All blog posts created by Senator Ron Wyden
  • Wyden Letter to the Editor: China’s subsidy of solar panels

    (Note: this letter was originally published in the Washington Post on October 28, 2012)

    A federal investigation has proved that China is subsidizing its solar panels and dumping those panels in the U.S. market. The Oct. 19 editorial “A cloud on trade” said there’s a good reason to let China continue to do this. I disagree.

    World trade is governed by well-defined rules. Allowing China to break those rules at the whim of certain lobbying groups would turn the rules-based trading system into one based on politics. The world tried that system before. It failed. Under that system, trade was neither free nor fair, to the detriment of the United States and global economy.

    Failure to address China’s practices will undercut U.S. innovation. It will also make it more difficult for the United States to act against China’s cheating in other areas on everything from the manipulation of its currency to its export restraints on resources such as rare earth minerals.

    China has been clear that it is seeking to be a dominant provider of the world’s solar panels, and it is accomplishing this by breaking the rules. To accept these actions because it is helpful to consumers (for now) is to accept a world in which China chooses the industries it wishes to dominate and the

    United States is forced to take what’s left. How long after the last U.S. solar manufacturer has shut its doors will China wait to use its monopoly power to raise prices for U.S. consumers?

    Ron Wyden, Washington

    The writer, a Democrat from Oregon, is a member of the U.S. Senate.

  • Clear Geolocation Guidelines Are Needed to Protect Privacy Rights

    (Note: This editorial piece was originally posted on US News & World Report as part of their Debate Club series wherein lawmakers answered the question, "Should Probable Cause Be Required for Police to Use Cell Phone Location Data?")

    Before cellphones were commonplace, law enforcement's ability to track your movements was largely limited to the natural human powers of observation. As long as tracking you around the clock meant following you around the clock, it was generally safe to assume that law enforcement would only dedicate the time, energy, and resources necessary to follow you if they had a good reason. In other words, there was little risk that overreaching law enforcement would abuse its surveillance powers to track law-abiding citizens.

    Things have changed.

    Thanks to technological advancements, police departments no longer have to pay overtime or divert resources from other projects to find out where someone goes. Tracking suspects or law-abiding individuals is now as easy as accessing their GPS signals or asking a cellphone company for its customers' location records.

    While having access to geolocation data is clearly useful for law enforcement agencies, without the resource limitations that used to discourage the government from tracking you without good reason, the limits on when and how geolocation data can be accessed are unclear. A police department, for example, might not have the resources to follow everyone who lives within a city block for a month, but without clear rules for electronic tracking there is nothing to stop it from requesting every resident's cellphone location history.

    Obviously, we expect people to see us when we step out onto the street each morning, but we don't expect those people to track all of our movements over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years. A lot can be learned from our location histories, like where we go to church, what doctors we see, what political organizations we belong to, and who we spend our time with.

    Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must to get a warrant before secretly tracking an individual with an electronic monitoring device. While it seems likely that the majority of the court would agree that secretly turning someone's cellphone into a tracking device would be similarly intrusive, law enforcement shouldn't have to go all the way to the Supreme Court every time it needs direction on how it can use tracking technology.

    Clear guidelines for accessing geolocation data won't just protect the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans—much like warrant requirements for wiretaps—they will make it possible for law enforcement to use geolocation tools with confidence that the evidence they gather will be admissible in court. Clear rules will also reassure cellphone companies that they can comply with government requests without violating their customers' privacy, and the justice system can create criminal penalties for stalkers who use geolocation tools to secretly track their victims.

    A lot has changed since 1986, when Congress last set rules for electronic privacy. It's time for Congress to step in and set a modern standard.

  • Bipartisan, Comprehensive Tax Reform Will Restore America’s Competitive Edge

    (Note: This column was originally published in Tax Watch — Spring, 2012)

    What does this mean? It means that instead of investing in new jobs and innovation, U.S. businesses are investing time, energy and resources to avoid paying taxes. It

    means that instead of hiring people to build things, businesses are hiring lobbyists to secure more specialized tax breaks and loopholes to lower their tax burden. It means that the tax code is now so complicated that instead of making it easy for businesses to set up shop, the U.S. tax code requires every entrepreneur to have an accountant. And it means that instead of encouraging investment in the U.S., the U.S. tax code is encouraging U.S. companies to invest in other countries where taxes are lower.

    The U.S. tax code is clearly in need of reform.

    It’s been done before. In 1986, a Democratic House majority joined forces with President Ronald Reagan and a Republican-led Senate to overhaul the federal tax code. There was no precedent for that coalition, but there is one today.

    Joining forces against special interests, Democrats and Republicans sent the president sweeping bipartisan legislation that eliminated numerous tax breaks and loopholes to streamline the code and hold down rates for everyone, without any additional government spending.

    More than 6.3 million new jobs were created in just the two years that followed the ’86 reform. That is more than double the number of jobs created during the full eight years that followed the Bush tax cuts of 2001.

    Senator Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana, and I have offered reform legislation modeled on the 1986 effort that we believe can make U.S. businesses more competitive with their global counterparts and encourage investment in U.S. workers. We have been working together to advance the Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act and with the budget crisis throwing into sharp relief the pitfalls associated with other remedies in Washington, we believe the time is ripe for the same kind of bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform we saw almost three decades ago.

    What became clear from the 1986 effort was that lower marginal tax rates—the tax rate on the last dollar of income earned—did more for the economy as a whole than special tax provisions or sweetheart deals.

    Our bill wipes out dozens of these giveaways and lowers the corporate tax rate for everyone, from a global high of 35 percent down to a competitive 24 percent. That will boost American businesses’ ability to compete, plain and simple.

    The Wyden-Coats bill eliminates the tax break for shipping jobs overseas but gives U.S. corporations a one-time tax holiday to repatriate profits currently held offshore, helping them transition to the new tax system. In addition to the low flat corporate rate, this will help make the U.S. a more attractive place for both U.S. and foreign businesses to invest.

    But tax reform can’t stop with the corporate tax code.

    The vast majority of American businesses pay taxes under the rules of the individual code so corporate tax reform alone will do nothing for the thousands of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs that make up the backbone of the U.S. economy. We need comprehensive tax reform that simplifies the corporate and the individual code at the same time so that no U.S. business or taxpayer is left out.

    Tax reform can create a simpler, more business-friendly tax code that increases tax revenue without raising tax rates. It can lower corporate tax rates to make American businesses more competitive, which will help businesses to create jobs that pay middle class wages. Tax reform can also make tax filing less taxing for everyone.

    None of this is going to be easy. When the drum beat for reform picks up, every special interest and lobbying firm in the city will be working overtime to protect the tax breaks they hold dear. But if Congress is serious about creating jobs, there is no better place to start than tax reform.

  • Preserving the Medicare Guarantee: Why I've Been Working with Paul Ryan

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    People on both sides of the aisle want to know why a progressive Democrat is working with the author of last year's House Budget on Medicare reform. Here's why:

    When I was 27 years old, I organized legal aid clinics to help low-income seniors. It was a life-altering experience. I'd be invited into someone's home and after coffee and a few stories about the grandkids or the Great Depression, my host would reluctantly pull out a shoebox, swallow his or her pride and ask for my help.

    The shoebox would be full of supplemental Medicare insurance policies. Often there were more than 10 separate policies. These policies were supposed to cover the benefits, co-pays and deductibles that Medicare didn't, but most weren't worth the paper they were printed on. Unscrupulous insurance agents would prey on a senior's health concerns and fear of being a burden on loved ones in order to extract monthly payments often for multiple policies that offered benefits that the senior already had, didn't need and usually couldn't afford.

    The victims of these scams -- seniors who had lived through two world wars -- would look at me with shame in their eyes and tell me that they should have known better.

    Stopping those insurance rip-offs was one of the reasons I ran for Congress.

    Fighting for Seniors

    It took a little over a decade to build a coalition strong enough to beat the insurance companies, but in 1990, then Senator Tom Daschle and I passed a law regulating the private market for supplemental Medicare insurance policies. We created benefitstandards so that seniors would know exactly what they were signing up for and we imposed heavy fines on anyone who took advantage of seniors. That Medigap law is still the model for consumer protection today.

    I didn't stop fighting for seniors there. In the early 1990s then Representative Olympia Snowe and I were among the first to propose bipartisan legislation to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. When a Medicare Prescription Drug benefit was ultimately added to Medicare, Senator Snowe and I began pressing for legislation that would empower Medicare to use its market power to negotiate the best prices for seniors.

    Congressman Ed Markey and I authored a law to create Medicare's first home-based health program for seniors with chronic illnesses. I've written and passed laws to give Medicare beneficiaries access to life saving cancer drugs and to ensure that seniors don't have to give up the prospect of a cure when they go into hospice care. The Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that -- thanks in part to a reform I authored in the Affordable Care Act -- Medicare Advantage premiums are down, enrollment is up and more and more seniors have quality health coverage.

    In just the last year, I have introduced legislation to expand a senior's choice of mental health professionals, reduce Medicare fraud and bring transparency to Medicare payments. I also authored a discussion paper with Chairman Paul Ryan exploring ways in which Democrats and Republicans might work together to ensure a sound future for Medicare.

    The Medicare Guarantee is at Risk

    I know that polls show that the majority of Americans like Medicare the way it is today. But don't let that number confuse what's at stake: unless Congress enacts meaningful Medicare reform in the near future, seniors will be faced with inevitable cost-shifting and eventual benefit cuts until Medicare doesn't look anything like the program does today.

    The Congressional Budget Office projects that the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund will be out of money by 2022. And as MedPac explained in its report to Congress last year, Congress's continued inability to come up with a long-term solution for Medicare's reimbursement rate for doctors "is undermining confidence in the Medicare program."

    Last year, Congress passed a mere 60-day extension of Medicare physician pay rates in order to avoid asking doctors to swallow a 27.4 percent cut to Medicare physician pay. Although a 'deal' was eventually reached to pay doctors for their services through the end of this year, chronic payment uncertainty and already low reimbursement rates are forcing more and more doctors to consider dropping or limiting the number of Medicare patients they are willing to treat. This is a significant problem given that retiring Baby-Boomers are no longer a theoretical problem. Starting this year, an average of 10,000 Americans will enroll in Medicare each day for the next 20 years.

    The Medicare Guarantee is Our Nation's Most Solemn Promise

    I believe the most important aspect of Medicare is not the structure of the program but the guarantee to all Americans that they will have high quality health care as they get older. I will always fight to protect traditional Medicare, but in my mind, what makes Medicare so important is its guarantee. It is one of our nation's most solemn promises and history has shown what can happen when it doesn't exist.

    Before Congress created Medicare in 1965, more than 50 percent of American seniors didn't have health insurance, mostly because of its unaffordable cost. It was not uncommon for the sick elderly to be treated like second class citizens, and as a result, many aging Americans without family to care for them, ended up destitute without necessary health care, or on the street. It was a disgraceful time in our nation's history; we must take steps to ensure that it never happens again.

    Traditional Medicare Doesn't Work the Same for Everyone

    Contrary to popular belief, every Medicare beneficiary is not currently enrolled in Medicare's government-administered health insurance plan. In Oregon, for example, 56 percent of seniors currently get all or some of their health coverage from a private plan. (15 percent of Oregon seniors purchase private Medigap policies to supplement their traditional Medicare, while 41 percent of Oregon's Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in private health insurance plans through Medicare Advantage.) It is worth noting that many Medicare Advantage plans in Oregon save money over traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

    While most seniors are very happy with the Medicare benefits that they get from the government, it is important to remember that Medicare isn't perfect and doesn't work the same for everyone.

    For example, traditional Medicare does not offer catastrophic coverage or dental benefits. To get those options, seniors have to pay for supplemental private insurance. While many private plans offer the option of prescription coverage as part of their insurance packages, under traditional Medicare, seniors have to sign up for those benefits separately. While some seniors like the freedom Medicare gives them to find and choose their own participating doctors, some prefer an integrated private health plan that has identified a network of doctors, testing facilities and pharmacies that work together, collaboratively on the needs of their enrollees.

    And again, just because you are enrolled in Medicare's government-administered option does not mean that you are guaranteed to find a doctor willing to take on new Medicare patients. Seniors in historically-low reimbursement states like Oregon have long had difficulty finding doctors and more and more seniors in other parts of the country are starting to encounter this problem. For this reason, many seniors in Oregon have been grateful to learn that Medicare gave them the option of enrolling in a private plan.

    Finally, Medicare's copays and deductibles are not insignificant for a senior living on a fixed income, regardless of plan choice. While Americans under the age of 65 pay an average of 3 percent of their total income on health care, Americans over the age of 65 are spending 16 percent of their total income on their health needs. It is projected that by 2020, that number will reach 26 percent. With nearly 62 percent of seniors living on incomes of less than $30,000 annually, this is particularly worrisome no matter what it says on a beneficiary's Medicare card.

    Not All Plans that Include Private Insurance Choices are Created Equal

    While allowing seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and privately-administered health plans would not "end Medicare as we know it," (since this choice already exists in Medicare) changing the program in a way that would undermine or end the Medicare Guarantee certainly deserves that description.

    There is no question in my mind that last year's House Republican Budget would have ended the Medicare Guarantee, that is why I voted against it. Not only did the Republican plan eliminate Medicare's traditional government-administered insurance program, it failed to include tough consumer protections for seniors. The vouchers it would have given seniors to purchase health insurance weren't guaranteed to cover the cost of health insurance over time. Seniors aren't guaranteed to have health insurance if affordability isn't guaranteed as well.

    Voters would be right to consider their representative's vote on that budget as an indication of their representative's commitment to the Medicare Guarantee. Put simply, if you want to be sure that your Member of Congress will not vote to end the Medicare Guarantee in the future, you would probably be better off with a representative who didn't vote to end it in the past.

    But doing nothing is also a direct threat to the Medicare Guarantee. Congress must pass meaningful reform within the next few years and since it is highly unlikely that Democrats are going to win a super majority of seats in both the House and the Senate this year, the only way to pass legislation upholding the Guarantee is for Democrats and Republicans to work together. To protect Medicare, we have to get the dangerous ideas off the table and start looking for solutions that will ensure that seniors will always be able to get the care they need.

    This is why I started talking to Paul Ryan about Medicare.

    What Wyden-Ryan Really Says

    There have been a lot of mischaracterizations. So, let's be clear about what the Wyden-Ryan plans really says.

    Wyden-Ryan doesn't eliminate the traditional Medicare plan, instead it guarantees that seniors who want to enroll in Medicare's traditional fee for service plan will always have that option.

    Wyden-Ryan doesn't privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans. Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to -- for the first time -- compete directly with traditional Medicare.

    Wyden-Ryan protects the purchasing power of traditional Medicare and private sector innovation to make both types of Medicare stronger and more senior-friendly. All participating private plans will be required to offer benefits that are at least as comprehensive as traditional Medicare and any plan that is found taking advantage of seniors or providing inadequate care will be kicked out of the system. Cherry picking healthier seniors will be made unprofitable by a robust risk-adjustment mechanism and policed by the Medicare administrators.

    Wyden-Ryan would also uphold the Medicare Guarantee by ensuring that seniors will always be able to afford their health benefits. Unlike a voucher program that would give seniors a fixed amount of money to purchase health plans, Wyden-Ryan would adjust premium support payments each year to reflect the actual cost of health insurance premiums. In addition, low-income seniors, including dual-eligibles will receive additional benefits to cover out-of-pocket costs -- ensuring that seniors have the same choices regardless of income. Yes, if private plans are able to devise a way to provide the same health benefits as traditional Medicare for less money, a senior might have to pay extra if he or she still wants to enroll in the government option. But if you could get the exact same benefits for less money, why would you want to pay more?

    Beyond that, Wyden-Ryan creates a catastrophic benefit that does not exist in traditional Medicare, ensuring that no senior is bankrupted by a major illness.

    Finally, Wyden-Ryan isn't a piece of legislation. It does not include legislative language or specifications detailing exactly how the system would work. If Wyden-Ryan or something like Wyden-Ryan gets to the legislative stage, those specifications will be important to get right, as the devil is always in the details. Right now, however, Wyden-Ryan is simply a policy paper intended to start a conversation about how Democrats and Republicans might work together to uphold the Medicare Guarantee.

    Using Wyden-Ryan for Political Cover Harms Seniors

    Yes, just as some in my party criticize Wyden-Ryan without knowing what the plan really does, some Republicans will undoubtedly declare their support for Wyden-Ryan without knowing what that means or believing in its principles. Mitt Romney, for example, claims to have helped write Wyden-Ryan even though I have never spoken to him about Medicare reform and have yet to hear him declare that there should always be a role for traditional government-run Medicare.

    Those who say they support Wyden-Ryan simply for political cover are neither helping seniors nor being bipartisan. Rather, using Wyden-Ryan for political purposes harms seniors by making a bipartisan agreement to uphold the Medicare Guarantee that much harder. Anyone who does this deserves to be called out on it.

    However, by that same token, those of us who care about the Medicare Guarantee shouldn't discourage Republicans from working in a bipartisan way to preserve the program in the future. Even though it might blunt some political attacks, we should be encouraging Republicans to take dangerous reforms off the table and pledge their support for Medicare. Just as we should be working to educate our conservative colleagues about the importance of a program many of them clearly don't understand. The upcoming election is important, but after the election, we're going to have to pass Medicare reform and that is going to require us to work together.

    This week, Congressman Ryan will be unveiling the House Republican Budget. I do not know what the details of the budget will be. I didn't write it and I can't imagine a scenario where I would vote for it. I do know, however, that because we worked together, Paul Ryan now knows more about the Medicare Guarantee and protecting seniors from unscrupulous insurance practices than he did before. If that is reflected in his budget this year, as someone who has been fighting for seniors since he was 27 years old, I think that's a step in the right direction.

    Tags:
    Medicare
    Wyden-Ryan
  • Trade Rules Matter

    Right now, the Obama administration and the International Trade Commission (ITC) are in the process of investigating complaints alleging that China is violating global trading rules to give their domestic solar-and wind-energy industries an advantage on the world market.
    The contention is that the Chinese government -- recognizing the growing global demand for renewable energy products -- has been giving its solar and wind energy producers enough money to price Chinese solar panels and wind turbines less than the rest of the world's solar panels and wind turbines. Their goal is to get the world's customers to stop buying the rest of the world's products and start buying from the Chinese.
    The Chinese Government has made no secret of its desire to become the world's leading producer of environmental goods and has even issued a series of economic plans laying out its strategy to "speed up the development and deployment of hydropower, wind power, solar energy and biomass energy," directing local authorities to "allocate the necessary funds to support renewable energy development."
    By all accounts, the Chinese Government's strategy is working. Today, my office is issuing a report showing that in just the last five years, China rose from playing a minor role in the global market for environmental goods to become the dominant actor in the world's biggest and fastest growing markets. Among other things, the report lays to rest arguments that the U.S. solar industry isn't losing out to China, showing that in just 2011, the U.S. went from a $2 billion trade surplus in solar energy products to a $1.5 billion deficit.
    Of course, some will undoubtedly say: "So what?" They'll argue that the Chinese Government can do what it wants, that we shouldn't start a trade war with China and that cheap solar panels are a good thing. And others will say this is just another example of why free trade isn't good for Americans.
    Let me respond:
    1. So what if China is helping its domestic industries charge less for solar panels and other environmental goods? Can't the U.S. do the same?
    If China is helping its domestic industries charge an artificially low price for solar panels and other environmental goods, then China is violating international trade rules that it agreed to when it became a member of the World Trade Organization. The global rules based trading system -- established after World War II and the Great Depression -- was designed to prevent trade wars by creating clear, enforceable standards for all of the world's participants. Its rules ensure that competition is based, not on the amount of assistance a government provides its industries, but on each industry's ability to innovate quality products and produce them efficiently.
    If China -- the world's second largest economy -- is violating trade rules to help its industries undercut the price of solar panels and other environmental goods, it changes the competition from a race to produce better products more efficiently to a competition to cheat better. Meanwhile, the global trading system breaks down and countries that play by the rules -- like the U.S -- suffer.
    2. But wouldn't enforcing trade laws with China start a trade war?
    Trade wars aren't started by countries appealing to respected, independent trade authorities. Rather, trade wars begin when one country decides to violate international trade rules to undercut another country's industries. In trade -- as in football or any other rules-based competition -- we hold the rule breaker accountable, not the coach who asks the referee for a review.
    If the U.S. Department of Commerce finds that China isn't breaking the rules, then no action will be taken. But if China is breaking trade rules to give its industries an unfair advantage, it's important that trade rules be enforced and tariffs be applied to negate that unfair advantage. Again, doing otherwise would undermine the integrity of the rules-based trading system.
    3. But won't fewer people install solar panels if we raise the cost of Chinese solar panels?
    This is a short-sighted argument. Yes, while U.S. manufacturers of solar panels are closing plants and laying off workers, U.S. solar panel installers are doing well by using the low-cost Chinese solar panels. However, if China successfully puts the rest of the world's solar manufacturers out of business, the Chinese government will stop subsidizing the price of solar panels and prices will go up.
    Moreover, if China successfully puts the rest of the world's solar industries out of business, the race to innovate better, more efficient and more affordable renewable energy technologies comes to a halt.
    4. Isn't this just another example of why trade is bad for Americans?
    No. This is an example of why unfair trade is bad for Americans. President Obama said it best during his state of the Union Address this year when he declared: "I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules."
    More than 90 percent of the world's customers live outside the United States. Ensuring that U.S. companies have a level playing field to compete for those customers is probably the single best way to grow U.S. businesses and create more good-paying U.S. jobs. But free trade does not mean trade free from rules, and failing to enforce trade rules not only fails to ensure that level playing field, it leaves U.S. industries at the mercy of countries that break the rules.
    President Obama was right to make enforcement of those trade rules a priority and his creation, today, of a Trade Enforcement Unit is a massive step in the right direction. But as my office's report shows, we need to act quickly because it doesn't take long to lose to China.(Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    Right now, the Obama administration and the International Trade Commission (ITC) are in the process of investigating complaints alleging that China is violating global trading rules to give their domestic solar-and wind-energy industries an advantage on the world market.

    The contention is that the Chinese government -- recognizing the growing global demand for renewable energy products -- has been giving its solar and wind energy producers enough money to price Chinese solar panels and wind turbines less than the rest of the world's solar panels and wind turbines. Their goal is to get the world's customers to stop buying the rest of the world's products and start buying from the Chinese.

    The Chinese Government has made no secret of its desire to become the world's leading producer of environmental goods and has even issued a series of economic plans laying out its strategy to "speed up the development and deployment of hydropower, wind power, solar energy and biomass energy," directing local authorities to "allocate the necessary funds to support renewable energy development."

    By all accounts, the Chinese Government's strategy is working. Today, my office is issuing a report showing that in just the last five years, China rose from playing a minor role in the global market for environmental goods to become the dominant actor in the world's biggest and fastest growing markets. Among other things, the report lays to rest arguments that the U.S. solar industry isn't losing out to China, showing that in just 2011, the U.S. went from a $2 billion trade surplus in solar energy products to a $1.5 billion deficit.

    Of course, some will undoubtedly say: "So what?" They'll argue that the Chinese Government can do what it wants, that we shouldn't start a trade war with China and that cheap solar panels are a good thing. And others will say this is just another example of why free trade isn't good for Americans.

    Let me respond:

    1. So what if China is helping its domestic industries charge less for solar panels and other environmental goods? Can't the U.S. do the same?

    If China is helping its domestic industries charge an artificially low price for solar panels and other environmental goods, then China is violating international trade rules that it agreed to when it became a member of the World Trade Organization. The global rules based trading system -- established after World War II and the Great Depression -- was designed to prevent trade wars by creating clear, enforceable standards for all of the world's participants. Its rules ensure that competition is based, not on the amount of assistance a government provides its industries, but on each industry's ability to innovate quality products and produce them efficiently.

    If China -- the world's second largest economy -- is violating trade rules to help its industries undercut the price of solar panels and other environmental goods, it changes the competition from a race to produce better products more efficiently to a competition to cheat better. Meanwhile, the global trading system breaks down and countries that play by the rules -- like the U.S -- suffer.

    2. But wouldn't enforcing trade laws with China start a trade war?

    Trade wars aren't started by countries appealing to respected, independent trade authorities. Rather, trade wars begin when one country decides to violate international trade rules to undercut another country's industries. In trade -- as in football or any other rules-based competition -- we hold the rule breaker accountable, not the coach who asks the referee for a review.

    If the U.S. Department of Commerce finds that China isn't breaking the rules, then no action will be taken. But if China is breaking trade rules to give its industries an unfair advantage, it's important that trade rules be enforced and tariffs be applied to negate that unfair advantage. Again, doing otherwise would undermine the integrity of the rules-based trading system.

    3. But won't fewer people install solar panels if we raise the cost of Chinese solar panels?

    This is a short-sighted argument. Yes, while U.S. manufacturers of solar panels are closing plants and laying off workers, U.S. solar panel installers are doing well by using the low-cost Chinese solar panels. However, if China successfully puts the rest of the world's solar manufacturers out of business, the Chinese government will stop subsidizing the price of solar panels and prices will go up.

    Moreover, if China successfully puts the rest of the world's solar industries out of business, the race to innovate better, more efficient and more affordable renewable energy technologies comes to a halt.

    4. Isn't this just another example of why trade is bad for Americans?

    No. This is an example of why unfair trade is bad for Americans. President Obama said it best during his state of the Union Address this year when he declared: "I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules."

    More than 90 percent of the world's customers live outside the United States. Ensuring that U.S. companies have a level playing field to compete for those customers is probably the single best way to grow U.S. businesses and create more good-paying U.S. jobs. But free trade does not mean trade free from rules, and failing to enforce trade rules not only fails to ensure that level playing field, it leaves U.S. industries at the mercy of countries that break the rules.

    President Obama was right to make enforcement of those trade rules a priority and his creation, today, of a Trade Enforcement Unit is a massive step in the right direction. But as my office's report shows, we need to act quickly because it doesn't take long to lose to China.

    Wyden Staff Report: Losing the Environmental Goods Economy to China

  • My Letter to the Internet

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    letter-to-internet

    (Above: Senator Wyden signing his letter to the Internet.)

    Dear Friends:

    Today, thousands of websites have chosen to voluntarily go offline or modify their home pages with public service information. Some have called this a stunt. I say it's a brave and poignant reminder that we can't take the Internet for granted.

    The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life precisely because it has been an open-to-all land of opportunity where entrepreneurs, thinkers and innovators are free to try, fail and then try again. The Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other, the way we learn about the world and the way we conduct business. It has done this by eliminating the tollgates, middle men, and other barriers to entry that have so often predetermined winners and losers in the marketplace. It has created a world where ideas, products and creative expression have an opportunity regardless of who offers them or where they originate.

    Protect IP (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are a step towards a different kind of Internet. They are a step towards an Internet in which those with money and lawyers and access to power have a greater voice than those who don't. They are a step towards an Internet in which online innovators need lawyers as much or more than they need good ideas. And they are a step towards a world in which Americans have less of a voice to argue for a free and open Internet around the world.

    Proponents of these bills say these arguments are overblown, but I say any step towards an Internet in which one person's voice counts more than another is a step in the wrong direction. These are bills that should give us pause. These are bills that should be studied and debated. Congress should consult experts and consider alternatives and make 100% sure that any step it takes to police the Internet doesn't change the Internet as we know it. This is why I put a hold on the Protect IP Act and its predecessor over a year ago and introduced a bipartisan alternative last month.

    The Senate, however, has scheduled a vote for Tuesday, January 24 at 2:15 PM to override my hold and move the Protect IP Act towards passage. This will be the deciding vote that determines whether PIPA and SOPA move through the Congress or are turned back for more sober discussion.

    We are up against a group of the biggest, most powerful, well-funded and well-organized interest groups in Washington. No one thought millions of Internet users would speak up or that those voices could overcome the power of these interests. Today you showed that the Internet is not just a platform for ideas, commerce, and expression, but also for political action that will defend those principles. Your voices must continue to be heard.

    Thank you for standing up for what's important, for continuing to speak out and for demonstrating that we should always stand up for what we think is right regardless of the odds. This is an opportunity to reshape the way Washington operates, not just responding to narrow interests but hearing the voices of millions of Americans whose rights and livilihoods are affected by our actions.

    Sincerely,
    Senator Ron Wyden 

    Tags:
    SOPA/PIPA
  • Is the Administration Leaving a Promising Health Reform In the Cold?

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    When the Veterans Affairs Department implemented a program to provide home-based health care to veterans with multiple chronic conditions -- many of the system's most expensive patients to treat -- they received astounding results. The amount of hospital stays for the veterans participating in the program went down by 62 percent and the number of nursing home days went down by 88 percent. In total, the cost of providing healthcare to these chronically ill patients shrunk by nearly 25 percent.

    The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center found that a similar program instituted for a segment of the sickest Medicaid beneficiaries had similar results and not only saved Medicaid 23 percent of the cost of caring for these patients, it increased the survival rate for this group by 46 percent.

    How do these programs realize such savings? By doing a better job of caring for patients with multiple, chronic and often debilitating diseases. These are patients who regularly see multiple doctors and are in and out of emergency rooms and assisted living facilities. Instead of leaving these patients to fend for themselves, these programs send health care providers to their homes to check vital signs, organize pill bottles and coordinate the patient's overall care.

    Patients who have participated in these programs are healthier, spend less time in doctor's offices and are more able to continue aging in their own homes without burdening loved ones. And all of that saves the system money because it costs less to keep a patient healthy than it does to treat them only when they are sick.

    Given these results, Congressman Ed Markey and I thought it only made sense to create a version of the program for Medicare beneficiaries. After all, Medicare recipients with multiple chronic illnesses are among the highest-cost segment of the entire Medicare population -- making up roughly 5-8 percent of beneficiaries but accounting for more than 50 percent of total Medicare costs. If a home-based Medicare program realized even just a fraction of the other programs' success, Medicare could save a lot of money (potentially billions) while improving health outcomes for millions of seniors.

    Congressman Markey and I introduced what we called "Independence at Home" (IAH) in 2008 and we passed it into law with the help of Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus, who included it in his committee's mark of the health care law signed last year. While much of the Affordable Care Act doesn't take effect until 2014, the IAH program is scheduled to start in January 2012 as a demonstration project for 10,000 seniors.

    However, as Congress and the administration have scrambled to find new ways of saving Medicare money, we've pointed out that there is no reason Independence at Home has to start as a demonstration project. Thanks to the Veterans Affairs program and the University of Pennsylvania study, there is already demonstrable evidence that home health programs work.

    So, instead of looking for ways to cut Medicare programs and benefits, why not save Medicare money by looking for ways to skip the demonstration project and expand the Independence at Home to millions of seniors from the start? It would make sense, right?

    Apparently not. Because not only isn't the administration not looking for ways to expand Independence at Home, they aren't even taking the steps necessarily to launch the demonstration project.

    While the law says that the IAH demonstration program needs to begin next month, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- the federal agency tasked with putting this program into effect -- has yet to release guidelines for healthcare providers to sign up for the program. These guidelines were supposed to be issued months ago. Without them, providers can't apply to be a part of the program. And with only weeks left before the demonstration project is supposed to start, no one is signed up to take part.

    In other words, Independence at Home is being set up to fail.

    Last week, Rep. Markey and I sent a letter to the new Acting CMS director Marilynn Tavenner asking her to release these guidelines as soon as possible so that the program can get underway. It is our hope that with new leadership CMS will finally recognize the potential benefits of providing homes care for Medicare beneficiaries. It would be great if we could launch this program for millions of chronically ill seniors from the start, but at the very minimum, CMS should follow the law and launch the IAH demonstration program as the Affordable Care Act -- which the president signed -- requires. Seniors deserve more than cuts, they deserve an opportunity to reap the benefits of this proven approach.

  • We Can't Take the Internet for Granted

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    Today, the House Judiciary Committee will be hearing testimony related to legislation designed to combat online copyright infringement. The House Bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and the Senate version, which I have pledged to block in its current form, pursue an at-all-costs approach to policing the net that would have grave repercussions to the Internet as we know it.

    While proponents of these bills would like to paint this issue as a simple matter of being for or against intellectual property, that would be a mistake.

    Just because we believe that a free and open Internet is something worth fighting to protect, does not mean that we aren't concerned about copyright infringement or that we are somehow oblivious to the fact that unscrupulous foreign suppliers are using the net to traffic counterfeit and illegal goods. They are and Congress is right to be considering remedies to stop them and to protect the hard work of our creative industries.

    Rather, those of us who value the Internet's growing role in our society recognize that any government intervention in the online ecosystem that is the Internet can and will have a ripple effect on more than just its bad actors. Interfering in the Domain Name System (DNS) for example would undermine the net's structure and harm cybersecurity efforts. Authorizing a private right of action, for example, wouldn't just allow rights holders to use the courts to protect their intellectual property. Companies could also abuse such authority to protect out-dated business models by quashing new innovations in their infancy and discouraging less than complimentary speech.

    In other words, the wrong approach to combating infringement could fundamentally change the Internet as we know it, moving us towards a world where transactions are less secure, ideas are less accessible and starting a website wouldn't be an option for anyone who couldn't afford a lawyer.

    The Internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives precisely BECAUSE it has been an open-to-all land of opportunity where entrepreneurs, thinkers and innovators are free to try and fail. The Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other, learn about the world and conduct business, BECAUSE instead of picking winners and losers, we created a world where all ideas have an opportunity to be heard regardless of where they originate.

    As Members of Congress we can now engage with our constituents via online innovations like the Huffington Post, while a small business in rural Oregon can use the Internet to find customers around the world. And the Internet isn't just becoming the global marketplace for goods and services, it is the marketplace of ideas challenging tyranny and championing democracy. It has made lies harder to sustain, information harder to repress and injustice harder to ignore.

    But while the Internet has become a dependable part of our lives, it is essential that we not take it for granted or make assumptions about a medium that is still taking shape and that few in Congress can say they fully understand.

    Moreover, it is important to remember that the Internet we know did not happen by accident. Rather, it grew from a set of principles that we deliberately put into law during a situation not unlike the one before the committee today. 

    Over 15 years ago, when Congress first started thinking about Internet regulation the concern was protecting children from pornography. There were competing ideas and some argued that Congress should simply censor the Internet and use the government to cut off access to objectionable material.

    But a few of us saw value in letting the Internet develop free from corporate or government control. Instead of having the government censor the web, we developed an approach that would empower users and technology to address content concerns on their own. And we took the opportunity to pass a law that said that neutral parties on the net are not liable for the actions of bad actors.

    That fundamental principle enshrined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act both addressed the problem and freed innovators to pursue bold new ideas that have led to sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the Huffington Post. So now, as we again debate web censorship, let's ask ourselves: what next generation of innovations won't be realized if we backtrack on that principal now?

    Yes, the Internet needs reasonable laws and bad actors need to be pursued, but the freedoms of billions of individual Internet users should not be sacrificed in the interest of easing that pursuit. The decisions we make to police the Internet today will also govern how this relatively new medium will continue to develop and shape our world. And yes, giving moneyed interests a louder voice and a greater ability to determine what that online world will look like, would fundamentally alter the Internet which currently treats all voices as equal.

    And that's not just my opinion, venture capitalists who fund Internet start-upsthe biggest and smallest actors in the tech communitylaw professors concerned with speech, Internet technologists, security experts and mainstream and new media have all expressed concerns about the legislation that has been advancing in Congress.

    So no, the central question that Congress should be asking itself today is not whether it will pursue policies that are pro-IP or against. The question Congress should be asking is "How will the remedies it pursues to combat online infringement impact the Internet as a whole?" I'm afraid that's a question that isn't being asked enough.

    Tags:
    SOPA/PIPA
  • Congress Should Resolve Location Tracking Questions

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    Today, the Supreme Court was asked to tackle an important question: does the government need a warrant to use an electronic tracking device to secretly monitor your movements, 24 hours a day?

    It's an important question and the fact that it's reached the Supreme Court underscores the fact that the law is unclear. But it's not the only question that needs answering, and it would be a mistake to assume that the Supreme Court can or should provide all of the answers where geolocation data is concerned.

    Until relatively recently, law enforcement's ability to determine an individual's location and track their movements was largely limited to natural human powers of observation. These limitations meant that law enforcement was unlikely to dedicate the time, energy and resources necessary to follow you around twenty-four hours a day, unless they had a good reason to do so.

    But technological advances have made round-the-clock tracking of large numbers of people increasingly easy. Police departments no longer have to pay overtime or divert resources from other projects to find out where an individual goes -- all they have to do is place a tracking device on someone's car or ask a cell phone company for that individual's location history and the technology does the work for them.

    It is unclear exactly how many law enforcement agencies are currently using this capability, but it is reasonable to say that while resource limitations used to discourage the government from tracking you without a good reason, these constraints have largely disappeared. A police department, for example, might not have the resources to follow everyone that lives within a city block for a month, but they can request every resident's cell phone location history, or place tracking devices on all of the residents' cars.

    And while we all know that people might see us when we step out on the street each morning, we certainly don't expect any of those people to track all of our movements over a period of days, weeks, months or years. You can learn a lot about someone from where they've been: where they go to church, what doctors they're seeing, what political organizations they might be part of, and who they spend their time with.

    Yet while technology has made gathering all of this data rather easy, the law is unclear about who can collect and access this information and when. Existing laws and court precedents did not anticipate modern geolocation technology, and these laws have generally not been updated since 1986. Congress's failure to grapple with these issues is one of the reasons the Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in.

    But for those who are tempted to pass responsibility for this issue entirely to the Court, it is important to remember that the Supreme Court isn't being asked to decide what the best policy is for the use of geolocation data. They aren't even being asked to take a comprehensive look at the issue.

    The Supreme Court is being asked to decide the fate of Antoine Jones, who was convicted of drug conspiracy charges after federal agents used a tracking device to follow him to a house where drugs and money were kept. In all likelihood, the Court will settle the narrow question of whether or not government agents need to get a warrant before installing a tracking device on a suspect's car. And the justices may also consider whether government-installed GPS tracking devices require warrants in general. But what about all of the other questions that the Supreme Court won't be considering?

    What about the use of similar tracking devices by private citizens? A government agent may or may not have to get a warrant to track a suspect, but is it illegal for a stalker to place a tracking device on a young woman's car? Right now the law isn't clear.

    What if instead of installing a tracking device, a government agent (or a private citizen) secretly uses a person's cell phone or GPS navigation device to ascertain that person's location? Is a warrant required for that? If so, should there be different rules for real-time tracking and getting records of someone's past movements?

    More broadly, when should a cellular company give law enforcement access to a customer's geolocation records? What if instead of giving law enforcement access to its customers' location records, that cellular company wants to sell those records to another company? What are the rules then?

    These are all important questions where clear rules would benefit law enforcement and private businesses, while ensuring that individual privacy is protected.

    I'm proud to be part of a bipartisan, bicameral coalition that has proposed legislation to address these questions in a comprehensive way. You can learn more about our proposal at http://wyden.senate.gov/gpsact.

    By tackling this issue directly, Congress can provide much needed clarity for law enforcement, private businesses and individual citizens, so that the courts are not asked to weigh in again and again. Rather than waiting for future trials to determine rules that will impact every citizen, Congress should step in and write a law that takes every American's rights into consideration.

  • Is the Keystone XL Pipeline a Good Deal for Americans?

    (Note: This blog was originally posted by Senator Wyden on Huffington Post.)

    You may have seen the commercials about expanding imports of Canadian oil sands. The slick advertisements feature interviews with "regular Americans" surprised to find out that Canada is the U.S.'s number one foreign supplier of oil. The ad goes on to claim that by 2030, Canada could supply 25 percent of America's imported oil. In order to facilitate that increase, the oil industry and the U.S. and Canadian governments are pushing for the creation of an oil pipeline from the tar sands oil fields in Canada to the marketplace along the Gulf of Mexico.

    These ads want you to think that constructing this pipeline is the answer to all our oil needs, but if you look closer, a different picture begins to emerge. One that I hope will have you asking: "Who really benefits from the Keystone XL pipeline?"

    Like any business, the oil industry runs on the basic premise of supply and demand. The more supply -- the lower the price. The higher the demand -- the higher price. In other words, the more people who can buy oil, the higher the price of oil. 

    Right now, there are a limited number of customers for Canadian oil. Due to simple geography -- and without the pipeline -- it's really only cost effective for Canadian oil producers to sell their oil to North American customers, mostly American Midwesterners. This is a good deal for those of us in the U.S. because it not only gives us access to a reliable source of oil from a trusted trading partner, it helps drive down the cost of oil in the United States by adding to our available supply of oil.

    Building the Keystone XL pipeline, however, would change this.

    The KXL pipeline would make it easy and cost effective for oil producers in Canada to transport oil to the Gulf of Mexico where it could be shipped to customers -- not just in the United States -- but around the world. More customers for Canadian oil means that Canadian producers can charge more for their oil, which then means that American businesses and consumers will pay more for oil. That's a good deal for oil producers, not such a good deal for American families and businesses that need to pay for oil.

    And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Canadian oil producers view the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as an opportunity to charge more for their oil. According to TransCanada, Canadian oil shippers could use the pipeline to add up to $4 billion to U.S. fuel costs. As I indicated in a letter to the FTC earlier this year, seven Canadian oil producer have already shown signs of having colluded to raise prices on gasoline for American consumers. Testimony given during a public hearing in Canada by a representative of one of the oil companies suggests that the companies collectively agreed to accept a higher tariff on their product in order to manipulate supply levels to the U.S. Midwest and raise prices. In that April letter, I asked the FTC to investigate whether those companies illegally got together and decided to use the pipeline to raise prices, but I've yet to hear back.

    Are there oversees customers for tar sands oil? Yes. There are 1.3 billion of them in China.

    Just last week, the New York Times reported that Sinopec, a Chinese oil company owned by the Chinese government, bought Daylight Energy, a Canadian oil and natural gas producer. This is the third major acquisition of a Canadian tar sands oil company by the Chinese government in recent months.

    China -- like the United States -- needs to import oil and natural gas to meet its country's energy needs. Also, like the U.S., China recognizes that importing oil from Canada would be a lot more reliable and create a lot less foreign policy issues than, for example, importing oil from the Middle East. But, unlike the Unites States, the Chinese do not currently have a cost effective means of getting Canadian oil to China.

    Building the Keystone KXL pipeline would change that.

    Building the pipeline would make it possible for the Chinese to transport their Canadian oil across the United States to Texas where they could put it on tankers for shipment to China.

    Making it possible for the Chinese government to ship Canadian oil to China wouldn't just mean that the United States would be giving up its exclusive access to Canadian tar sands oil or that U.S. families and businesses would have to pay more for oil and gasoline or that the United States would have to import oil from countries less friendly to our foreign policy than Canada. Building the KXL pipeline would also mean that we would be helping our county's biggest global competitor -- China -- meet its energy import needs at the expense of our own. Sounds like a great deal for China, but not such a good deal for the United States.

    Due to its international implications, the Keystone XL Pipeline cannot be built without the U.S. State Department's approval. And, if recent news reports are believed, that could happen very quickly.

    The standard the State Department must consider is whether constructing the pipeline is in the United State's "national interest." To do that, the State Department needs to look beyond the potential for short-term construction jobs and the pipeline's environmental impact (which is a whole other issue) and instead consider whether giving the rest of the world access to Canadian tar sands oil is in the U.S.'s long-term strategic and economic best interests.

    Yes, building the pipeline would be good for oil producers, which is why they are paying for the commercials. And it would be good for the Chinese government, which is why they are buying the Canadian oil companies. But it's the State Department's job to decide if this pipeline is in the best interests of regular Americans who don't work for oil companies and American businesses that need oil to operate. And, from their perspective, it's not such a good deal.