I have long championed both lower taxes and reform of the existing tax system, and recently signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose all tax increases. Much of our recent economic prosperity is directly attributable to the lower taxes enacted by recent Congresses. I believe America's tax code is overly complex and burdensome. Americans spend roughly $157 billion each year in tax preparation, to ensure they do not run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service. The system is desperately in need of reform. I support a flat tax concept that simplifies tax preparation, applies a low tax rate to all Americans, and respects the special financial burden carried by American families raising children.
The Social Security System is facing a demographic crisis that will someday affect the financial viability of the Social Security Trust Fund. Projections for the financial solvency of the Trust Fund show that as baby boomers begin to enter retirement there will be an increase in the number of people drawing social security benefits, and yet a corresponding decrease in the number of working people who provide those benefits. Clearly, this will present a crisis within the system. We must firmly resolve to keep our commitment to current retirees and those preparing to retire. Further, we must modernize the system to ensure that Social Security is financially sound for our children. I believe every American has a stake in this debate, and I will continue to keep the dialogue open as we work toward a solution.
Due to years of neglect and short-sighted domestic policies, America is on the verge of an energy crisis. Our supply of energy has not kept pace with our demand. Today our nation produces 39% less oil than we did in 1970. This leaves us dependent on foreign suppliers, who often do not have America's best interests at heart. In the last Congress, I co-sponsored the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for America Security Act. This bill aims to reduce our oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels per day in ten years by taking an innovative, market-based approach that relies on advanced technology and an expansion of renewable fuels. I will continue to fight for energy independence.
I believe that our society's strength lies in its most fundamental building block, the family unit. Family begins with marriage. We must defend the institution of marriage by defending the definition of marriage. The right to marry is not the right to redefine marriage. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
How we define marriage is vitally important because of the message it sends to the culture-to the young, and to the next generation of citizens. Make no mistake, a society that undermines marriage and the family is undermining itself, and a government that attempts to supplant rather than to support the family and marriage is bent on its own destruction.
We must recognize that it is our families, built upon the institution of marriage, that are the fundamental and essential centers of commitment and care that have the real power to transform our society.
My belief in the value of human life is what inspired my concern over the international genocides taking place in countries like Darfur. I traveled to Darfur and Rwanda in early 2006 to see firsthand the tragedies that have taken place there. The suffering was unlike any I have ever seen. I believe that we must show compassion to these people. America is a great nation, and we have a role to play in protecting innocent life at home and abroad.
Reforming the UN
The United Nations continues to be the subject of great controversy. The U.N. has been instrumental in resolving a number of international disputes, and its work should not go unnoticed. However, it too often couples lofty ideals with poor execution. As such, reforming the U.N. must remain a priority. In the 104th Congress I supported the National Security Revitalization Act, which prohibited U.S. military forces from being placed under U.N. command and control in most situations. Further, it provided for the U.S. to be reimbursed for participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations. I believe we should reduce the size of the U.N., and that the U.S. should bear less of the organization's financial burden. I have long supported - and will continue to support - efforts to condition our country's U.N. dues on substantive U.N. reform.
Culture and Values
We must clean up America's culture, beginning in every home. A new callousness can be seen on our television sets and movie theaters, in video games and on magazine racks. While parents remain the first line of defense in the fight to protect our children from inappropriate media content, some of the responsibility for this effort also rests with the producers and distributors of modern media. With this in mind, I introduced the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2006 and was pleased to see the President sign it into law. The Act increased fines on broadcast networks that air obscene and indecent material during the hours children are most likely to be watching. Shielding our children from the violence, obscenity, and indecency in today's media continues to be one of my top priorities. I have also introduced a bill that would promote greater accuracy and transparency in the rating of video games. Accurately educating parents about the content of the media they bring into their homes is a key part of this process.
In addition to these threats, I remain concerned about the proliferation of pornography in our culture. The commoditization of the human person through pornography is a scourge upon our civilization and one of the most insidious threats to the stability of our families. I held a hearing in 2006 where we examined the detrimental effect pornography has on children and families. I will continue the fight to protect families from a variety of cultural threats.
I'm proud to be an original cosponsor of a bill that presents the same opportunity today for those willing to make a 5-year commitment to live and work in rural America. The New Homestead Act would help pay back college loans, provide a $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers and pump much needed capital into our Main Streets in rural communities across America.
This country has faced chronic out-migration before. In the 1970s, metropolitan urban cores across America were suffering from out-migration similar to what we are seeing today in rural America. Tax incentives were put in place to enhance economic development and it revitalized our nation's urban cores. It worked back in the 1970s for the urban core and it can work again today for rural America. We are simply looking to do for rural America what we have already done for the urban core of America.
Growing up on a farm near Parker, Kansas, I saw firsthand that communities in rural America exhibit the values and work ethic we all appreciate as Americans. We must act now to preserve the ‘small town' lifestyles that have been so vital to our country's success.
After my recent trip to Iraq, I am even more convinced that the situation there is precarious, but hopeful. I see hope in the Iraqi people. I believe this hope will be the foundation of a new Iraqi society. Much remains to be done, and I think we need a plan to turn this country over to its citizens. I will continue to work with the leaders in our country, as well as leaders in Iraq, to find a solution that protects the future of Iraq, and the pride and dignity of its citizens.
During my time as Secretary of Agriculture in Kansas, I saw firsthand the issues faced by today's farmers. Clean air and water continue to be of top importance, as are the costs of fertilizer and other supplies. America must support the efforts of the agriculture industry, so that it can continue to supply a safe and economical food supply. I believe in agriculture innovation and remain committed to efforts that will help enable farmers to embrace the production of biofuels such as ethanol. I will continue to support America's agriculture industry by bolstering rural communities and the efforts of America's farmers.
The role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to create it. Too many judges fail to remember the importance of this distinction. In recent years, activist judges around the country have been sidestepping state legislatures and the will of the voters, nullifying laws based not on the Constitution, but rather their own political agenda. The Senate must act to help prevent more activists from taking the bench. Government functions best when it is most accountable to the people. That is why I believe laws should be made by elected officials, and not by the federal judiciary. I will continue to support judges who adopt this philosophy.
Gun Rights/Second Amendment
At the heart of the Bill of Rights is the Second Amendment. This Amendment guarantees an individual the right to keep and bear arms, which is essential, as the Amendment itself affirms, to "the security of a free state." Restrictive gun control laws aimed at weakening this constitutional right are not the answer. Instead, it is important for the government to enforce criminal gun laws already on the books, for communities to stand against gun violence, and for parents to teach children about gun safety.
Religion, once an integral part of our society, is today being eradicated from nearly every aspect of public life. The First Amendment protects the freedom to practice the religion of one's choice. That freedom is under attack by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who profit financially from lawsuits brought against cities and towns that display religious symbols. The ACLU and others have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees from suits brought against local cities and towns. Now they are using those victories to threaten other local jurisdictions. I introduced the Public Expression of Religion Act last year to prevent groups like the ACLU from collecting attorneys' fees in religious freedom cases. Our country was founded on the idea that its citizens should be free to express their religious beliefs without government interference. I will continue the fight to protect that freedom.
Life is worthy of respect and protection from the moment of conception. I fear that our society has forgotten the value of human life. I believe every life has meaning and purpose, and that the termination of life is taken too lightly in our country today. Abortion ends a human life. It destroys an individual who could have lived, worked, and contributed to our society. And has wiped out nearly an entire generation. I believe we should strive to fully embrace a culture of life through our national politics. I will continue to fight to protect life at every stage. I hope that one day America will remember the value we once placed on human life.
When we ignore poorly performing schools, we also ignore every student in those schools, thereby allowing an achievement gap to persist. It is imperative that we close the achievement gap and provide our nation's students with a productive learning environment that challenges and encourages intellectual stimulation. I believe that providing for choice in education is beneficial to student achievement. For years now, we have seen studies that prove school choice programs, such as the new Opportunity Scholarships recently implemented in the District of Columbia, have a drastic and positive impact on students-especially minority students. By supporting such initiatives, we will be ensuring that more students have access to a high quality education, which means that they will have a better chance of success in not only reaching college, but flourishing in life.