvements in the security of our nation's transportation infrastructure, including aviation security, air cargo security, and port security. Through this legislation, the security of the Northern Border will also be improved - a goal I have worked toward since 2001. The bill also included a number of key immigration reform provisions, including those addressing the process of obtaining United States visas.
I know that New York's most precious resource is its children. That is why I am fighting to improve the quality of every child's education, from preschool through college. I am working to ensure that every child has an equal chance to succeed because each is taught by a top-notch teacher in a modern classroom.
As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Subcommittee on Children and Families, I was one of the key negotiators of The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), the comprehensive overhaul of our nation's elementary and secondary education policy that made New York schools more accountable to New York's families. And today I am holding the Administration accountable for not providing the resources that it promised to allow the landmark law to succeed.