By Doug Carlson
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
The longest, most expensive presidential race in U.S. history drew to a close last night. After eyeing the candidates’ every move on the campaign trail for the better part of two years, Americans made their choice: Barack Obama now assumes the title of president-elect.
But with 77 days separating Election Day from Inauguration Day, and with Congress in recess for more than a month and counting, there is much work to be done in Washington. In fact, it is critical that Congress bring closure to its unfinished business before the end of the year. All bills that have been introduced since January of last year but fail to get passed by both Houses and signed into law by year’s end will have to be reintroduced. The speeches, the hearings, the committee votes, the floor votes will begin anew. The legislative clock effectively resets to Day 1 in the New Year.
Congress is expected to return to Washington in two weeks for a short session before adjourning. In those few remaining days, the Senate should consider two bills in particular that passed with large support in the House. The bills share a common theme: both would free countless lives from bondage.
First, the Senate should pass the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3887). The bill aims to better address the ongoing slavery of millions of men, women, and children, who are forced into manual labor or sex servitude around the world every year. The William Wilberforce Act would enable our nation to help end this modern-day slave trade. A key target is the largely hidden yet very real sex trafficking industry here in the United States. The bill would empower the Justice Department to prosecute pimps and traffickers in the states. Currently, federal law enforcement can only get involved if a pimp is prostituting an underage girl or he brings a woman across state lines for sexual purposes. It has become increasingly clear that states simply do not have the resources to address the trafficking industry.
Among a sea of 405 House supporters, just two congressmen voted against the tide on the William Wilberforce Act. Now two senators appear to be standing in the way of its passage in the Senate. Citing concerns over states rights, they are supporting competing legislation. States rights are important. But even the slavery issue of nearly 150 years ago could not be addressed without federal involvement. The slavery of our time also demands a federal response.
Second, the Senate should consider a House-passed bill that has the potential to rescue countless lives from the grip of tobacco addiction and spare untold thousands from premature death. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 625) would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to subject tobacco products to the rigorous oversight required of most consumer products. Amazingly, tobacco-the nation’s No. 1 preventable cause of death at 400,000 lives snuffed out annually-lacks basic oversight required of products like macaroni and cheese and dog food.
Specifically, the FDA would be empowered to oversee the sale, marketing, and manufacturing of tobacco products, including the ability to regulate deadly and addictive ingredients and require larger and more informative health warnings. In addition, Big Tobacco’s primary marketing demographic, youth, would find protections under the bill. The days of spending $13 billion each year to lure teens into lifelong addiction would be numbered. The bill would allow the FDA to prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes, prevent tobacco sales to underage children, and limit advertising and promotion of tobacco products. Passage of the bill is within reach. The list of cosponsors has grown to 60, the magic number to overcome a defeat by filibuster.
No doubt Congress has many important issues to consider in the coming weeks. The protection of human lives should be one of them. Individuals entrapped in human trafficking and tobacco addiction cannot afford for Congress to simply start from scratch in January.
If you agree, please tell your senators to do all they can to ensure passage of the William Wilberforce Act (H.R. 3887) and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (S. 625). Urge them to tell Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring these bills to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns.
Contact Sen. Richard Burr
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3154
Fax: (202) 228-2981
Contact Sen. Elizabeth Dole
555 Dirksen Office Building