FACT SHEET | February 11, 2009

Accomplishments in the 111th Congress: Honoring the American People's Call for Change

Senate Democrats are committed to honoring the faith Americans have placed in us to bring about change in the 111th Congress by advancing a bold, aggressive, forward-looking agenda that will rebuild and reinvest in America. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Obama Administration, industry and labor leaders, and the American people to revive our economy, get Americans working again, protect homeowners and consumers, make America more energy independent, strengthen our national security, expand access to quality health care, and improve educational opportunities.

Under Democratic leadership, the senate has had one of the most productive work periods in recent history, passing several major pieces of legislation within just the first few weeks of the new congress, including the economic recovery plan, pay equity, children's health care, and conservation legislation. Two of these bills, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 have already been signed into law. 

As we move forward in the 111thCongress, Senate Democrats understand that our nation is confronting some of the most severe challenges we have faced in generations. Those problems did not develop overnight nor will they be solved in a day, but our current problems are no match for the strength and ingenuity of the American people. Working together, we can move our nation forward to deliver the change Americans demand and the progress America so desperately needs.


Strengthening the Economy and Reinvesting in America 

Senate Democrats, worked with our Republican colleagues and the President to pass an economic recovery package that will get the American economy working again.Over the last eight years, life for millions of American families has grown less affordable and less secure. Americans have suffered from lower wages, fewer jobs, declining home values, foreclosures, and skyrocketing costs for basic necessities like gas, health care, and college tuition. Years of misguided fiscal policies and irresponsible regulatory failures have contributed to a financial meltdown that is crippling the national and global economy and threatening the American Dream for people throughout the country. Never before has the need for a strong economic recovery package been as urgent or as clear.

On February 10, 2009, the Senate voted 61 to 37 in favor of the economic recovery legislation requested by President Obama to help jumpstart the economy and create jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, as amended (H.R. 1), would create new jobs and save those that may be lost; cut taxes for the middle class; and invest in America's future. This legislation would also provide transparency and accountability to guarantee that all taxpayer money is invested responsibly.

Specifically, if signed into law, the economic recovery legislation would create and maintain jobs through targeted funding of infrastructure, renewable energy and other job-intensive projects, increased nutrition assistance, and broad-based tax relief. The bill would provide incentives for businesses to create and retain jobs, particularly in the job-rich green energy sector; aid to states in fiscal crisis; help with healthcare for workers and struggling families; job-creating investments in healthcare; and expanded unemployment benefits.

Senate and House conferees met immediately to work out differences between the bills that both chambers have passed in order to send a bill to President Obama that he will sign into law as soon as possible.

Improving and Expanding Health Care

Congress overwhelmingly approved critical legislation to renew and expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). For the past twelve years, CHIP has played a crucial role in helping to reduce the rate of uninsured children from lower-income families. The program was set to expire in March 2009. Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for similar legislation passed by the Senate and House in the 110thCongress, President Bush twice vetoed efforts to expand the program. After two years of hard work by Democrats to improve and expand health care for children, in February, the 111th Congress passed and the President signed the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S. 275), abipartisan bill that authorizes $32.8 billion in new funding for CHIP to provide quality health care coverage for almost 11 million children. The legislation will allow 6.7 million children to continue to receive health care coverage and extend coverage to 4.1 million children who are currently uninsured. The program has been renewed through Fiscal Year 2013. This legislation provides a new option to states to remove the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women, providing those who qualify with immediate access to Medicaid and CHIP. 

The CHIP legislation will also: 

  • Increase and target funding for states facing budget deficits;
  • Improve state tools for outreach and enrollment;
  • Provide bonus payments to states enrolling the lowest-income children;
  • Improve the quality of health care for low-income children;
  • Help reduce racial and ethnic disparities in coverage and quality;
  • Prioritize children's coverage in CHIP by moving childless adults out of CHIP and prohibiting additional adult coverage in CHIP;
  • Improve access to critical benefits such as dental coverage;
  • Reduce administrative barriers to enrollment, including the option for states to use an applicant's Social Security Number (SSN) to confirm eligibility for Medicaid or CHIP;
  • Improve access to private coverage options through new premium assistance rules; and
  • Maintain state flexibility to set eligibility levels for the program based on the cost of living in each state.

On January 29, 2009, the Senate passed the legislationby a vote of 66 to 32. The bill (assigned H.R. 2, but with the text of S. 275) was agreed to in the House on February 4, 2009. The President signed this legislation into law on February 4, 2009 (P.L. 111-3). 

See the background and summary section of the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S. 275, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, for more information on this legislation.


Ensuring Justice for All Americans

The 111th Congress passed a law to ensure fair pay for all Americans. While the battle for equality and civil rights is far from over, in January 2009, all those who believe in thepromise of "equality and justice for all" achieved a major victory when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law (P.L. 111-2). In doing so, Congress and President Obama ended a nearly two-year battle to overturn a Supreme Court decision that made it more difficult for victims of pay discrimination to seek redress and receive justice. 

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., the Court ruled that the 180-day statute of limitations on filing a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 begins to run when the original discriminatory decision is made and conveyed to the employee, regardless of whether the pay discrimination continues beyond the 180-day period. This ruling reversed a long-standing interpretation, used by nine federal circuits and the EEOC in both Democratic and Republican Administrations, under which the statute of limitations began to run each time an employee received a pay check or other form of compensation reflecting the discrimination. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the "pay-check accrual" interpretation to ensure that employees who can prove pay discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability will not be forever barred from seeking redress because they did not learn they were victims of pay discrimination within six months after the discriminatory decision was first made. 

A previous attempt to pass this legislation in the 110thCongress was obstructed by Senate Republicans, but in the 111thCongress, with a larger majority, Senate Democrats were able to pass the bill on a vote of 61 to 30, see it pass the House on a vote of 250 to 177, and ultimately see it become law on January 29. 

See the background and summary section of the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S. 181, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, for more information on this legislation.


Protecting Our Nation's Environment and Natural Resources

The Senate passed the most significant conservation legislation in 15 years. InJanuary 2009, the Senate passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S. 22) with strong bipartisan support (73 to 21). The legislation represents the largest single piece of conservation legislation in 15 years. It would designates over two million acres of wilderness, far surpassing the combined wilderness acreage designated by the 108th, 109th, and110th Congresses. The legislation would also add close to 1,100 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in seven states, more than 2,800 miles into the National Trails System through the creation of new national trails in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest, and more than 330,000 acres of new National Conservation Areas. Additionally, the bill would codify the National Landscape Conservation System currently operating administratively within the Department of Interior. This is significant because it will ensure sustained funding for the department to protect its most exceptional areas, while also keeping environmental protection a high priority at the department for years to come. 

The legislation would also improve our scientific knowledge of our oceans and improve the scientific understanding of critical water resources including the impact of climate change on water. Specifically, a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification (a process by which seawater becomes more acidic as the oceans absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions) would be undertaken because the acidity of surface seawater has increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution(the most dramatic change in ocean chemistry in at least 650,000 years). The legislation would also enhance the understanding of water uses and availability andthe impacts climate change on water and ensure appropriate adaptation strategies are implemented. 

See the DPC Fact Sheet entitledThe Bipartisan Environmental Accomplishments of S. 22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009for more information about this issue.

Demanding Transparency, Accountability, and Ethics in Washington

The Senate unanimously and quickly approved strengthened supervision of the TARP. On February 4, 2009, the Senate passed the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 (S. 383) by unanimous consent. This bipartisan legislation expands the authority of and adds the tools needed by the Special Inspector General overseeing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program that was created last fall. The bill would, among other thing, add authority for the Inspector General to audit programs, function with the same law enforcement authority granted to the Inspector Generals of major federal agencies, and cooperate with other Inspector Generals. 




  • Joi Chaney (224-3232)


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