Washington Watch - 10/1/18
President Trump has made the renegotiation of America’s longstanding trade agreements a top priority of his Administration, and I am encouraged by the progress that we are making on behalf of American workers. While the President is still deeply engaged in ongoing negotiations with China, Japan, Canada, and Mexico, we saw last week a final deal come together with our close friends in South Korea! This process began with a law Congress enacted in 2012, which opened up economic opportunities between our two nations, and culminated last week in a signing ceremony that updates the terms of this agreement to our mutual benefit. Free and fair trade is an important part of our plan to continue growing family paychecks and the American economy, so I look forward to finalizing even more deals in the near future.
- CNN. Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in sign trade deal
- CNBC. Trump praises trade deal with South Korea
Last week, the House took an important step forward in making permanent the many changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Even though the primary effects of the TCJA won’t be felt until next year, many of us have already seen and experienced the immediate effects of tax reform over the past nine months. With a booming economy, unemployment in Georgia has fallen substantially over the past year, and more jobs are available than there are job seekers in America, and it is undeniable that the TCJA and American workers are moving our nation in the right direction.
- Fox Business. House passes tax reform 2.0 to make cuts permanent
That said, I have long said that the TCJA is not the end all be all, nor was it intended be. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap that our predecessors did after 1986 – the last year significant reforms were made to the tax code prior to the enactment of the TCJA – as they thought their work was done, and so they largely ignored the code for the next three decades. As such, we must never stop looking for ways to make our tax code work even better for American families and businesses on a more regular basis, as well as to ensure that our tax code is dynamic enough that it can continue to bolster our growing economy and place America on a level playing field with other lower tax countries. That is why I was proud to join my House colleagues in advancing three bills to the Senate that I am confident will work to make American families, individuals, and small businesses better off and permit them to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the notable changes those bills would make, and I hope you will join me in urging the Senate to take up these bills and send them to the President’s desk.
- H.R. 6757, the “Family Savings Act of 2018,” was sponsored by Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) and has been specifically designed to allow families the opportunity to save more of their hard-earned dollars to cover life’s big events – emergencies, education, and children – as well as to set more aside for retirement.
- H.R. 6756, the “American Innovation Act of 2018,” was sponsored by Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and seeks to spur innovation and encourage entrepreneurs and start-ups to grow and expand by allowing such businesses to deduct up to $20,000 in startup and organizational expenses in the year they are incurred, with some exceptions.
- H.R. 6760, the “Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018,” was sponsored by Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) and would make permanent the tax provisions for individuals and pass-through businesses enacted by the TCJA that would otherwise sunset after 2025.
On Thursday, a bipartisan majority of the House passed FAA reauthorization legislation, which I was proud to help write as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee. This bill provides more long-term certainty for the FAA and America’s world-leading aviation community than any bill passed in more than 25 years. It does far more than simply keep our nation’s aviation systems operational—it included a number of provisions to protect consumers, enhance safety, spur job growth, and invest in better airport infrastructure which will make traveling more convenient and reliable. You can read a full summary of the bill here, but I want to highlight two parts that I was particularly focused on—certification reform and air ambulance oversight.
Regarding certification reform, we have a number of businesses in the Seventh District which I’ve had the privilege of visiting and which manufacture aviation components, and they impressed upon me the need for a more predictable regulatory structure. The way their aviation components are tested for safety and functionality can vary from region to region, generating uncertainty and needless cost overruns. Some of the larger companies even claim to have better testing equipment than the FAA does, and when the FAA agrees, the FAA is allowed to speed its approval process by including the results of these pre-approved tests in its own evaluation. This year’s FAA bill makes sure that both the federal regulators and the private companies are working collaboratively to get better products to domestic and international markets faster. We all know the federal government can never move at the speed of the private sector, so you’ll find language in Title II of this legislation that streamlines this process and makes sure that the only delays in getting our companies’ products to market are due to rigorous safety testing rather than unnecessary bureaucracy.
We also harmonize other parts of existing law to remove barriers to getting our local products to international markets, which is a win for our job creators and employers in Gwinnett, Forsyth, and throughout the State of Georgia.
Another portion I want to highlight relates to predatory behavior by a handful of air ambulance companies. I was approached by a number of folks—including local air ambulance operators, state insurance regulators, emergency medical personnel, and consumer protection advocates—who alerted me to the troubling business practices being employed by a few large corporations backed by private equity investors. The issue boils down to this: if tragedy should strike you or your family and emergency transport to a hospital via air ambulance becomes necessary, you may think your insurance would cover the bill—but you might very well be wrong. These predatory companies have hired lawyers and lobbyists to subvert and leverage a 40-year old federal law that courts have ruled regulates air ambulances like regular commercial airlines rather than ground ambulances. This means that if your insurer refuses to pay the exorbitant rate charged by an air ambulance, you could be on the hook for a six-figure bill in the midst of your recovery. Individual states have attempted to regulate these “balance billing” practices, but they have had little success given the courts deference to the federal law in question. In other words, the predatory corporations sue the state to overturn reasonable consumer protection laws, and they usually win. This is outrageous, and I worked for months to craft language that will provide more oversight, more transparency, and tougher enforcement to end these unfair and deceptive practices. You can read a deep dive into this problem right here, and you can read the specific language I wrote in the bill right here (Sections 418, 419, 420, and 424).
This bill now goes to the Senate, where I will expect it will pass in the near future and be presented to the President for his final signature!
Earlier this month, small business optimism reached a historic high, and it’s no wonder given our continued economic growth, record number of job openings, and low unemployment. This is in no small part due to the work we have done here in Congress to encourage that growth and incentivize businesses to continue investing in themselves and their employees through regulatory reform and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, among others. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) recognized this work at a ceremony last week where I was honored to receive the Guardian of Small Business Award from Juanita Duggan, the President and CEO of NFIB.
I have always said that jobs aren’t created in Washington; they’re created by small business owners in our communities back home. Those owners deserve an environment that allows them to flourish, providing good, meaningful employment to their workers and the best services to their customers. I’m proud of the work I have been able to accomplish with my colleagues here in the House, and, for as long as you entrust me with your voting card, I commit to you that I will continue my efforts to provide businesses with the tools they need to grow today and into the future.
Rep. Rob Woodall receives the Guardian of Small Business Award from Juanita Duggan, President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business
As you may have heard, Congress last week worked across the aisle to pass another package of FY2019 Appropriations bills – H.R. 6157, the “Department of Defense and Labor (DoD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act.” Passage of H.R. 6157, in addition to the three appropriations bills President Trump signed into law earlier this month, marks the first time since 2007 that Congress has sent multiple appropriations bills to the President’s desk prior to the end of the fiscal year. Building on the American people’s priorities that Congress supported in the first package, H.R. 6157 funds vital Department of Defense activities along with critical Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services programs. More so, the bill gives Congress until December 7th to continue work on the remaining Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriation bills.
On the defense side, H.R. 6157 provides $674 billion in total funding, consistent with the levels established by the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Congress overwhelmingly. Congress provided a 2.6% pay raise for the military in addition to $243 billion for key readiness programs to ensure our servicemen and women are prepared for every mission. Looking at the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education portion of the bill, I am proud that Congress retained many longstanding pro-life provisions, boosted funding for the National Institutes of Health to $39 billion, provided money to increase students’ safety and well-being in schools, and included more money to help veterans transition back into the workforce, just to name a few of the many notable provisions.
- Wall Street Journal. House Passes Spending Bill to Avert Shutdown
With employment prospects in nearly every job sector you can think of, Georgia’s Seventh District is full of a wide range of opportunities. This week I want to highlight and share my support for one of those groups of workers: federal employees.
There are over 7,000 federal employees here in the Seventh working at federal agencies and departments ranging from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to the U.S. Postal Service, the CDC, and the Social Security Administration. Each of them perform the daily essential tasks of keeping our government running and serving its citizens. I truly admire all those who choose to work in the federal government and dedicate themselves to serving the public, and it’s an honor to work shoulder to shoulder with many of them every day. That said, as an employee of the federal government, they are under more scrutiny and are entrusted with the responsible use of American taxpayer dollars.
You can read below about what some of our neighbors have written in about federal employees:
Cheryl from Lawrenceville:
Every member of Congress should support the MERIT Act, which would expedite the removal of federal employees who have engaged in misconduct or are simply not performing, while limiting appeals to 30 days. Under current law it can take multiple years to remove an employee. A system that was initially designed to stop political manipulation of the civil service has become an unhealthy protection of bad behavior.
Many Americans wonder how civil servants at the Justice Department who abused their power still have their jobs. The reason is because of antiquated civil service protections. Congress has already managed to reform this problem at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it’s working, now it needs to be allowed to work for all the other departments and agencies to hold federal employees accountable for their actions.
Michael from Suwanee:
As a federal employee in your congressional district, I am writing to ask you to provide federal employees with a pay increase for calendar year 2019.
Amidst a recovering economy and healthy private-sector job market, federal employees should receive fair pay. Human resource consultancies are reporting that the average private-sector pay increase in 2018 is 3 percent. In recent years, the federal workforce has endured multi-year pay freezes as well as several years of below-market pay raises. The President has also proposed a pay freeze for 2019. Federal employees, like all other Americans, face rising food, utility, college, and health care costs. They live and work in every district across the country, and proudly serve the American public, ensuring that our federal agencies are open and ready for business. Given the President's proposal, it is imperative that Congress act to provide a pay raise for federal workers for 2019. Representative Connolly (D-VA) has introduced the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) pay H.R. 4775 calling for a 3 percent adjustment for 2019 for federal workers covered by the General Schedule and Wage Grade systems.
Please show your support for federal employees and their families in your district by supporting a pay increase for federal workers in 2019 and cosponsoring H.R. 4775. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.
Shari from Buford:
What is being done to cut waste in federal agencies and remove federal employees who think they have a job for life despite their performance?
Amanda from Lawrenceville:
Please pass a 1.9% pay increase for federal workers! They deserve a pay raise.
In the words of President George H.W. Bush, “public service is a noble calling,” and you will find federal employees at every level of government working tirelessly to make our country a better place. But as you can see, people view federal employees through different lenses. It is unquestioned that federal employees make sacrifices on behalf of the American people, but too often we have seen both reports of abuse and waste as Cheryl and Shari describe and reports that show government employees are receiving better salaries, better benefits, and more job security than those in the private sector. A 2017 Congressional Budget Office report found that, overall, “the federal government paid 17 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with that in the private sector.” It is no wonder that constituents like Cheryl and Shari expect the highest performance from our federal employees, and so do I.
That is why I have concerns about supporting a bill like H.R. 4775, the “FAIR Act,” that Michael references, that automatically provides raises to every current federal employee without regard to merit or any other performance related factor. To me, it seems like it would be unfair that the employees who work the hardest and accomplish the most are treated the same as underperformers by H.R. 4775. I do want federal employees to be financially rewarded, but based on their merit, not their longevity.
As Michael said, the President did propose a pay freeze in his budget aimed at aligning federal pay more closely with the private-sector. Inflation does erode the value of a salary, so I hope Michael and Amanda will be pleased that the funding bill that Congress just passed maintains the 1.9% COLA from the year prior. That provision of the funding bill will remain in effect until early December while Congress continues to debate the last of the FY19 appropriations. But during that time, I expect more discussion on how we can reward those in public service who go above and beyond every day, while also holding accountable those who fail to meet the expectations of the American people.
Besides pay, both Congress and the President have taken steps to ensure that our federal employees are indeed serving the American people. Congress has passed bills like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 that allows the Secretary of the VA to more easily remove employees who do not adequately serve our veterans. As a result, the VA has removed nearly 2,000 employees this year.
The horror stories we have all heard from the VA represent some of the worst abuse and waste, and I was proud to support the bipartisan VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to put an end to it. Since he entered office, the President has made it known that he would take major steps to bring accountability to federal employees, and he has. Through a number of Executive Orders, he put a freeze on federal hires early on in his term, and he has placed an increased emphasis on the merit system that holds employees accountable for performance and conduct.
Again, I want to echo the words of President George H.W. Bush that those who dedicate themselves to serving our country are remarkable people, and you can count on me to support them in that effort. Accountability ensures that we can reward true public servants while terminating those who refuse to give American taxpayers their money’s worth.
When I have the opportunity to visit with young people in high schools across the Seventh District, I’m struck by their intelligence and commitment to excelling not only in school, but beyond. That dedication is innate in many cases, but also taught and nurtured in our community. Whether parents, mentors, teachers, and more, we invest in our young people; and that matters. Having the highest high school graduation rate in metro Atlanta is a wonderful accomplishment for the folks in Forsyth County working so hard to educate the next generation, but it’s representative of a much deeper principle, and reflective of our character. We know that with a top-notch education, the sky is the limit for each of these students. That starts here at home, and follows them to future jobs, families, and careers. It pays dividends in so many ways, but most importantly, in each individual’s life. It’s easy to take for granted the remarkable characteristics of where we call home, but none of them happened by accident. The approach we have taken with education is no different. When I carry the Seventh District’s message of local decision-making and leadership in our schools to Capitol Hill, it isn’t just a political philosophy, it’s a proven record of success in a thriving community for others to emulate.
- Forsyth County News. Forsyth County Schools tout top graduation rate in metro area
Although the summer temperatures have not left us just yet, the calendar now tells us that fall is here, and it sure looked like it Duluth last Saturday! If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll be able to make it out to some of the wonderful community events coming up this season. One of those celebrations did indeed take place this past weekend with another successful Duluth Fall Festival that I was pleased to be able to join. Returning home to see friends and neighbors is always a highlight, but to share in the 36th annual Duluth Fall Festival was a great way to wrap-up a very productive month in Washington. To all those who were in attendance, I’m sure you had as much fun as I did, and for those who couldn’t make it, I hope to see you soon. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at my local office at (770) 232-3005!
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Duluth Fall Festival back again, promising food, fun and vendors
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Photos: Duluth Fall Festival
The House completed its work last week, passing bipartisan pieces of legislation to combat opioids, reauthorize the FAA, fund the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and ensuring that individual Americans see even greater rewards from another round of critically important tax cuts. Now, the Senate will continue its work on some of those pieces of legislation, as well as on the most publicized issue of last week, the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. I know this event has sparked much discussion between friends and families in the past week, and I have no doubt that the discussions will continue as the Senate moves forward with its Constitutional role of providing advice and consent.
Member of Congress