Sunday, May 1, 2011

NY Times: Methamphetamine use has metastasized in the Ozarks

Missouri's unfortunate status as one of the leading states for the production of methamphetamine is no secret. What is less well known, though, is the trouble law enforcement can create for themselves by violating the very laws they are sworn to protect.

The New York Times features a story today about former Carter County, Missouri Sheriff Tommy Adams (R) and the circumstances around his resignation after he was discovered using and distributing methamphetamine:

Growing up in the rugged foothills of the Ozarks, Tommy Adams always dreamed of carrying a badge. He realized his wish through grim happenstance: the incumbent sheriff, dogged by rumors of corruption, killed himself weeks before votes were cast, and Mr. Adams slipped past him by a single vote.

For two troubled years, Mr. Adams was sheriff of Carter County, until his arrest last month on charges of distributing methamphetamine, the home-brewed drug that has poisoned much of this poor, sparsely populated stretch of timber country. Mr. Adams was accused of regularly snorting it as well. ...

Read the full article here.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Missouri innovation capacity continues to lag country

Economic innovation in Missouri continues to occur at a level below the national average, according to a recent analysis from the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University.

The 2011 Innovation Index, which combines multiple factors to provide a single indication of states' ability to transform economic conditions and capacity for innovation, provides updates from a version we published back in 2009.

Currently Missouri's index score is 87.5, up 2 points from 2009 when the state scored 85.6.  Among adjacent states' scores, all below the national average, Missouri is in the middle.  The highest scoring adjacent state is Illinois at 96.3 and the lowest is Arkansas at 80.9.

Three states in the region saw their Innovation Index decrease, Illinois (-3.3) , Kentucky (-2.5), and Tennessee (-1.4).

Missouri's position in the Innovation Index mirrors recent results from the Kauffman Foundation's New Economy report, which ranks Missouri's economy 33rd among states in 2010.

The statewide results show clear, even though slow, improvements in conditions in the state.  But there's still a long way to go before Missouri is average in terms of innovation and even further to go before the state can be a national leader.

County level information from the Innovation Index is available here.  Learn more about what the index means and how to use it here.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Missouri unemployment rate dips to 9.1 percent in March

Finally a small sign of relief for Missouri's economic recovery -- new data released last week from the U.S. Department of Labor showed a three-tenths of a point drop in Missouri's statewide unemployment rate as the state added 24,300 jobs in March.

Preliminary estimates show Missouri's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent in March, down from 9.4 percent in February and a recession peak in late 2009 of 9.7 percent.

Missouri's unemployment rate remains relatively high compared to the national average of 8.8 percent, and among adjacent states the rate is only exceeded by Kentucky (10.2%) and Tennessee (9.5%). In contrast, one of the Show-Me-State's northerly neighbors, Nebraska, has an unemployment rate of just 4.2 percent, the second lowest in the country.

Even with recent job gains, Missouri's overall employment situation continues to sustain an overall deficit after losing 114,000 jobs during the official national recession and 151,000 between January 2008 and February 2010. As of March 2011, 138,000 jobs shed during the recession have not returned.

And as the monthly employment change chart shows, job growth still isn't steady in Missouri which suggests low employer confidence. With strong growth reported in March though, that seems to be finally turning around.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Republican House bills advance with 2-to-1 margin over Democrat legislation

Republicans currently control an overwhelming majority of the seats in the Missouri House of Representatives. With Republicans in 105 of the 163 seats comes complete control of the legislative calendar. We rarely stop to examine how the magnitude of this control impacts how legislation advances in the chamber, in particular whether discussion ever even begins on some proposals.

To date during the 2011 legislative session, 1,144 legislative proposals have been filed with 51 percent of those proposals getting some level of activity from a committee hearing or beyond. At this point in the session---with just 3 weeks left---the other 49 percent will not likely see the light of day.

A total of 79 percent of the proposals that received some legislative action were primarily sponsored by Republicans. In other words, even though Republicans control fewer than two-thirds of the House seat, their members' legislation advances at a disproportionately faster rate. Just one-third of Democrats' 360 proposals have received any action compared to 58 percent of Republican proposals.

Controlling the agenda is, however, at the mercy of the majority and some may say that the mere fact some Democrats' proposals advanced at all is a sign of good will from Republicans.

Of course the other advantage Republicans have in this comparison over Democrats is a responsibility to govern that comes with control. That is, because Republicans chair the body's committees, those members often file major legislation or omnibus proposals. For example, Rep. Ryan Silvey, chairman of the House Budget Committee, files the state's 15 budget bills.

Our analysis of legislative activity turned up another interesting fact: second-term representatives on average see their proposals advance more than their third or even fourth term counterparts.

Based on a descriptive statistical model controlling for political party, term, type of bill (HB v HJR, HCR, etc.), and appropriations bills, a House Bill filed by a second term representative was 1.2 times more likely to see action than a third or fourth term colleagues. In fact, third and fourth term representatives had a statistically significant negative impact on the probability of advancement of a bill (p<.05). Not surprisingly, the most important factor in determining advancement of a proposal was whether a proposal was sponsored by a Republican (p<.001). A second term Republican is twice as likely to see bills advance as a Democrat with the same level of seniority. For more senior Democrats, however, the probability of success is even lower with Republican proposals being almost six times as likely to advance for fourth-term representatives.

Admittedly one of the items not controlled for in the descriptive discussion or the model above is whether substantially similar proposals were offered by multiple representatives. For example, a quick search for the term "citizenship" in the House search engine returns two similar bills add citizenship status to the state's sex offender registry (HBs 62 and 731).

The negative effects for proposals advocated by more senior members of both parties may be explained by several other factors. For instance, perhaps while those members served in previous terms their top priorities were successfully legislated leaving lower priority bills for their final term. It's also plausible that party leadership advance proposals from more junior members to improve the probability of re-election, since successfully passing a bill provides a strong campaign talking point demonstrating an individual's effectiveness as a legislator.

Whatever the reason, the central point here is still that Republican proposals are intuitively and statistically more likely to advance even to the stage of receiving a public hearing. Then again, it would be logistically infeasible for a part-time legislator told hold 1,000 hearings in the short five month legislative session. The way the legislature functions sometimes, it's a wonder action was taken on even half the proposals filed.

Then again the whole concept of representative democracy hinges on a separation of powers and functions making it difficult to modify laws unless publicus demands change.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hartzler pulls in $262k for re-election in first quarter of 2011

First term Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler's (R) campaign fundraising in the first quarter of 2011 was well above average among first term Republicans in the U.S. House.

In total, Hartzler raised $262,099 between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31, according to finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. An analysis by The Washington Post shows that freshman Republicans in the House raised an average of just $176,000 over the same period, indicating that Hartzler is firmly positioning herself to overcome a Democratic challenge in 2012 and a potential Republican primary.

Hartlzer's total receipts included $19,700 in transfers from other campaign committees,  $113,900 from political action committees, and $126,900 from individuals.

Notable contributors include ACRE ($6k) Boeing PAC ($6k), Every Republican is Crucial PAC ($5k), Exxon PAC ($5k), Honeywell PAC ($5.5k), National Auto Dealers PAC ($5k), Rolls-Royce PAC ($2.5k), Terry Dunn, CEO of JE Dunn ($2.5k), Rudy Farber ($2.5k), Joan Langenberg, Author for the Missouri Eagle Forum ($2.5k), Glenn & Cindy Larson of the Larson Group ($19.2k), William Moore of Continental Coal ($2.5k), Edwin & Phoebe Rice of Ozark Coca-Cola ($9.6k), Craig Schnucks, President of Shnucks Market ($2.5k), and Deborah and Thomas Ward of Russell Stover ($20k).

Hartzler expended $90,000 during the period including the following major expenses:

  • $20k - Thompson Communications for ad buys
  • $20k - Nathan Adams of Nixa, MO for contingency fee
  • $15k - Signature Advantage for fundraising/consulting
  • $12k - Steve Walsh of Jefferson City, MO for contingency fee
  • $7.5k - The Bespoke Group for FEC compliance
  • $4.2k - Aristotle Campaign Manager software license
  • $2.5k - Samantha Hill of Holden, MO for campaign operations and consulting
 Hartzler's full report is available from the FEC here.

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C-SPAN Interview with Vicky Hartzler on the Federal budget

C-SPAN's Steve Scully interviews first term Congresswoman Vicky Hartlzer (R) to discuss the Federal budget and spending issues, and take calls from around the country.

"Did the Bush tax cuts...produce the economic growth you and others expected," Scully asked in the first few minutes of the broadcast.

"It did create, it did create jobs and it did create economic growth and that's what our country needs now," Hartzler said. "To balance the budget, you know I used to teach home economics and teach personal family finance to my high school students and there's two ways how we'd talk about how to balance a budget. You can either increase the revenue or decrease your spending. And that's what we need to apply here in Washington D.C. as far as I see."

Here's the full broadcast:

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pitfalls in predicting voter turnout, 64% turnout rate projected for 2012

Readers who followed our pre-election series last spring may recall MPNblog.com projected that 2010 voter turnout in Missouri would likely set a midterm record. We now know that didn't happen, and by a long-shot.

Only 47 percent of registered voters cast ballots in Missouri's U.S. Senate race, or about 43 percent of the state's voting-age population. The only worse election for turnout in the last decade was the 1998 midterm which was dominated with morality attacks against former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Kit Bond's (R) re-election, and resulted in no major power shifts in Congress.

So what was wrong with our model published last March? Why were our predictions so far off from reality?  It turns out there are several reasons for the discrepancy.

Problem 1: Assumptions
Our model made assumptions eight months before the election. Coefficients used for model forecasts are based on history and are only as good as the data that feeds them. Projections of future data to feed into the model are really just best guesses. Back in March 2010, we couldn't have fully predicted this election would be a structural realignment for Congress that it turned out to be. In fact, few would have guessed last March that Democratic defeats would have been so numerous. We made assumptions about the unemployment rate and registered voters, both of which were generous assumptions.

Specifically, we assumed the statewide unemployment rate would be 9 percent in Nov. 2010, it turned out to be 9.6 percent. We assumed the voting age population of the state would be 4.51 million, off by about 25,000.  More importantly though, we assumed turnout would not be driven by other exogenous factors, which results in the next problem: the 2010 was clearly an atypical election.

Problem 2: Exogenous Factors
Aside from the results, we know 2010's results were atypical for Missouri because in the last 30 years it's the only election to fall outside the 95 percent confidence interval established in our turnout model. In other words, using the actual results from 2010 our model last year projected turnout at 2.5 million (+/- 230,000). The only election to come close to this level of error was in 1994, which still fell within the confidence interval. In 1994, the model was off by 195,000 votes, but in that case projecting lower turnout than really occurred.

Problem 3: Imputation of Voting Age Population
One of the questions I've received in multiple emails about our model is why we used voting age population instead of registered voters. The reality is that both measures are valuable, yet historically voter registrations were misaligned with actual voting patterns as rolls became outdated due to deceased or migrant voters. Further, voting age population provides a smoother baseline for which to compare trended data, thus allowing at a theoretical level a better comparison point for overall voting trends.

To highlight this point, see the chart below which captures total voting age population and total registered voters. Note that the voting age population is substantially more smooth. The bars signify the differential between the two lines (voting population and registered voters). Of particular note is the incredibly small differential in 2004 when the total registrations were just 80,000 below the voting age population; this year has been the subject of considerable discussion regarding irregularities in the voter registration database.

However, the issue here rests with the fact that population between Census counts is provided as only an estimate.  Our model takes the Census estimate which is a best guess of state population over 18 years of age and adjusts it to reflect an estimate at the time of the election.  In other words, an imputation built on an estimate built on an estimate.

Revised Model
These three problems, though, are realities of modeling and forecasting.  When we update the model to include real estimates from 2010 then re-project turnout one major, yet interesting, factor comes in to play:   the significance of several regression terms falls off substantially.  In particular, the unemployment rate and the dummy variable for a Senate race are no longer significant.  The most significant driver of the model results becomes whether there was a Presidential race in the election cycle.  In other words, most of the statistically significant drivers of variability in the projection are minimized and result in a voter turnout rate 5 percent higher than that realized in the 2010 election, mostly a result of the problems noted above.

So what does this revised model show for 2012? Assuming a 9 percent unemployment rate and a voting age population in line with the Census Bureau's current 2012 estimates, the model currently projects 2.9 million voters in the 2012 election cycle and a turnout rate of 64 percent. The rate is much higher than 2010, but then again, it will be a presidential election cycle.

How accurate will this projection be? We'll let you know after the election, after all, forecasts are just best estimates.  We can be certain of one thing, it will be an interesting election cycle for Missouri with an incumbent President and Senator both vying for reelection.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Biden slapped with $219k fine from FEC

At a time when Democrats need to minimize negative press to avoid substantial losses this fall, the Federal Elections Commission announced this week that Vice President Joe Biden (D) violated federal campaign finance law during the 2008 election.

The finding that Biden for President accepted over-limit contributions and a discounted flight on a privately-owned jet was only compounded by what has been characterized as sloppy campaign accounting.

The flight was found to have been undervalued by nearly $27,000, according to an audit completed by the FEC since the campaign was partially funded by public funds. The audit also identified more than $100,000 in over-limit contributions that Biden's campaign did not seek to quickly address.

For the violations, the FEC fined Biden's campaign $219,000.

Biden's campaign team is downplaying the findings, stating that they attempted to contact the over-limit contributors.

Related Links:
FEC Audit Report (PDF via Politico)

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White House seeks ideas for increased efficiencies, savings in federal government

The White House is seeking ideas from federal employees on how to improve government efficiency and save money. The process -- called the SAVE award -- started in 2009 with federal employees submitting more than 40,000 ideas.

Officials in the White House Office of Management and Budget ranked each proposal. In the end, four of the top ideas were included in the budget. The highest ranked idea, submitted by Nancy Fichtner of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, led to a policy change at the VA where employees are allowed to save prescriptions medications when discharged from hospitals.

To date for the 2010 competition, more than 7,000 ideas have been submitted by federal employees. One major change for this year is that employees can also rate the ideas.

The proposer of the winning idea will personally pitch the proposal to the President and likely see it implemented in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal to be released by the White House in Feb. 2011.

View all submitted ideas here: saveaward2010.ideascale.com.

Watch President Barack Obama's announcement of the competition below:

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Unemployment dips in Missouri, employment conditions improve slowly

Missouri's labor market continues to see modest improvements each month. According to new data released last week by the Missouri Dept. of Economic Development, the state's unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a point, from 9.3 percent in May to 9.1 percent in May.

Nationally the unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, down from 9.7 percent in May.

The lower unemployment rate in Missouri likely signifies two effects that may seem unlikely to be concurrent. First, some individuals are finding employment, evidenced by the gains of 3,600 jobs month-over-month. Second, a number of individuals receiving unemployment benefits for more than six months stopped looking for jobs.

While the effects of each of these two points are difficult to isolate with the sparse data provided by DED, we suspect individuals being dropped from the unemployment rolls played a more significant role over the last month in the substantial drop in unemployment.

Here are the latest trends according to DED:

Missouri’s labor market conditions continued to improve in June, according to data released today by the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED). Missouri’s nonfarm payroll employment increased by 3,600 jobs during the month, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, marking the fifth consecutive month of positive job growth in the state. Missouri’s net job growth since January 2010 now stands at 26,600, an average of 5,300 new jobs created each month.

The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent in June, the lowest rate in more than a year, down from 9.3 in May. The state’s not-seasonally adjusted rate increased by half a percentage point to 9.2, a standard practice in June each year as summer jobseekers enter the labor force. In comparison, the U.S. rates for June 2010 were 9.5 seasonally-adjusted and 9.6 not-seasonally-adjusted.

The private sector added 6,000 new jobs in June, with noteworthy growth occurring in construction (+1,100); durable goods manufacturing (+2,300, spread through a number of industries); and transportation, warehousing and utilities (+2,200). Increases came in spite of the loss of 3,300 federal government jobs in June, mostly temporary Census workers.

Most other industry groups saw comparatively small changes. The leisure and hospitality industry as a whole saw little change from May as its two major sectors went in opposite directions. Arts, entertainment and recreation saw an employment gain of 1,900, while accommodation and food services employment was down by 2,200.

Payroll employment in the state’s metropolitan areas decreased in some areas and increased in others. The reduction of temporary census workers played a substantial role in many areas, particularly in St. Louis (-2,600) and Kansas City (-2,600). On the plus side, Joplin (+1,000) led the way in gains, while most others were relatively unchanged.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Modest job recovery apparent in Missouri

The signs are weak, but clear: jobs are beginning to return to the Show-Me state.

According to data from the U.S. Labor Department, Missouri has gained jobs steadily over the past four months, 25,800 in all.

Of course, that alone doesn't mean the recession is over and things are back to normal, because in the three preceding months Missouri lost as many jobs. In other words, net employment is back to Oct. 2009 levels.

Nonetheless, over the four month time period Missouri's employment growth is about one percent.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ezra Klein: 'It's always the economy, stupid'

Ezra Klein of The Washington Post teams up with George Washington University Professor John Sides in a column today to explain that the economy will be closely linked to electoral outcomes this fall:

...The job of governing is different than the job of getting reelected. What do you do when good politics and good governance point you in the opposite directions?

But maybe we don't have to choose. For decades now, political scientists have been building election models that attempt to predict who will win in November without making any reference to candidates or campaigns. They can generally get within two percentage points of the final vote, and they don't need to know anything about the ads, the gaffes or the ground games to do it. All they really need to know about is the economy.

While predicting Congressional elections is indeed very difficult, MPN's own model to project voter turnout in 2010 is similarly based largely on economic conditions. One of the key variables -- the state unemployment rate -- accounts for a sizable and statistically significant share of the explanatory power in the model. Here are the results from our analysis.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Graves: It is Important to Remember Who We Memorialize this Day

From Congressman Sam Graves (R):

In the fall of 1777, Thomas Paine wrote of the then two and a half year long War for American Independence, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”

Since the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord first took up arms against their British colonial masters, millions of Americans have risen to that challenge. From the Siege of Yorktown to the fields of Antietam, from the muddy trenches of the Meuse-Argonne to the frozen forests of Bastogne, from Pork Chop Hill to Khe Sanh, and from the streets of Fallujah to the caves of Tora Bora, Americans have fought to ensure the survival of our great nation and the ideals we represent.

Right now American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – like those who came before them – stand ready to defend the United States from those who would do us harm. They are living proof that America is, and remains, the home of the free because of the brave.

This Memorial Day I hope you will take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for this country. You will find these heroes not only in Arlington, but in every cemetery in every town in America.

Throughout our proud history, men and women from every walk of life have rallied to the call of freedom. Many gave their lives so that we might continue on in peace. We are forever in their debt.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ed Martin on Memorial Day: 'God bless veterans'

From Congressional candidate Ed Martin (R):

In the early days of this campaign, I was invited to meet with members of the Jefferson Barracks Heritage Foundation. These good people are working to preserve the installation and document its history. In the modest office within the Red Cross Building, these men enthusiastically detailed the history of Jefferson Barracks and the roles it served during American military mobilizations.

They pointed to maps, then pointed out the window then back to the map, or a photo. I followed the narrative that began in 1826 when it was established as an infantry school to compliment training at West Point. As America expanded westward the Army provided law to the new territories, “…not only to protect the settlers from the Indians, but also to protect the Indians from the settlers and from each other.” In time Jefferson Barracks became the staging area from which the Army would project troops to the west. In a few years, it was the largest post in America.

Joe Frank, a wounded Vietnam veteran shared with me stories of the “citizen soldiers” who passed through Jefferson Barracks. Great Generals – Grant, Lee, Eisenhower and others have served and trained in Missouri. Tens of thousands more flowed through Jefferson Barracks, officers and enlisted noted less by history but known to their families as brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to serve as champions of our nation.

The American military is unique in its composition. There is no more refined meritocracy than among America’s armed forces. The British raised regiments and fleets as nobles invested in the men, material and training, receiving payment from the crown or by confiscating property from conquered lands or ships. Other societies populated the ranks of their commissioned officers – such as they are – based on loyalty to party or by selecting closely related kin. In these militaries enlisted members are typically poorly trained, poorly outfitted and poorly cared-for conscripts upon whom the burden of being a soldier falls like a boot on the neck. Pressed into service, these men will oppress as they are oppressed.

In contrast, American officers and enlisted come from all walks of life, all economic strata. Dirt farmers and accountants flooded the beaches of Anzio and Okinawa. Bankers and ranch hands stood in ranks at Appomattox. Physicists and roofers work together on the tarmacs of Diego Garcia and the decks of frigates, destroyers and carriers all over the globe. Their motives vary – being a serviceman is a better gig now than it was in Valley Forge, but every uniformed man and woman knows that it may come upon them to fight. American servicemen are well regarded by their fellow citizens. We see them as our friends and families. We idealize them as protectors of liberty.

My brother is a Marine, and I am very proud of him. I have a Kevlar “pot” of his, and it reeks of the sweat from those hot theaters where he and his comrades close with the enemy. He is smart and driven. He would be a success in anything he chose to do, but he chose the life of low pay and grinding sacrifice in his beloved Corps for his beloved Country. To him and the vets I have had the privilege to meet, service is a privilege and an honor.

Jefferson Barracks is home to a unit of the Missouri National Guard. It is also the final resting place of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Merchant Mariners. Many of them came home after America’s wars and the flag that draped their casket honored an old man or elderly woman whose end came long after their particular conflict ended. Other flags envelop a hero lost in battle, a life cut short when they were the protective wall made flesh when harm threatened their people.

Others still are like Joe, and left part of their life in a distant mud hole. Where his place in Jefferson Barracks will be is not yet known – and may it be unknown for many years - but still he has already given much for his home, and he continues to give.

The gravestones of Jefferson Barracks are so white that on a day with any sun the sheen will hurt your eyes. This is fitting in a sense, that this orderly stone garden where our protectors are laid would by its nature induce an American look for a moment, then look away in honor and reverence.

The Savior taught us that greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends. Memorial day is the day where we ought to commemorate not just the sacrifice, but the greater love of these men and women who carried arms and tended wounds in our service . I find inspiration in the love they had for their comrades and their liberty. My brother loves his men, Joe loved his fellow soldiers and continues to look out for their well-being to this day. Both love their country in a way not many of us experience. I am grateful for them because they have studied war so that my children can live in peace and freedom. My Memorial Day prayer is that I can match their devotion to our country.

God bless you, Veterans. God rest the fallen.
Ed

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Cleaver: Memorial Day a 'time to remember'

From Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D):

Each year on Memorial Day, Americans come together to remember those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of our country in the name of freedom and democracy. The debt owed to them is immeasurable. Their sacrifices and those of their military families are freedom’s foundation. Without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and women and their families, our country would not live so freely.

In Missouri's Fifth District, we gather at the Liberty Memorial, a monument built as a reminder of those who were loved and lost in what was supposed to be the "war to end all wars". Hundreds of thousands gathered at its dedication, some with wounds still fresh from the fields of Europe. They prayed that war would never again envelop the globe. Sadly, in less than a generation, their children would be called to once again defend freedom against tyranny.

Monday, we will honor all those who have answered the call to service, and all who have died in the cause of liberty. Last summer, I held a special event to honor those who served in the jungles and waters of Vietnam, marking the 50th Anniversary of that conflict. This summer, General David Petraeus will join us to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War. Compared to the sacrifices of our veterans, these tributes seem small, but I know they mean a great deal to the men and women who served. Our forefathers built the Liberty Memorial so that the nation would never forget the cost of war. I know, here in our community, we know and remember that lesson well.

America continues to be engaged in hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and young men and women we knew and who grew up here in our cities and towns have paid the ultimate price while wearing the uniform of our nation. This Monday, let us honor the memory of the 4,400 Americans who have died in Iraq and more than 1,000 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the sacrifices of our wounded: nearly 32,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 5,700 in Afghanistan.

As we remember their patriotic sacrifices, we renew our commitment to keep our promises to the nation’s 3 million troops and reservists, their families, and 23 million veterans.

Our nation has a duty to do far more than remember our veterans with parades and salutes. Our commitment to care for them is a sacred covenant. To honor those promises, Congress has enacted critical measures to expand educational opportunity and economic relief for our veterans. The new Post 9-11 GI Bill, which took effect last August, restores the promise of a full, four-year college education, allowing up to 2 million warriors of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to be part of a new American economic recovery, just like after World War II. We have also extended those crucial college benefits to all children of fallen service members since 9-11-01.

Recognizing that veterans coming home are facing double digit unemployment, we have enacted incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans. As part of the Recovery Act, Congress provided nearly 2 million disabled veterans a $250 payment to help make ends meet.

Many of our troops have served multiple tours of duty, with great strain on their families and substantial cost to their financial futures. In response, Congress provided special $500 payments for every month the 185,000 service members and veterans were forced to serve under stop-loss orders since 2001. We have also taken steps to reduce the backlog and wait for veterans trying to access their earned benefits.

This year, we increased military pay 3.4 percent and expanded TRICARE health benefits. We are building more military child care centers and better barracks and military family housing. With over one hundred thousand service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan today, the recognition of the sacrifice that military families make every day has never been more important.

For wounded veterans, Congress just enacted landmark legislation to provide help to family members and other caregivers of disabled, ill or injured veterans, such as training, counseling, and respite care, and to eliminate copayments for catastrophically disabled veterans. Congress also provided family leave benefits for families of our wounded warriors. Further, we in the House have just passed this week legislation taking a significant step toward ending the Disabled Veterans Tax for all medically retired service members. This tax unjustly forces disabled military retirees to give up one dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability pay. These veterans were so severely injured during their service that they had to retire and deserve full retirement and disability benefits.

With the strong support of veterans organizations, we have made an unprecedented commitment to veterans’ health care. The veterans budget, hailed as a “cause for celebration,” provides the largest funding increase for health care and other services ever requested by a President – even more than veterans organizations requested.

Through FY 2010, we have increased the investment in veterans’ health care and services by 60 percent since January 2007 -- including the largest single increase in the 78-year history of the VA. This funding has strengthened health care for more than 5 million veterans, resulting in 17,000 new doctors and nurses, and greater access for veterans in rural areas. It has been critical for the 382,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of care this year -- with expanded mental health screening and treatment -- to treat the signature injuries of the war, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Working with the President, Congress ended the ban on enrolling modest-income veterans for VA health care.

For the 1.8 million women who have bravely served, we have just enacted legislation expanding and improving VA health care services for women veterans, providing care of newborn children of women veterans for the first time in history, and enhancing treatment for PTSD and sexual trauma.

On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind. This Memorial Day and every day, let us continue to honor their service with actions that fulfill our commitment to our troops, their families, and our veterans – and that are worthy of our grateful nation.

I invite you to take a moment to stop and remember the members of our community who have been lost while wearing the uniform of our nation. For those who are able, please join me Monday at the Liberty Memorial for the Memorial Day observance. The event begins at 9:30am with a color guard parade and includes performances by the American Legion Band. After the event is over, I always join our Vietnam Veterans at their memorial wall, just north of the Plaza on Broadway at 43rd Street. Please take a moment to join me to thank those veterans for their service and remember friends and family lost in Vietnam.

Have a very safe holiday weekend, and I hope to see you Monday.

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