Know where Dennis Burnham stands on issues that matter to you:
Voter ID If you're not yet aware of the impact that Voter ID will have on elections in Texas, learn about this if you go no further. Experts predict that new Voter ID procedures could cost Democrats as much as 2% in coming elections. To get the full story, watch this 17 min. video. which was broadcast on October 23, 2013, or read this page. I support the Justice Department's lawsuits to prevent Texas from enforcing discriminatory voting practices that are, in reality, nothing more than a deviously motivated solution in search of a problem.
Women's Health Clearly, modern medicine and technology have created new options and raised questions about "when life begins" that did not exist when the Bill of Rights was adopted. However, I consider Roe v. Wade to be settled law. I regard the choice to have children … or to prevent a pregnancy … to be a private matter between any couple who are mutually responsible for their actions. When the partners are not mutually responsible (such as in cases of rape or incest) and decisions must be made, I believe the privacy is exclusively the mother's prerogative. No State should have the power to compel a mother to undergo procedures or act in any way that denies her right to consult with her doctor, religious counselor or family. The state should never block or deny health or family planning services to parents, including educational programs in public schools to prevent unwanted youth pregnancy. The health and well-being of any children is a burden that should only fall upon a state in the absence of both of the child's parents.
Minimum Wage Those who decry entitlements and a "welfare state" would be wise to consider the fact that without a living wage, people have no choice but to rely on the safety net of food stamps and public assistance. We cannot at the same time keep people in poverty by denying them a reasonable minimum wage and complaining about their dependency on the government for support.
As a young person, I had the opportunity to travel to South America and Africa where I was able to personally witness the consequences for a society that suffered from the absence of a middle class. In Brazil, for example, I saw urban conditions in 1965 far more egregious than any slums in American cities. As a college student, I studied peasant societies and third world development, learning how the rural exodus and shift from an agrarian to industrial economies contributed to poverty, disease, hunger and hopelessness. What I see today in our rising income inequality worries me that instead of expanding our middle class and ending poverty, America has begun to resemble poorer nations. Any serious study or discussion of the gap in income inequality must necessarily consider a wide range of contributing factors: gender, age, ethnicity, education, mobility, labor unions, crime, demographic differences, health and more. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore government's role and responsibility for the favorable trend between 1928-1976 and the reversal of that trend in the four decades since 1976, the same period when the value of the minimum wage has sharply declined and its purchasing power almost vanished completely.
I oppose all specious arguments that a higher minimum wage will cause inflation and shrinking profits, especially when the corporations making these arguments have a greater compensation gap between their executive ranks and workers than at any time in history. I favor an increase in the federal minimum wage will co-sponsor legislation to enact it if I am elected.
Jobs It is deceitful to feed Americans propaganda that claims there is a cause-effect relationship between lower taxes and job creation. Jobs are created by consumers, not lower taxes. Anyone who has ever worked for a company that measures the sales of its products and services (and that includes just about everybody) knows that hiring is the direct result of a need to produce more goods or deliver more services. The owner of a small business who benefits personally from a lower tax bill does not use their personal tax savings to hire more workers. And the high-income employees who do not own their own business are no different: they use their tax savings to afford vacations, college tuitions, personal luxuries, or whatever expenses would otherwise reduce their assets.
There are times when our government can create new jobs, by investing in infrastructure projects and making initiatives in areas like energy, education, technology, aerospace and research. But these initiatives must be matched by the private sector, where innovation and entrepreneurship lead to the kind of jobs that pay good wages and salaries and give families the kind of stability that makes it possible to enjoy the fruits of their labors, provide security for their families, and plan for their future retirement.
Marriage Equality In the last 12 months, the number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage has doubled. It is time for Texas to recognize what has been shown by recent court decisions to be a matter of equal protection under law. Unlike a religious institution, the State gives no "blessing" to the marriage of two people. The State's interest is in the well-being of its citizens and the protection of their rights. Accordingly, the State issues licenses for marriages, as it does for people who drive vehicles, hunt & fish, and operate certain businesses. Couples are always free to choose the church, synagogue, mosque, institution or faith that satisfies their desire for a religious blessing. For these reasons, I support marriage equality and I offer this additional reason: studies have proven that the best interests of children are better protected in families that include two parents, regardless of gender. This fact should be persuasive to anyone concerned about the problems of crime, drug-addiction and personality disorders that are so challenging our nation's youth.
Immigration Reform More than most other states, in Texas we live with the consequences of our country's failure to adopt a sensible immigration policy. Although the border is about 1,960 miles long and approx. 350 million people cross the border legally each year. Texas still depends on the Federal Government for enforcement. Even worse, Texas bears a disproportionate share of the costs for health and human services, criminal justice, and education at the primary, secondary and college level. As a first step, I am in favor of an end to the endless delays and political posturing that postpone any substantial reform because of considerations on the impact of changes on the next election cycle. Next I support the sensible, earned path to citizenship that is proposed in H.R. 15, a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro and Rep. Jeff Denham. Mr. Denham is the only Republican in Congress to join 185 Democrats in support of this legislation.
Firearms Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect its citizens, not only from foreign invasion and terrorist activity but also from uncontrolled violence that makes innocent people the victims of risks they have no reason to expect. When mass shootings regularly occur in theaters, schools, churches and other public places, our attention is focused on the horrific events but the number of killings that don't make headlines is an even greater tragedy that can probably be prevented by applying common sense to new legislation aimed at curbing violence.
Something is wrong with a political system that disregards the will of an overwhelming majority of citizens. Universal background checks will not hinder the legitimate rights of any sportsman, marksman, homeowner or collector. Better coordination between authorities and mental health professionals will help to prevent some, albeit not all, tragic incidents. Saving all lives may not be possible, but the perfect should not be the enemy of the good: we must take prudent steps to insure that ownership rights are accompanied by ownership responsibility. Even our most conservative legal scholars concede that the Second Amendment of our Constitution does not grant to all people the unlimited right to keep and use all kinds of weapons, many of which seem to me to be beyond the founders' imagination. In light of recent highly publicized incidents and trials that raise the subject of self-defense it is reasonable to expect that any new legislation aimed at promoting safety will also address the legitimate boundaries for the defensive use of firearms when used to resolve threats and conflicts between individuals.
Entitlement Reform Nobody seriously disagrees with the necessity to insure that financing of retirement benefits guaranteed under Social Security and Medicare cannot be neglected. With an understanding that entitlement reform is necessary to compensate for changing demographics, medical advances and life-expectancy, people of good faith must come to the negotiating table without a hidden agenda to abolish the programs that generations of hard-working Americans depend on. Too often, positions expressed in the lead up to an Election Day tend to walk a verbal tightrope to avoid offending (i.e. losing votes) those who are approaching their retirement age. Ideas like "no changes will affect people over 55" it concerns me that (a) the proposal is not serious and (b) what about those who are 54? Raising the retirement age to a more realistic number, based on fairness to all and contemporary data, makes more sense. It would still permit those who choose to retire earlier to do so, as they do now. Suppose it was agreed that by the year 2058, the retirement age would be 70. To get from here to there over the course of 44 years, everyone between the ages of 21 and 65 today would be given a newly-calculated date-certain when they will qualify for their retirement benefits. For those in their 60's today, that date would be only a few days beyond their 65th birthday. For those in their 20's the date would be closer to their 70th birthday. Thus, this new program would take effect gradually, day-by-day. If you are between the ages of 21-65 and you want to see how this new idea would affect your retirement, visit xxx and enter your own date of birth to see when you would qualify for retirement under this plan.
Agriculture, Food & Hunger It is unacceptable to me that in 2013, with as much agricultural production as exists throughout the world and with our enormous capacities for transportation and technology, hunger still persists as a worldwide issue. It is imperative that we stop wasting, depleting, or destroying our resources of soil and water and allowing unnecessary subsidies to defeat our ability to provide for the basic nutritional needs of people anywhere, especially children who are unable to otherwise provide for themselves. I am strongly in favor of policies that forbid the deliberate waste of any surplus and provide assistance to farmers and ranchers, especially when conditions like drought and natural disasters affect their ability to sustain their livelihoods.
Education is the key to our competitiveness in the global economy. At a time when unemployment remains a national challenge, it is a peculiar and distressing paradox that so many jobs are available and unfilled because employees cannot be found with the knowledge and skills those jobs require. We urgently need a strong and committed partnership among parents, teachers, community leaders, unions and employers. Fortunately, the efforts and initiatives of the current Administration's Education Department have been successful but there is more that can be done to encourage students to graduate from high school, provide training to people of all ages who want to acquire the skills demanded in our modern economy, and to make college affordable to students in a way that does not burden them with debt for decades after they earn their degrees.
Waste and Corruption are deplorable, but even worse is accepting them as necessary evils that yield nothing more than talking points. In an era when private enterprise has demonstrated the ability to make significant gains in productivity (some of which, of course, contributes to under-employment) there is no excuse for our failure to apply the same strict management principles to the way our government operates. When it is found that corrupt practices affecting the government's ability to operate efficiently, action should be swift and relentless to make it crystal clear that misuse of the government is both intolerable and punishable.
Taxation For the past 25 years, ever since George H.W. Bush made his famous "no new taxes" pledge, the subject has escalated to become a political litmus test that poisons our public dialog and civic consciousness. An entire generation of Americans (and their parents) have been misled to believe that the rising cost of necessary services can be paid for with a magic bank account. In a growing economy, many things are possible and if waste is not allowed to grow out of control and corruption is not permitted, a balanced budget is realistic and possible. This was proven in the late 1990's.
Unfortunately, our country …including members of Congress from both sides of the aisle … became hypnotized after 9/11 to the belief that two wars and a prescription drug program could be paid for at a time when the tax rate for our highest income earners was reduced. Deregulation of Wall Street and a housing bubble combined with shrinking tax revenue gave us the "perfect storm" of September 2008. The last 5-6 years have seen a slower climb out of that recession than would have been possible if the Administration's proposals had not been met with steadfast rejection by the same legislators most responsible for the financial disaster itself.
Going forward, we need a tax policy that:
Debt and Deficit Reduction I cringe whenever I hear a political demagogue compare the U.S. budget to a typical family's household budget or the national debt and debt-ceiling to the limit on a credit card account. While these are handy propaganda remarks, the fact is that the American government's finances are not comparable to that of a household of family. I don't dispute the desirability of a balanced Federal budget, but the circumstances that define a family's economics are altogether different than the U.S. Government whose public debt can be traced as far back as 1776. There have been 7 periods in our history when a dramatic debt reduction was followed by an economic depression and the nation's GDP is not as easily quantified as the W2's and 1099's the can be added together to arrive at our annual income. The 2012 election produced a number of articles that dispelled this myth. Here's one of my favorites, from the Roosevelt Institute. Here's another one, from U.S. News.
Military Preparedness Finding and eliminating the waste in our Defense budget is easier said than done, but there is no doubt that the reduction of waste in our procurement of equipment and weapons can contribute to a balanced budget and a more efficient military. While America is defended by the world's largest navy and strongest armed forces, it is always appropriate to question whether the preparedness against threats from past decades is still necessary today. Likewise, we must pay close attention to threats that never before existed, because enemies will always look for new vulnerabilities. Cyberspace does not respect national boundaries, and is a new frontier that is already being exploited by villains who can attack our economy and lifestyles without setting foot on our shores or firing missiles from far away. As our military preparedness shifted in the 20th century from horses and bayonets to tanks and satellites, the threats of the 21st century demand a vigilant, expert and comprehensive application of our technological expertise to defend ourselves and neutralize or destroy any cyber-enemies who are not identified by flags and uniforms.
Climate Change The nature of science is that it demands evidence, and I believe what scientists have agreed upon based upon overwhelming evidence that changes in our atmosphere, oceans, groundwater and soil are the result of human behavior, not a natural cycle. I support government action to mitigate the damage already documented and to prevent or lessen the negative impact of public policy that ignores the consequential effects on global climate factors.
Environment Among the national treasures that America cherishes are the natural resources and protected wilderness that must be protected from exploitation. This has been characterized in recent years as a left/right or liberal/conservative issue, when in fact it is non-partisan. Republicans from Theodore Roosevelt to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan have all been champions of conservation. When projects such as offshore drilling and pipelines are considered, we must balance the short-term benefits such as employment, costs, and energy independence with the risks of irreversible damage to the air and water that sustain our lives. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" represents a genuine threat that has already affected dozens of towns in West Texas. Portions of the Barnett Shale Play are located in District 24, and two "fraccidents" have already occurred in Euless and Irving (DFW Airport).
Energy "Green" initiatives and energy resources represent the answer to the problem of fossil fuel consumption. Texas, which played a leadership role for many years in the exploration and drilling for oil is also fortunate to be located in the Great Plains, known as the "Saudi Arabia of Wind Energy. Roughly 23% of the nation's natural gas resource happens to be in Texas. In partnership with other states whose economies will benefit from the development and exploitation of these assets, a national energy policy must also take into consideration the way we harness nuclear energy, export energy to other nations and distribute electric power to a larger, safer and better-protected grid. If the Wright Brothers had given up after their first attempt, they would never have flown a plane. If NASA had abandoned the Mercury program after its early missile launch failures, we would not have landed men on the moon in 1969. Our government must continue to provide incentives for the private sector to make this essential transition, with an understanding that research and development doesn't always succeed in its earliest stages.
Homeland Security Millions of Americans have their closest encounter with the new DHS when they pass through TSA airport security stations at our airports. As a frequent flier for many years, I share the common desire for safety in transportation, but I have also observed how our indiscriminate inspections cannot possibly keep pace with a criminal's intent to penetrate our system. As some leaders have observed, we have to be 100% foolproof, while the criminal needs only to succeed once. As long as it takes for legislation to respond to new threats and as much as we reject practices that seem to "profile" individuals, it is important to admit that these goals are at cross-purposes. I support new practices that allow the voluntary pre-clearance of frequent travelers but more needs to be done: cargo traffic at our airports and harbors is still too vulnerable more than a decade after 9/11. Cyber-security is an essential 21st century priority that demands the involvement of our best and brightest technology experts. Clearly citizens have expressed their willingness to surrender certain information about their identity and whereabouts in exchange for the conveniences and benefits that are delivered through their computers, automobiles and mobile devices. For more than 200 years, the Post Office has had the ability to use the return address on any mailed article to know who we correspond with. With this in mind, I am comfortable with the fact that the NSA monitors the metadata surrounding citizens' electronic communications, provided that the content of the communication remains private, until and unless probably cause is shown to require deeper investigation.
Trade The Administration's current policy faces difficult challenges, particularly regarding China's currency manipulation, but in general I support President Obama's trade policy as expressed in this statement issued March 1, 2013 by the United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk. Markets for American-made products will grow and strengthen if we adhere to these policies.
Infrastructure Some of our nation's infrastructure elements are easy for people to see, especially when things like bridges and tunnels fall into disrepair. But we have more to do in the years ahead than fix roadways and strengthen buildings: too many of our water systems, gas pipelines and electric grids are too vulnerable to damage caused by natural events like storms and earthquakes, or malicious attack by terrorists. When I hear the statement "America is the greatest country in the world" I often wonder if the speaker has actually ever traveled abroad to make that comparison. Asian airports in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing and European airports in Amsterdam, Munich, London and Zurich are vivid examples of the way investment in infrastructure projects pays dividends for years to come. We've got important work to do at home: it's important for our economy, our national security and it will create jobs that can only be performed by Americans.
Campaign Finance Reform Until provisions of the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills were struck by the Supreme Court, I was hopeful that long-needed reforms would result in more fairness in elections and reduce the influence of "big-money" in our politics. I deplore the decision in Citizens United v. FEC and favor new legislation and/or a Constitutional Amendment that will limit spending by special interests and foreign corporations.