ESTABLISHING SAFEGUARDS FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, convened a hearing titled, “Oversight of AI: Rules for Artificial Intelligence.” The hearing, featuring OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, IBM Chief Privacy & Trust Officer Christina Montgomery, and NYU Professor Gary Marcus as witnesses, was the beginning of an effort to, “write the rules of AI,” said Blumenthal.
In his opening remarks, Blumenthal played an AI-generated audio recording that mimicked his voice and read a ChatGPT-generated script about the hearing.
“If you were listening from home, you might have thought that voice was mine and the words from me, but…the audio was an AI voice cloning software trained on my floor speeches. The remarks were written by ChatGPT when it was asked how I would open this hearing, and you heard just now the result,” said Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said the rapid advancement of AI shows that, “we are on the verge really of a new era,” while warning that the technology is, “no longer fantasies of science fiction.” While AI holds great promise for the future when it comes to curing diseases and developing new understandings of science, Blumenthal warned of the potential harms, including weaponized disinformation, housing discrimination, the harassment of women and impersonation fraud, voice cloning, and deep fakes.
“These are the potential risks despite the other rewards and for me, perhaps the biggest nightmare is the looming new industrial revolution. The displacement of millions of workers, the loss of huge numbers of jobs, the need to prepare for this new industrial revolution in skill training and relocation that may be required,” said Blumenthal.
Blumenthal called on Congress to address these new challenges, saying, “We need to maximize the good over the bad. Congress has a choice now. We had the same choice when we faced social media. We failed to seize that moment…Now we have the obligation to do it on AI before the threats and the risks become real.”
Specifically, Blumenthal said efforts should begin by focusing on transparency, limitations on use, and accountability. Blumenthal said, “AI companies ought to be required to test their systems, disclose known risks, and allow independent researcher access,” and that, “we ought to impose restrictions, or even ban their use, especially when it comes to commercial invasions of privacy for profit and decisions that affect people’s livelihoods.”
Blumenthal concluded by stressing the importance of adapting Section 230 so that when companies or clients of AI cause harm, “they should be held liable…be responsible for the ramification of their business decisions.”
“The AI industry doesn’t have to wait for Congress,” Blumenthal continued. “I’m hoping that we’ll elevate rather than have a race to the bottom. And I think these hearings will be an important part of this conversation.”
Blumenthal asked Altman about the importance of ensuring AI’s accuracy, citing ChatGPT and Bard’s ability to answer questions about life or death matters.
“I'm interested in how we can add reliable information about the accuracy and trustworthiness of these models and how we can create competition and consumer disclosures that will reward greater accuracy,” said Blumenthal. “Should we consider independent testing labs to provide scorecards and nutrition labels, or the equivalent of nutrition labels, packaging, that indicates to people whether or not the content can be trusted, what the ingredients are?”
“I think that's a great idea. I think that companies should put their own sort of, you know, here the results of our test of our model before we release it, here's where it has weaknesses, here's where it's has strengths,” Altman responded. “But also independent audits for that are very important.”
Blumenthal stressed his concerns about the impact AI may have on jobs and the broader economy, asking Altman about how the technology could impact the future.
“Like with all technological revolutions, I expect there to be significant impact on jobs. But exactly what that impact looks like, it's very difficult to predict,” said Altman, who stated that AI will help improve people’s jobs and efficiency. “GPT4 will, I think, entirely automate away some jobs, and it will create new ones that we believe will be much better…So there will be an impact on jobs. We try to be very clear about that. And I think it will require partnership between the industry and government, but mostly action by government to figure out how we want to mitigate that.”
Christina Montgomery, Vice President and Chief Privacy and Trust Officer at IBM, added, “It’s going to change every job. New jobs will be created. Many more jobs will be transformed and some jobs will transition away,” she said. “I think the most important thing that we could be doing and can and should be doing now is to prepare the workforce of today and the workforce of tomorrow for partnering with AI technologies and using them.”
Gary Marcus, Professor Emeritus at New York University, shared Blumenthal’s concerns and said, “I think in the long run, so called artificial general intelligence really will replace a large fraction of human jobs.”
Blumenthal asked Altman about OpenAI’s efforts to protect users’ privacy and data.
“What specific steps do you take to protect privacy?” asked Blumenthal.
“We don’t train on any data submitted to our API. So if you’re a business customer of ours and submit data, we don’t train on it at all,” said Altman. “If you use Chat GPT, you can opt out of us training on your data; you can also delete your conversation history or your whole account.”
Blumenthal concluded by asking Altman, “what your biggest nightmare is?” when it comes to AI and how we can avoid unintended consequences of the evolving technology.
“My worst fears are that we cause significant, we the field, the technology, the industry, cause significant harm to the world,” said Altman. “I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong. And we want to be vocal about that. We want to work with the government to prevent that from happening. But we try to be very clear-eyed about what the downside case is and the work that we have to do to mitigate that.”
INVESTIGATING DELAYS & DENIALS OF CARE IN MEDICARE ADVANTAGE
— Blumenthal, Chair of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), convened a hearing on how seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans face barriers accessing necessary care.
“Many seniors are very happy with Medicare Advantage and want to continue with them, but the reason we’re here today is that all too often the big insurance companies that run Medicare Advantage plans have been failing seniors when they need treatment and care,” Blumenthal began.
Medicare Advantage plan enrollees represent more than 30 million Americans, roughly half of all Medicare-eligible seniors. In April 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) issued a report which found Medicare Advantage insurers have denied some coverage or payment for services that would have been covered under the traditional Medicare.
“Tragically, we’ve heard from many families who faced denials in the middle of major medical crises, forcing them and their loved ones to fight even as they are fighting for their lives,” Blumenthal said. “And the fight for insurance coverage is detracting from the fight for their health. And perhaps most troubling of all, there is growing evidence that insurance companies are relying on algorithms rather than doctors or other clinicians to make decisions to deny patient care.”
PSI sent bipartisan letters to the three largest insurers in the Medicare Advantage program – UnitedHealth, Humana, and CVS Aetna – seeking additional information to determine the full extent of coverage delays and denials. “We’re asking for internal documents that will show how decisions are made to grant or deny access to care, including how they are using AI,” Blumenthal said. “Our nation’s seniors should not have to fight to receive medically necessary care.”
Blumenthal also heard from Gloria Bent, a resident of Connecticut, who shared testimony about her firsthand experience facing those barriers to care after her husband’s Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Melanoma returned.
After hearing Gloria’s story, Blumenthal said, “It is a system that is failing people like yourself and your husband and your entire family because, as you put it so well, the trauma hit not just your husband, but your entire family.”
Blumenthal described how decisions made by Medicare Advantage insurers are reportedly driven by algorithms and often lead to denied requests for care, saying, “naviHealth actually relies on algorithms, not on a clinician’s review, not on a physician or a surgeon examining the medical records of your husband, but on an algorithm. And in fact, a lot of money has been made as a result of selling naviHealth and its system from one company to another.”
Blumenthal noted that one study showed that out of 35 million Medicare Advantage requests in 2021, 2 million were denied completely, but out of the small number of denials that were appealed, 80% were granted, showing, “the vast majority of appeals were found meritorious, but only a small percentage had the wherewithal, the patience, the time, the resources, or the simple fortitude in the face of this battlefield, as Ms. Bent has described it, to actually take it to an appeal.”
Jeannie Fugelsten Biniek, the Associate Director of Medicare Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, echoed these findings, stating, “We looked across insurers and this was consistent across nearly every insurance firm that offers Medicare Advantage plans. They overturned the vast majority of their initial decisions upon appeal.”
Christine Huberty of the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources emphasized the burden of the appeals process, saying, “You have people who are vulnerable, sick, and ill trying to recover and get back home. They are getting appeals thrown at them, not knowing what they’re signing or what is being asked of them…Even if you are successful in an appeal, you can expect another denial in a matter of days and that review will continue every three days.”
“This should not be happening to families and patients. It’s cruel,” said Gloria.
FIGHTING FOR TICKETING INDUSTRY REFORMS
— Blumenthal joined Connecticut Taylor Swift fans to announce new legislation to improve competition in live event ticketing markets ahead of the pop star’s Boston and New York Eras Tour stops. Today’s primary ticketing market is dominated by one company that by some estimates has locked up 70 to 80 percent market share and has used its dominance to pressure venues to agree to ticketing contracts that last up to ten years, increasing costs for fans, locking out competitors, and decreasing incentives to innovate new services.
“I feel for Swifties who were shut out because of Ticketmaster’s meltdown. This monopolistic mess is emblematic of an industry that locks out competition by locking in venues. Ahead of tour stops in MA & NJ, I’m joined by fans to announce the Unlock Ticketing Markets Act.”
The Unlock Ticketing Markets Act would help restore competition to live event ticketing markets by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to prevent the use of excessively long multi-year exclusive contracts.
In November 2022, when pre-sale ticket orders for the pop star’s first tour in 4 years opened online, Swift fans encountered Ticketmaster site crashes, hours long wait times, fluctuating ticket prices and other disruptions. Ticketmaster customers not purchasing tickets to the Taylor Swift tour were also unable to access the site for refunds and ticket purchases.
Blumenthal has long called for scrutiny of ticketing giant Ticketmaster, whose near monopoly on ticket sales for live events hurts consumers by driving up prices, stifling innovation and leaving concertgoers with no alternative options to purchase tickets.
PROTECTING REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in asking for unanimous consent requests on the Senate floor to confirm military nominations that are being blocked by Senate Republicans, led by Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). Tuberville has blocked over 230 military nominations in an effort to prevent the Department of Defense from adopting a policy that would allow service members to take leave in order to access reproductive healthcare. Blumenthal, Duckworth, Hirono and Bennet released the statement below:
“Senator Tuberville is placing his personal beliefs over our nation’s security. Instead of supporting service members and their families, he is harming our military readiness and blocking the well-deserved promotions of hundreds of senior military leaders. Not content with stripping rights away from women seeking access to reproductive care, he is attacking the men and women in uniform who defend his rights every day. He is undermining our national defense by placing a hold on senior positions that are responsible for keeping our nation safe. Upset that the Department of Defense enacted a policy to protect and care for military families, Senator Tuberville, with little opposition from members of his own party, is treating service members as a bargaining chip against DoD. Our service members deserve better and they’ve earned better. Senator Tuberville and Senate Republicans must put their extreme personal agendas aside. Until that happens, we won’t stop protecting the rights of those who protect us.”
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), along with U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ami Bera, MD (D-CA) in reintroducing their bicameral Affordability is Access Act. The legislation would ensure that once the FDA determines an over-the-counter birth control option to be safe, insurers fully cover over-the-counter birth control without any fees or out-of-pocket costs. The introduction comes after the FDA Advisory Committee’s unanimous vote last week recommending that FDA move forward to approve the first-ever application for over-the-counter birth control.
CALLING ON CONGRESS TO PASS THE SEAMAN XAVIER SANDOR SUPPORT FOR SAILORS ACT
— Blumenthal released the following statement on the U.S. Navy’s announcement that intends to take steps to improve quality of life for sailors following the tragic suicide deaths of three sailors aboard the USS George Washington, including Connecticut’s Master of Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Sandor:
“This action vindicates the brave and painful battle the Sandor family has waged to prevent the Navy from failing more Sailors as tragically as it did their son Xavier. These administrative steps are a good beginning but by no means the end of properly serving our Sailors while they serve and sacrifice for us. As the result of our persistent pressure, the Navy’s leadership has adopted steps mandated in our legislation for better housing and mental health care, but I will continue with legislative efforts to ensure these promises are kept. I will work to make our legislation part of the next National Defense Authorization Act so that the Basic Allowance for Housing is provided to Sailors when their ships are overhauled, and that mental health care is available from professionally qualified personnel. I am deeply grateful to the Sandor family for their unwavering advocacy to ensure no one has to experience what Xavier did,” said Blumenthal.
Last week, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) introduced the Seaman Xavier Sandor Support for Sailors Act to improve living conditions and mental health support for junior U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to ships undergoing extended maintenance overhauls. In April, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Blumenthal questioned Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday, USN, on what steps are being taken to prevent deaths by suicide aboard the USS George Washington. In January, Blumenthal and Murphy sent a letter calling on the Navy to reform requirements governing the shipyard lives of sailors.
PREVENTING HOT CAR DEATHS
— Blumenthal joined Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, the mother of a Ridgefield toddler who died in a hot car incident in 2014, to warn of the dangers of hot cars and urge detection technology be installed in new vehicles to reduce the likelihood of these preventable tragedies.
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz released her debut memoir, The Gift of Ben: Loving through Imperfection, on May 2, 2023. The book chronicles the aftermath of her son Benjamin’s death and the emotional journey and legal battles that followed.
Tragically, over 1,050 children have died in hot cars since 1990, and at least 7,300 survived with varying types and severity of injuries, according to data collected by Kids and Car Safety. Connecticut totaled seven hot car deaths from 1997 to 2018. With temperatures rising, the risk becomes even greater.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021, includes provisions from Blumenthal’s Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seat Act (HOT CARS) Act that require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a final rule requiring new vehicles be equipped with an alert for drivers to check the rear seat after turning off the engine. Blumenthal urged DOT to issue a final rule before the November 2023 deadline.
PROTECTING AT-RISK WILDLIFE
— Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced the Extinction Prevention Act, legislation to provide much-needed funding for some of the country’s most imperiled yet vastly underfunded wildlife species, including threatened and endangered North American butterflies, various Pacific Island plants, freshwater mussels, and Southwest desert fish. Blumenthal announced the measure during an event at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo to mark the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.
“This legislation recognizes that saving wildlife from extinction requires more than just rhetoric—real resources are essential,” said Blumenthal. “Endangered species and their habitats can be sustained, but only if we back words with action.”
The Extinction Prevention Act addresses the longstanding issue of insufficient funding which has plagued efforts to recover these at-risk species, in some cases, for decades. It authorizes $5 million annually for each species group to fund conservation projects related to restoration, protection, and management of ecosystems, research and monitoring of populations, development and implementation of management plans, enforcement and implementation of applicable conservation laws, and community outreach and education.
AVOIDING A DEBT DEFAULT
— As Congressional Republicans demand major cuts that would cause incalculable damage to the lives of working Americans, Blumenthal joined 10 of his Democratic colleagues in sending a letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to prepare to invoke the 14th Amendment to avoid a catastrophic debt default.
“Republicans’ unwillingness to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, along with their diminishment of the disastrous consequences of default have made it seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time,” the senators wrote. “We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned.’”
INCREASING DIVERSITY IN SCHOOLS
— Blumenthal and Murphy joined U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Alex Padilla (D- CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in reintroducing the Strength in Diversity Act on the 69th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision. This legislation would promote diversity in schools through a federal grant program to support voluntary, community-driven strategies.
“A child’s zip code or socioeconomic background should not determine their educational future. Strengthening diversity in our schools will give students an equal opportunity to learn and succeed. Our legislation is an investment in our children – opening countless doors, unlocking their unlimited potential, and addressing the historic inequities plaguing our educational system,” said Blumenthal.
Specifically, the bill would develop evidence-based plans to address socioeconomic and racial isolation, revise school boundaries, recruit, hire, and train new teachers, and expand equitable access to transportation for students.
ANNOUNCING THE FIRST-EVER REGIONAL INNOVATION ENGINE PROGRAM AWARD
— Blumenthal joined members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation in announcing that a collection of Connecticut stakeholders led by the University of Connecticut and including Yale University, municipal leaders, the state of Connecticut, workforce development agencies, and private sector partners has received an award through the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Regional Innovation Engines program.
This collective will receive $1 million in federal funding from the CHIPS and Science Act. This award is focused on making Connecticut the nation’s accelerator for quantum technologies and a leader in advancements in manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and finance. At the end of this two-year development award, the collective will be able to apply for additional funding to become an NSF Engine. The NSF Engines program aims to leverage regional assets to advance critical technologies, cultivate public-private partnerships, foster regional talent, and promote economic growth.
“Earning this designation as a NSF Engine will create good-paying jobs, foster innovation, and bring new federal investment to our state. The CHIPS and Science Act was designed to supercharge the next generation of domestic manufacturing. We are proud that Connecticut will continue to play an important role in maintaining America’s competitive edge,” the Members said.
SUPPORTING CONNECTICUT’S URBAN FARMERS
— Blumenthal joined the Connecticut congressional delegation in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting the Department create an Urban Service Center in Connecticut to provide technical assistance and federal support to the state’s growing number of urban farmers. Since 2020, the state of Connecticut has received seven grants through the Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production program, which have supported urban agriculture programs in places like New Haven, Hartford, Thompson, and Waterbury.
“These Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production grants have been transformational for communities in our state, but a need for technical assistance and federal support still remains. Our urban farmers report challenges accessing assistance through traditional USDA channels like the Farm Service Agency or Natural Resource Conservation Service offices. Additionally, because urban farms are often very small operations, urban farmers frequently need technical assistance to complete projects. Opening an Urban Service Center would support urban farmers throughout the state, helping them receive better access to USDA staff and desperately-needed targeted support,” the members wrote.
The members continued: “In Connecticut, urban agriculture is serving the nutritional needs of some of the poorest communities in our state and is helping to provide fresh produce to families and individuals living in food deserts. However, this expansion needs comprehensive support in order to retain these new farming enterprises. For these reasons, we urge USDA to open and maintain and Urban Service Center in Connecticut to serve urban producers from every corner of our state and the southern New England region as a whole.”
GUARANTEEING HEALTH CARE & PAID SICK LEAVE FOR ALL AMERICANS
— At a time when more than 1 million people in the United States have lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic – at least one third of which have been linked to lack of health insurance – and 15 million Americans are at risk of losing Medicaid coverage, Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and 14 of their colleagues in the Senate and more than 110 in the House of Representatives to reintroduce the Medicare for All Act, historic legislation that would guarantee health care as a fundamental human right to all people in the U.S. regardless of income or background.
“Health care should be a right for all, not a luxury for some,” said Blumenthal. “In the United States of America, millions of Americans go to sleep at night worried about a procedure they can’t access or a treatment their family can’t afford. Our status quo is unacceptable. Regardless of age, income, or zip-code, access to quality, timely medical care should be guaranteed for all who need it. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this landmark legislation.”
— Blumenthal joined Sanders, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and 42 of their colleagues in the Senate and 80 in the House of Representatives, in introducing legislation that would ensure the United States finally joins virtually every other major country on Earth in guaranteeing paid sick leave to its workers.
Today, the U.S. remains one of the only two major countries in the world that does not provide paid time off for short-term illnesses nor paid leave for family and medical needs and emergencies. Currently, 34 million workers lack any paid sick time at all – including 25 percent of the private sector workforce and 9 percent of the public sector workforce. Things are worse for low-income workers and households, reaching a breaking point for millions of Americans during the pandemic. In addition, nearly one in four employed mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth and one in five retirees have left the workforce earlier than planned to care for an ill family member. It is estimated that more than 2 million women left the U.S. workforce since the start of the pandemic, many forced to leave to care for their family.
The Healthy Families Act of 2023 would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care to a sick family member, or attend school meetings related to a child’s health condition or disability.
PROTECTING PARENTS & INFANT HEALTH FROM CLIMATE CHANGE
— Blumenthal joined U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL) in reintroduced the Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act, legislation to address climate change risks to pregnant and postpartum people and their infants.
— Blumenthal joined an event hosted by Greater Middletown Community Aid for Ukraine.
“Proud to join Greater Middletown Community Aid for Ukraine in rallying support for brave, fierce resistance to Putin’s crimes against humanity, & threat to American security. Songs, speeches, salt & bread show our solidarity.”