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An end of session report from Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore)


   US Rep. Greg Walden
   
As Congress wraps up its summer legislative session, I wanted to update you on some of the issues we've been working on and what they'll mean for Oregon families.
   As the father of an 11 year-old attending public school in Oregon, I care deeply about the quality of education our children receive across America.
   Unfortunately, in many areas of the country children are not reaching the levels of achievement that are necessary for them to lead successful lives. Today American 12th graders rank last in advanced physics compared to 18 other industrialized nations. And one-third of incoming college freshmen have to enroll in remedial reading, writing or mathematics classes before taking college-level courses. We can do better.
   That's why I supported passage of HR 1, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Under this bill, the Department of Education will receive a funding increase of $2.5 billion, bringing federal education funding to $44.5 billion next year, a 5.9 percent increase from last year. This comprehensive education bill, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin, accomplishes a number of important goals. It gives local schools, parents and teachers in Oregon more flexibility in how federal funds are spent to meet the needs of children. It puts an emphasis on helping young children learn to read by tripling funding for the "Reading First" initiative to $900 million. The measure also establishes the "Math and Science Partnership" program to provide funds for states to strengthen studies in math and science in elementary and secondary schools.
   In addition to providing more funding for the "basics" and more flexibility to local schools and parents to decide how federal funds are spent, HR 1 also requires schools to track how students are doing and make annual reports available to parents. Finally, the bill would give teachers the ability to remove violent and disruptive students from the classroom without the fear of being sued. Keeping order in the classroom is imperative if our children are to have a safe environment in which to learn. While governance of our schools is primarily a local concern - as it should be - I will continue to work at the federal level to do everything I can to make sure the federal government's role in education is both positive and effective.
   We're also working to invest resources in combating many of the diseases that strike at the heart of families. Among American women, cervical cancer is among the most lethal - and most preventable - causes of death. That's why I've cosponsored the Providing Annual Pap Tests to Save Women's Lives Act (HR 1202), which would cover women under the Medicare program for an annual Pap test, including an annual pelvic and clinical breast exam. Last year Congress expanded Medicare's coverage for a Pap test from once every three years to once every two years. While this was a step in the right direction, we should not rest until annual Pap tests are available to every woman in the United States. I'm committed to reaching that goal so that fewer of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters fall victim to this terrible disease.
   I also wanted to share with you our efforts to provide tax relief to working families in Oregon and throughout the nation. On June 7th the President signed into law a $1.35 trillion tax relief package, which I was proud to vote for. The bipartisan tax bill we passed significantly reduces every income tax rate, phases out the death tax and the marriage penalty, and doubles the child tax credit to $1,000. It also increases education savings accounts from $500 to $2,000, expands the credit to kindergarten through 12th grade public and private education, and provides a deduction of up to $3,000 for qualified higher education expenses. The bill increases the adoption tax credit to $10,000 from its current level of $5,000. And it includes immediate tax rebates to be mailed this summer that will give taxpayers rebate checks up to $300 for singles, $500 for single parents and $600 for married couples. After enduring tax hike after tax hike, hard-working Oregonians are finally getting a break.
   Though we've been able to offer much-needed tax relief, we haven't forgotten about our responsibility to pay down the national debt. We're on track to retire an additional $2 trillion in debt over the next 10 years on top of the $625 billion we will have paid off by the end of this year. This is the maximum we can pay without being penalized $50 billion - $150 billion in prepayment penalties. We currently spend nearly 11% of the federal budget simply paying interest on this debt - money that could be better spent on shoring up Social Security and Medicare, improving education, and strengthening our national defense. It's simply irresponsible to burden our children and grandchildren with a large public debt when we have the opportunity to reduce it substantially right now.
   In the remaining months before the holidays, we plan to take up a number of important issues, including providing a prescription drug benefit for seniors under Medicare and keeping the Internet free of taxation. We're also planning to address reforming tort law, providing small business tax relief, and making the tax cuts passed earlier this year permanent. And we have to wrap up work on the remaining appropriations bills Congress must pass each year to fund the federal government. I'll be sure to keep you updated as these important measures are brought to the floor.
   Please don't hesitate to share your thoughts with me on these or other issues that concern you.
   I encourage you to visit my web site at www.walden. house.gov to learn more about what we're doing in Congress. You can also email me any comments you may have on this or other issues. It's an honor to represent you in Congress.