Highlights of the Casey Record in 2008

The Economic Crisis
Senator Casey was an early, vocal advocate for foreclosure prevention programs to keep families in their homes and to address one of the root causes of declining property values and the global financial meltdown.  After hearing from his constituents and business leaders, Senator Casey declared on the Senate floor in January 2008 that the United States was in a recession.  His top priorities this year have been to avert further economic decline, mitigate the effects of the financial crisis on his constituents and do everything possible to preserve jobs.

In the new Congress, Senator Casey will be focused on targeted investments that will create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, revitalize and protect our communities and ensure long-term competitiveness. 

Financial Rescue: Senator Casey worked hard to ensure that the rescue package included provisions to help families who are struggling.  He closely questioned and sent two detailed letters to Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Chairman Bernanke insisting on limits on executive compensation, added taxpayer protections and foreclosure prevention through loan modification, all of which were included in the rescue legislation signed by President Bush. 

Enactment of this legislation is only the first in a series of steps we must take to bring about economic recovery.  We need to institute rigorous and aggressive regulation of players in the market place in order to prevent the abuses which caused our economic problems.

Fighting Mortgage Fraud and Predatory Lending: Senator Casey held a Banking Committee field hearing in Philadelphia to examine the predatory lending practices that led to the proliferation of subprime loans and the foreclosure crisis.  He has also introduced legislation to combat appraisal fraud which artificially inflates housing prices.  He pushed to include strict appraisal standards in the HOPE for Homeowners program to protect homeowners and taxpayers.

Housing and Economic Recovery Act: At a time when one in ten American households with a mortgage is behind in payments or in foreclosure and Pennsylvania foreclosure trends are worse than national trends, urgent action is needed.  As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Casey has worked since the beginning of his term on a number of measures to help alleviate the mortgage crisis.  In July, the bipartisan housing package was finally signed into law.  This package was designed to help homeowners and bolster confidence in the housing market. 

Mortgage Counseling: Senator Casey helped secure $180 million in foreclosure prevention counseling funding last year.  He also helped to secure an additional $150 million that was included in housing legislation signed into law in July.

Early Intervention for Foreclosure Prevention: Senator Casey has been a proponent of the successful Philadelphia program that facilitates early intervention with lenders to work out solutions to keep people in their homes.  He held a roundtable in Philadelphia in August 2008 to educate leaders from around Pennsylvania about the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Program.  He also suggested the adoption of the program on a larger scale in correspondence with Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and held two hearings in Pennsylvania with Senator Specter on court-administered foreclosure prevention and conciliation programs.

Economic Stimulus Package: Senator Casey supported an economic stimulus package passed in February that economists have said provided relief to families and the economy.  The package included a $300 - $600 rebate for individuals, or a $600 - $1200 rebate for married couples, including seniors living only on Social Security and disabled veterans; a $300-per child tax credit; help for families at risk of foreclosure by expanding mortgage financing opportunities and job-creating business investments by providing tax relief for American businesses, especially small businesses.  During debate on the bill, Senator Casey also supported other measures that were blocked by the minority.  In particular, economists said that provisions to expand unemployment benefits and home heating assistance would have provided additional relief and economic stimulus.  Extended unemployment benefits were subsequently signed into law at the end of June as part of another measure and extended a second time in November.

Central PA Homeowners: When Senator Casey learned that 811 families throughout Central and Eastern Pennsylvania were defrauded by a mortgage Ponzi scheme, he worked with the homeowners, a local bank and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to help the affected homeowners.  In May, Fulton Mortgage Company offered a proposal that would provide affordable and reasonable mortgage refinancing options to the homeowners.  Senator Casey had previously met with Fulton Mortgage Company to discuss the proposal that would provide affordable and reasonable mortgage refinancing options to the victimized homeowners.


Gas Prices and Energy

Short- and Long-Term Strategies: Reducing the cost of gas is a two-part problem: consumers need relief at the pump when prices rise and we need long-term solutions to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  Over the last eight years, U.S. energy policy has been geared more toward helping Big Oil than on reducing our dependence on foreign oil. 

Senator Casey has sought to repeal oil company tax breaks and impose a windfall profits tax that would pay for new technologies that can make us more energy independent.  Efforts to extend tax incentives for renewable energy were repeatedly blocked this year in the Senate. 

He has also called on the Bush Administration to get tough with the Saudis and has supported measures to stop market speculation in order to reduce the price of gas. 

To increase the supply of oil on the market, Senator Casey advocated for, and voted in favor of, a temporary suspension of new deposits into the near-capacity Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  This legislation passed the Senate and was enacted in May 2008. 

In July, he also supported an effort to release 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to provide an immediate boost of supply in order to reduce gas prices.  When President George H.W. Bush ordered a release of oil from the Reserve in 1991, oil prices decreased directly after he made the announcement.

Market Speculation: Excessive speculation from the financial traders of crude oil, without adequate oversight and consumer protection, has led many energy experts to believe that these traders are unnaturally raising the price of oil.  Senator Casey is working to fight market speculation that is driving up the cost of oil due to greedy profiteers avoiding regulation.  Senator Casey joined a majority of the Senate to move forward with legislation to crack down on speculators.  Unfortunately, this legislation has been blocked numerous times by the Republican leadership.

Fuel Assistance for Volunteer Firefighters: To help volunteer fire companies cover the rising cost of fuel prices, Senator Casey introduced the Supporting America’s Volunteer Emergency Services Act (SAVES Act) which would establish a grant program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to be distributed to volunteer fire companies to help them pay to fuel fire trucks.  Volunteer Fire Companies serve over 9 million Pennsylvanians and account for 97% of its fire departments.  Volunteer fire companies would be eligible for reimbursement of 75% of budget overages due to the rising cost of gas over the baseline cost. 

Fuel Assistance for School Districts: With gas prices at high levels, Senator Casey introduced a bill to help rural school districts deal with the rising cost of fuel.  The Rural Fuel for School Act would help schools pay for the cost of transportation of students to and from school through a new grant program.

Fuel Assistance for Charitable Organizations: In August 2008, Senator Casey introduced the Charitable Mileage Deduction Equity Act to address economic hardships and loss of volunteers faced by volunteer organizations due to high gas prices.  The bill would increase the rate of tax deductions available to volunteers who use their personal vehicles for charitable work. 

Home Heating Assistance: Senator Casey is a strong supporter of legislation to double federal home heating assistance and provide an additional $210 million for Pennsylvania.  The Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act would provide additional assistance for older citizens, low-income families with children and the disabled who struggle to pay their home energy bills.  In June 2008, Senator Casey joined his colleagues to request that President Bush release additional LIHEAP funding for the states.  In September, $120 million was released including an additional $6.5 million for Pennsylvania.

Climate Worker Assistance Program: The climate change bill that was debated by the Senate in May and June contained a provision inserted by Senator Casey that would provide an opportunity to create new manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania that develop and make technologies for renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. The Climate Worker Assistance Program would provide a safety net for working Pennsylvanians so that no one is left behind when steps are taken to reduce carbon emissions.


Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Families

Averting Medicare Cuts: Senator Casey was a strong supporter of legislation passed by the Congress and signed into law in July that stopped payment cuts that threatened service to patients.  The legislation also extended protections against specific funding cuts for eleven hospitals in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Small Business Health Care: To help make health care more available and affordable for the 47.1 million employees of the nation’s 5.8 million small businesses and for 14.1 million self-employed individuals, Senator Casey is a strong supporter of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).  This bill addresses the number one problem for many small businesses and the self-employed -- the high cost of providing health care for their employees -- by: (1) allowing small businesses to band together and spread the risk over a large number of participants in order to obtain lower premiums; (2) providing tax credits for small business owners to offset contributions to employee premiums and (3) banning health status rating in order to protect businesses from large rate increases simply because one employee gets sick.  This legislation is supported by business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business, and employee groups.

Proposed Power Corridor: In July, Senator Casey testified at a Senate hearing on the oversight and implementation of transmission issues related to the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor that would affect three-quarters of Pennsylvania counties.  Senator Casey urged the Committee to hold the hearing in a letter he spearheaded and that was signed by a bipartisan group of 13 other senators from the region.  Senator Casey also held a public hearing on the power corridor in Harrisburg in January.

Child Care Bill and Symposium: To highlight the need for expanded child care, Senator Casey organized a seminar in May of Pennsylvania and national advocates to discuss child care and the landmark legislation he introduced to reverse chronic underfunding of child care and increase the availability of high-quality child care to children in low-income and working class families.  This gross underfunding over the last seven years has left only one in seven eligible children receiving federal assistance and the national average wage for child care workers is barely above the poverty line.  Senator Casey’s legislation has the endorsement of 50 national and Pennsylvania advocacy groups.

Person-Centered Health Care: Senator Casey chaired an Aging Committee hearing that focused on improving person-centered residential long-term care and outpatient health care for older Americans.  At the hearing, Senator Casey announced that he is working on legislation that would help provide better person-centered long-term care.

Protecting Defined Benefit Pensions: In July, Senator Casey chaired a hearing in the Joint Economic Committee on the role of defined benefit pension plans in the American economy.  Historically, most public and private employers offered their employees defined benefit pension plans, which pay an annuity based upon the employee's salary and years of service upon retirement.  However, over the past 30 years, defined benefit plans have come under severe attack. 

Senior Investment Fraud: Senator Casey and Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced a bill to help protect seniors from investment fraud.  The Senior Investor Protections Enhancement Act would increase penalties for those who commit securities violations against people who are at least 62 years old.
 
Nuclear Security: In February, Senator Casey testified at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the safety of nuclear security plants.  At the hearing, which was held by the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Senator Casey discussed the recent problems at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station and also questioned the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about the procedures in place for security. 

Children’s Health Insurance: Senator Casey urged support for an attempt to overturn a Bush Administration directive that threatens the health care of hundreds of thousands of children.   Senator Casey, an outspoken proponent of expanding children’s health insurance, cosponsored a disapproval resolution that would overturn the so-called August 17 Directive that undercuts the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the efforts of the states to provide health care coverage to children.

Named Legislator of the Year by the Visiting Nurse Associations of America: In July, Senator Casey was named legislator of the year for 2007 by the organization representing home healthcare workers that attend to over 4 million patients annually.  In October of last year, Senator Casey introduced bipartisan legislation to preserve home healthcare by preventing cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates.

Mental Health Parity: Senator Casey was a strong supporter of the mental health parity legislation passed by the Congress and signed into law.  This bill does not mandate that group health plans cover mental health or addictions treatment, but for those that do, coverage must be equitable to that offered for medical treatment.  He also worked diligently with Pennsylvania and national legal experts as well as Pennsylvania advocates and state government officials to secure language in the bill that would not preempt Pennsylvania state law on mental health and substance abuse coverage. 

Helping Schools Hire Counselors: Senator Casey introduced the Put School Counselors Where They’re Needed Act which aims to put more counselors in struggling secondary schools.  The bill would create a competitive grant program under No Child Left Behind to help reduce the drop out rates at low performing secondary schools.

Protecting the Great Lakes: Senators Bob Casey and Arlen Specter joined their colleagues in the Great Lakes region to help pass the Great Lakes Compact Resolution which aims to protect the Great Lakes.  The compact would prevent large- water diversion from the Great Lakes Basin; ensure that Great Lakes states and the provinces of Canada coordinate their own water use within the region; and make it difficult to withdraw water for use outside of the basin.  Senator Casey also supported the Great Lakes Legacy Act which aims to clean up contaminated expanses in the Great Lakes within ten years.  Specifically, this bill would allow for additional funding to protect and restore targeted areas in the Great Lakes like Presque Isle.   

Focusing on Constituent Service: Senator Casey believes that the role of a public official is to offer a voice and assistance to all Pennsylvanians; especially those who do not have lobbyists representing them.  Across his seven offices in Pennsylvania and his Washington, D.C. office, Senator Casey and his staff have helped thousands of Pennsylvanians who contacted him on issues like assistance with Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, Medicare issues, navigating delays in passport applications and pensions.

 

Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Safety

Farm Bill: As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Casey played a key role in passing provisions vital to Pennsylvania for dairy farms, specialty crops like apples and mushrooms, conservation programs and nutrition programs.

Pennsylvania dairy farmers and specialty crop growers will get some relief because of this Farm Bill.  Conservation programs, especially in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, have big wins in this bill that Senator Casey helped secure.  

The Farm Bill doesn’t only benefit agriculture.  The bill includes key improvements for nutrition programs like the school fruit and vegetable snack program, for the one in ten Pennsylvanians who are on food stamps and for food banks like the ones throughout Pennsylvania that have faced shortages during this economic downturn.

The Farm Bill includes historic improvements for Pennsylvania’s struggling dairy farmers by strengthening the safety net in the MILC program and adding a feed adjuster to provide significant help with the cost of production. 

Reforms were also made to save money and close loopholes while maintaining a real safety net for farmers when they need one.

Food Recall Rule: Senator Casey joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to successfully push the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a new rule, which would improve consumer awareness in the event of a food recall. Specifically, the rule establishes that USDA will make available to the public lists of retailers of meat and poultry products that have been recalled because of contamination.

Food Banks: Senator Casey introduced bipartisan legislation to help move additional food to food banks that have experienced a spike in demand.  The legislation would provide funds to agencies to help store, transport and distribute food to food banks, food pantries, emergency shelters and soup kitchens.  Currently, many agencies aren’t able to accept additional food due to a lack of resources.

Formaldehyde in Textiles: Senator Casey won inclusion of his provision stipulating a GAO investigation into the dangerous use of formaldehyde in textiles in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act conference report.  Some imported textiles have been found to contain dangerous levels of this toxic substance.

Foreign Relations and the Military

Policy Toward Afghanistan and Pakistan: Senator Casey visited Afghanistan and Pakistan in May with Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, where he met with U.S. troops and the leadership of both countries. A key topic in the meetings was the strengthened insurgency in Afghanistan and the cross-border sanctuaries provided in Pakistan for Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists.  Senator Casey reflected on his trip and called for a renewed commitment to the region in an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  He wrote that any strategy for turning the tide in Afghanistan must account for what is happening across the border in Pakistan, we must work to strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces and that we must demonstrate to the Afghan people the concrete benefits of democracy and standing up to extremists who would return their nation to the twelfth century. 

In a speech to the Asia Society in Washington, DC in July, Senator Casey outlined his views for a new U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Senator Casey’s recommendations include: (1) a real counterinsurgency strategy to shut down the terrorist safe haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA); (2) taking a serious look at conditioning U.S. military assistance to Pakistan on the enforcement of pledges to stamp out cross-border flows of militants, weapons and other illicit trade; (3) stronger oversight to ensure the proper use of the billions of dollars we spend on assistance to Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism in the FATA; (4) a broadening and diversification of U.S. assistance to Pakistan beyond a pure military focus and (5) the need to reassure the Pakistani people that the United States is serious when it pledges a long-term commitment to Pakistan.  

Accidental Electrocutions: After learning that one of his constituents was killed while taking a shower in Iraq, Senator Casey began pressing the Department of Defense and KBR for answers and assurances that U.S. troops will be safe from further accidental electrocutions.  He has received testimony from General Petraeus, sent letters to Gen. Petraeus and Secretary Gates, met with the KBR CEO and testified before the House Oversight Committee.

Iraq Reconstruction Assistance: Senator Casey introduced a bipartisan resolution passed by the Senate that urges other nations, especially Iraq’s neighbors, to carry through on earlier pledges to fund Iraq’s reconstruction activities. The United States has already spent approximately $18.5 billion on reconstruction activities and has authorized another $5.5 billion for additional reconstruction assistance.  Since 2003, international donors have pledged more than $16 billion in assistance for reconstruction activities in Iraq, but have only disbursed less than half that amount.

Iraq Security Agreements: Senator Casey has been a leader in marshalling opposition to any permanent U.S. security assurances to the Iraqi government without the explicit consent of the Congress.  In December, shortly after an initial Declaration of Principles was agreed upon between President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki, Senator Casey spearheaded a letter to the President expressing his deep concerns and was joined by five other senators. 

This spring, in conjunction with Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Senator Casey sent a letter to Senate appropriators asking for the inclusion of language in the FY 2008 supplemental funding bill prohibiting the implementation of any security assurances unless Congress expressed approval. 

In August, Senator Casey joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE), George Voinovich (R-OH) and Jim Webb (D-VA) to introduce legislation which prohibits the Bush Administration from entering into a binding security agreement without the approval of Congress.

Iran Sanctions Bill: Senator Casey joined a strong majority on the Senate Banking Committee to pass the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act.  The bill, that Senator Casey was a strong advocate for, would increase economic pressure on Iranian leaders by imposing new sanctions on companies that do business with Iran, providing more resources to combat terrorist financing and enabling state and local governments to move forward on divestment from Iran.

At the end of last year, Senator Casey outlined his views on the threat posed by the Iranian regime and how the United States can respond in an effective manner. He called upon the United States to take the lead in a concerted campaign to coerce Iran to change course and end its illicit nuclear activities and its support for extremist groups across the Middle East.  To achieve these objectives, Senator Casey called for an integrated U.S. strategy based upon diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and measures to cut Iran off from the global financial system. 

Tracking Progress in the War on Terror: Senator Casey and Senator Chuck Hagel, in September 2008, introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill to require a semiannual comprehensive report on the status of the United States’ efforts and the level of progress achieved to combat and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates under the Global War on Terrorism.  Currently, no single report by the Administration effectively assesses the ongoing status and progress against al Qaeda and the overall Global War on Terrorism. 

Mumbai Attacks: In December, the Senate passed a resolution introduced by Senator Casey, along with Senator Voinovich, condemning terrorist attacks against Mumbai, India, expressing the unity of the American people with the Indian people and calling upon Pakistan to take all necessary steps to root out extremist groups.

Debt Relief: Senator Casey’s bipartisan legislation to expand existing debt cancellation programs for the world’s poorest countries passed the Foreign Relations Committee in June. The Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation Act would expand bilateral and multilateral debt cancellation for an additional 25 nations and ensure that the benefits from debt cancellation will not be eroded.

Sexual Assault in the Military: Senator Casey sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in July urging him to aggressively combat the problem of sexual assault and harassment in the military.  Senator Casey sent the letter after hearing from female veterans in Pennsylvania who informed him of incidents of assault and harassment they endured while serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and previous wars. 

Emergency Global Food Aid: Senators Casey and Durbin helped secure more than $1.8 billion in emergency international food aid and related disaster assistance in the supplemental spending bill approved by the Senate. The spending package includes more than $1.2 billion in emergency food aid and more than $600 million in food and agriculture-related disaster assistance, as well as long-term development assistance.

Global Food Security: In response to the growing global food crisis, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Dick Lugar (R-IN) introduced the Global Food Security Act in September 2008.  The comprehensive bill will help deal with the rising humanitarian, security, developmental and market impacts of rising food costs and shortages. 


Veterans

GI Bill Expansion: Senator Casey helped pass a major expansion of the GI Bill that was signed into law in June.  The measure would give veterans who have served at least three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, a maximum educational benefit equal to the highest tuition for a public college or university in their state, plus a monthly stipend for housing determined by geographical areas. It also establishes a new program providing a federal match for a private college’s financial contributions toward a veteran’s tuition.

Preventing Veterans Foreclosure: Senator Casey introduced a bipartisan bill to help prevent injured veterans from losing their homes while awaiting adjudication on their disability claims.  The Disabled Veterans Homeownership Preservation Act would help disabled veterans who are caught up in the extensive backlog of claims pending in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Guard and Reserve Residency Fix: Senator Casey introduced legislation to help prevent National Guard or Reserve members from having to sell their primary residence in order to fulfill a temporary mobilization order.  Currently, many National Guard and Reserve Members with dependents who are mobilized outside their local areas are unable to maintain payments on their primary residences.  The Reserve Residence Protection Act of 2008 would provide a basic allowance for housing to cover the cost of maintaining the primary residence.

Protecting Bonuses: Senator Casey helped pass a bipartisan measure to create a reserve fund to help pay for a program to guarantee that veterans who are wounded in combat are able to receive full payment of bonuses and incentives.   The bill reserve fund corresponds to the Wounded Warrior Bonus Equity Act introduced by Senator Casey and others last year in response to a report of an injured service member from Pennsylvania being asked to repay his enlistment bonus.

Protecting Reservists’ Jobs: To help ensure returning reservists keep their jobs and employment benefits as required under current law, Senator Casey introduced the Servicemembers Access to Justice Act.  This bill would help fix loopholes in the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  This provision was included in the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act that was signed into law.

Veterans Roundtables: To hear directly from veterans on issues that they may have with health care or other matters, Senator Casey has held four veterans roundtables across Pennsylvania in Wilkes-Barre, Washington, Carlisle and Whitehall.  At these roundtables, Senator Casey’s constituent service representatives were also on hand to help with any specific problems the veterans attending may have with the Veterans Administration or other agencies.