Washington Watch - 11/25/19
If you’ve watched D.C. news at all this past week, you’re certainly aware of the continued circus-like impeachment hearings in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Intel Committee). Nine witnesses were called by Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to testify over three days last week. Sadly, after dozens of hours of testimony, questions and commentary, I’m haven’t seen many minds changed. Those who support President Trump came to one conclusion, and those who oppose him came to a very different conclusion about what the hearings have revealed.
Taking away media chatter and condensing the testimony to its most basic elements, however, we’ve learned that U.S. government officials who were on the July phone call—and some who were not—between President Trump and President Zelensky had different views about what the call meant and whether it was or was not concerning. We also learned that instead of one, unified foreign policy toward Ukraine being carried out by U.S. government officials, there were clearly high-level officials inside the White House, the State Department, the Department of Energy, the National Security Council, and more, including some folks from outside the government entirely, working at cross purposes, or at the very least, not in concert with each other. Ensuring the stability of a strong, prosperous, free Ukraine is important for the United States, and anything that undermines this is misguided foreign policy. Such a misguided policy would harm our credibility with our foreign allies and play directly into the hands of the Russian government. Clearly, such an outcome is undesirable, but not impeachable.
On Capitol Hill, throughout this process, both sides of the aisle have been sniping at each other, and that has soured the working relationship necessary to get the people’s business done on a whole host of issues. It poisons the well of goodwill and bipartisanship that we need to pass critical legislation like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, the National Defense Authorization Act, the 12 annual appropriations bills for FY20, prescription drug legislation, hospital surprise billing legislation, and much more. There is real work to be done in America, and it isn’t getting done because the two sides are so focused on tearing each other down and setting themselves up for the next election season.
Last week Congress passed, and the President signed, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the federal government through December 20th before the previous CR expired at the end of November 21st. It has been nearly two months since the Fiscal Year 2020 started, yet, Congress has yet to pass the twelve appropriations bills necessary to fund the federal government. The appropriations process is essential to funding priorities, defunding old programs, and providing certainty not only to the federal government but anyone who does business or interacts with it. Governing through CRs and failing to provide stable funding hinders our ability to govern, protect our country, and serve the American people. It is past time that we finalized the appropriations process for the fiscal year we are already in, and I call on my colleagues in both the House and Senate to work to that end.
- NPR. Trump Signs Short-Term Spending Bill, Averting Government Shutdown
- CNN. Trump signs short-term funding bill to avert shutdown as deadline looms
- Roll Call: Trump signs stopgap bill, fending off shutdown for now
With publicly-held debt at $17 trillion today and projections of its growth to $96 trillion by 2049, it is clear that our nation’s debt is unsustainable. As we accumulate this debt, our spending on interest payments towards that debt also rises, reducing the federal government’s capacity to invest in vital programs like healthcare, defense, and education. It is clear that our nation is facing a fiscal crisis, but what can we do to change this trajectory?
Last week, the House Budget Committee held a hearing entitled “Reexamining the Economic Costs of Debt,” to identify drivers of our national deficit and discover ways Congress can act to correct our current course. While our witnesses came from varied schools of economic thought – from traditional, conservative backgrounds to subscribers to Modern Monetary Theory – we were all able to come to the conclusion that debt does, in fact, matter.
I had a chance to speak with our panel about their thoughts on how we could all come together and find a bipartisan path forward. If you’d like to hear my questions and the thoughts from our witnesses, click on the photo below.
Rep. Woodall speaks to witnesses at the House Budget Committee hearing “Reexamining the Economic Costs of Debt”
- The Fiscal Times. Does the Deficit Matter? Congress Asks Four Top Economists
With five impeachment hearings and more than twice as many witnesses being brought before the House Intelligence Committee in the past two weeks, it has been a whirlwind of activity on Capitol Hill. Though the focus, I’m afraid, has been devoted more to political theatrics and producing soundbites about the President rather than advancing good public policy. Of course, enacting any meaningful reform takes time – from understanding the issue at hand, to crafting legislation to address that issue, to garnering support from Members to move that bill forward. But as we all know, that mission is much more difficult to achieve when politics takes precedence. There is an opportunity this Congress to work together to move those good ideas that have broad support and advancing bills under “suspension of the rules” allows us to do just that. This vehicle allows bipartisan, largely agreed-upon legislation to be considered and moved forward in an expedited manner, and two-thirds of Representatives must vote in favor of these bills to pass. In fact, this method is most commonly used to bring resolutions and bills to the House floor. You can find this week’s suspension bills HERE.
While some of those suspension bills included things as noncontroversial as renaming a national monument or authorizing the exchange of certain federal lands, the House also came together to pass several substantial policy items. These included H.R. 737, the “Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act” which prohibits, the purchase, possession, or sell, of shark fins — better positioning the U.S. as a leader in denouncing this harmful trade that has led to the significant decline of certain shark populations. Additionally, the House passed two bills brought over from the Senate – S. 1838 and S. 2710 that would, collectively, impose sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong and prohibit commercial exports of certain crowd control weapons to Hong Kong Police. As you may remember, the House passed similar items related to Hong Kong earlier this year, but with nearly unanimous support as shown by the House’s vote this week, these bills will now be sent to the President’s desk. I know we all want Congress to get back in the business of legislating, and I expect more items like these to be brought up on the suspension calendar by the end of the year.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held its sixth full committee markup last week, and while most all bills the Committee has marked up over the course of this year have passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, last week’s markup was an outlier. That’s because the majority of votes the Committee took, on both amendments and final passage of bills, were made along party lines.
As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, one big ticket item on the Committee’s agenda is to pass legislation that reauthorizes the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Congress last reauthorized PHMSA in 2016 with passage of the PIPES Act, and for decades, reauthorization of PHMSA has always been done in a bipartisan manner as a stand-alone bill. However, this year’s reauthorization process has changed.
In the House, there were reports that Democrats and Republicans had negotiated a consensus bill earlier in the year to reauthorize the agency before it was set to expire on September 30th, but those conversations fell through and my Democratic colleagues decided to put forward their own bill – H.R. 5120 – which consists of partisan policies that could jeopardize the integrity of pipelines and facilities. In response, the Republicans under the leadership of Sam Graves (R-MO) and Rick Crawford (R-AR) put forward a bill primarily made up of the provisions the two sides had agreed to earlier in the year, H.R. 5175, and introduced it as an amendment to the Democrat’s bill during the markup. H.R. 5175 is a safety-focused bill that would ensure PHMSA can meet the needs of today’s pipeline operators and workers. Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues struck down the consensus bill and moved forward with their partisan proposal.
More than 20 amendments were offered at the markup to make changes to the Democratic bill, but only seven amendments were agreed to. I offered an amendment to require PHMSA to standardize welding procedures by establishing alternative minimum requirements for such procedures that operators and contractors may adopt. My amendment would fix the issue of operators and contractors having to requalify welding procedures – procedures that I understand to be largely standard practice across the gas industry already. Given the shortened time frame for considering this bill, we didn’t have time to work through all those issues. As such, I withdrew my amendment, and in turn, I received a commitment from the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), that he’d work with me in a bipartisan manner to craft a sound policy outcome that all interested parties can rally behind. The Democratic PHMSA reauthorization bill reported out of the Committee is not the end all be all, and I am hopeful that I can work with my Democratic colleagues as these important negotiations continue. In addition to H.R. 5120, the Committee also marked up and reported the following bills put forth by the Chairman:
- H.R. 5047, the “GSA Lease Transparency Act of 2019” aims to obtain information regarding the Old Post Office Building, which is currently occupied by the Trump Hotel. This bill was nothing more than a partisan attempt to attack the President, and in doing so, could have a potentially chilling effect on the federal government’s ability to lease underutilized space. H.R. 5047 passed by a vote of 33 to 22.
- H.R. 5139, the “Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act” seeks to prevent incidents of sexual assault and harassment across transportation sectors. A Republican amendment to expand these policies to the entire for-hire vehicle industry, not just Uber and Lyft, was agreed to and the amended bill passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. As I’ve discussed before, ensuring the safety of both transportation workers and passengers is not a Republican or Democratic ideal, and so I was pleased to see this bill move forward.
- H.R. 5119, the “Safe Aircraft Maintenance Standards Act” attempts to improve aviation maintenance safety standards abroad. I do not disagree with the notion that we must ensure FAA certified repair stations abroad are up to par and that mechanics working on planes carrying American passengers are using top-notch safety methods. However, in attempting to strengthen the FAA’s role, the bill would impose U.S. laws on foreign countries in a manner that extends beyond the FAAs authority. The Republicans offered an amendment to address such concerns and bolster safety, but unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues struck it down. H.R. 5119 passed by a vote of 39 to 19.
If you or a loved one are on Medicare, you are likely aware that last month began a period known as “open enrollment.” During this period, Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their health plan – or none if they are happy with their current plan – before the new plan year begins in January. The enrollment period runs through December 7th.
Whether you are looking to alter your Medicare Advantage plan, switch to Original Medicare, or change your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, there are several resources available to help you navigate this decision. For instance, you can use the new Medicare Plan Finder at medicare.gov to compare coverage options and estimate plan costs. Additionally, if you would like a free, personalized health insurance counseling through Georgia’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), a national program that offers assistance to those with Medicare, you can reach them at 1-866-552-4464 or you may visit their webpage for more information. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also advises you to review any materials that your plan sends you, including the “Evidence of Coverage” and “Annual Notice of Change” (ANOC), to make sure that your needs will continue to be met if your plan is changing.
I recognize that navigating this decision may not be easy, so if you have any additional questions as you look to decide what Medicare coverage is best for you, feel free to call my district office at (770) 232-3005 to inquire if my team can be of further assistance.
In a deviation from the normal spotlight in which I share with you what I am hearing from folks back home, I want to take this opportunity to shine the spotlight on Georgia statesman Senator Johnny Isakson. As many of you know, Senator Isakson has served the people of our great state in different capacities for more than 40 years, and while it goes without being said, Senator Isakson will be sorely missed in the Halls of Congress upon his retirement at the year’s end. Throughout his service, Senator Isakson has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of our friends and neighbors in the state of Georgia and on the national stage. He has been an exemplary leader that has championed policy outcomes to better the lives of all Americans, especially our veterans and ensure the United States remains a shining beacon of freedom and liberty around the world. I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the Senator’s most notable successes from over the years.
- While serving in the GA General Assembly, Senator Isakson sponsored legislation in 1984 that created Community Improvement Districts (CIDs). CIDs promote economic revitalization and development through the establishment, planning, and management of capital-intensive infrastructure, transportation, safety and landscaping projects with the goal of attracting investment and growing communities.
- In 2011, Senator Isakson introduced and passed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act to provide improved security and protection measures for U.S. Peace Corps volunteers after reading the obituary of a young Georgian who was serving in Benin, Africa, in the U.S. Peace Corps.
- In 2015, Senator Isakson took an active role in improving No Child Left Behind, and the new legislation was signed into law in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA removed Washington mandates from education, instead allowing those closest to our students to set the agenda for their classrooms.
- Under Senator Isakson’s leadership as Chairman of the Veterans Affair Committee, the committee passed more than 50 pieces of legislation to improve accountability at the VA, expand VA education benefits, modernize the process for veterans’ appeals of benefit determinations, and overhaul the VA’s community care programs.
To that end, Senator Isakson is undeniably leaving big shoes behind to fill, and this one spotlight post does not do his years of service the justice it deserves. I wish my friend the best of luck in his future endeavors and I am honored to have been able to serve alongside him in the U.S. Congress.
I hope you will take a moment and click on the photo below to watch my remarks from last week as I joined my colleagues in honoring Senator Isakson.
From the House floor, Rep. Woodall praises Senator Isakson
Safety is a top priority here in the 7th District. Last week, the Lawrenceville Gas Department received the American Public Gas Association’s Safety Award for the fifth consecutive year. This award recognizes natural gas providers that have outstanding safety records and performance standards.
I would like to offer my sincerest congratulations to everyone at the department for making this achievement possible. To earn this award—for five years running—is an incredible accomplishment, and it is clear that your hard work has gone a long way to protecting your staff, as well as your customers here in the 7th District.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Lawrenceville gas utility receives fifth consecutive safety award
Our friends and neighbors here in the 7th District take to volunteering as a way to bring our community together and help improve the lives of those around us. Last week, Lambert and South Forsyth—notable high school rivals—came together for the holiday season to serve food and entertainment to local assisted living communities. The event took place at South Forsyth and more than 80 seniors were in attendance. The food was prepared by South Forsyth culinary students and performing arts groups from both schools provided the entertainment.
I would like to commend these students for organizing this thoughtful event. From actions like these, I am constantly reminded why the 7th District is such a special place to live.
- Forsyth County News. How rival Forsyth County high schools gave local seniors a ‘Friendsgiving’
In these divisive times, it is refreshing to be able to come together, enjoy a meal, and count our many blessings: our freedom, our security, our family, and our friends. This holiday is a celebration of our American values and an homage to our common history.
I am thankful to you all for making the Seventh District of Georgia the wonderful, vibrant, and diverse community that it is today, and I am thankful for the privilege of representing it.
I wish you and your families a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
Member of Congress