WASHINGTON - The past two years have been one of the most challenging, but productive, periods of my time in the Senate.
The early weeks of 2010 were dominated by the continued debate over health care reform. President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March. This legislation will help families with health insurance continue to have access to more affordable and secure care, and as it takes effect, it will provide affordable care to millions who now lack it. It will protect families with health insurance from arbitrary caps on coverage, from arbitrary denial of coverage by insurance companies, and from denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
In 2010, we had successes on the job-creation front. In March, we passed the HIRE Act, which includes tax incentives for businesses to hire people who lost their jobs in the recession and small business tax cuts. And in September, we passed the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act, which will help small businesses get the capital they need to hire workers. The bill included language I authored to fund state and local programs that help small businesses meet collateral requirements and get loans.
Sen. Carl Levin
Our domestic auto industry continued its emergence from painful restructuring. Grants for production of advanced batteries bore fruit, as several Michigan plants began producing these next-generation components. GM and Chrysler have made progress in repaying the taxpayers' investment. I am more confident than ever that this backbone of the U.S. economy is on track to thrive and grow.
Congress also succeeded in reforming Wall Street. Hearings before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, showed that the financial industry helped bring on the crisis by taking reckless risks in pursuit of higher profit. The Wall Street reforms we passed will help rein in those risks.
In December, Congress passed tax legislation negotiated between the President and congressional Republicans. Despite its provisions to extend the middle class tax cuts and emergency unemployment benefits, I voted against this legislation. The cost of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, both to the treasury and to economic fairness, was too much for me to support.
We took important steps in 2010 to make our nation more secure. In August, we transferred security responsibilities to the Iraqi government and ended our combat mission there. We made progress in reversing the momentum of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a testament to the talents and bravery of the men and women of the U.S. military. We are on track to begin reducing our troop presence there in July of 2011, as President Obama has ordered.
We also acted to end the military's discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, eloquently made the case for repeal when he said the policy "forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
There were some important Michigan victories in 2010. We won new funding for extending unemployment benefits, for advanced manufacturing and energy technologies, and for high-speed rail projects in the state. We won increased funding for Great Lakes restoration; we preserved important wilderness areas; and we strengthened protections to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.
These successes do not change the fact that far too many Michiganians, and too many Americans, are still struggling to find work. In 2011, we must continue to look for every opportunity to create jobs and grow the economy. That means we must continue to support the growth of domestic manufacturing, including of course the auto industry; and we must end tax incentives that encourage employers to move U.S. jobs overseas.
We also must continue making progress in Afghanistan to facilitate a responsible reduction of our military involvement. And we must defend the Great Lakes from continuing threats, including Asian carp. While none of these will be easy, perseverance in the face of challenges is the common thread that runs through our history.
- - -
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.