Washington Watch - 12/24/19
A sad mark in history was made on Wednesday, December 18th, as the House of Representatives approved two Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump, making him the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. The vote — which I did not support — added our President to the list with President Andrew Johnson and President Bill Clinton. As I have said many times before, impeaching a duly elected president is a serious undertaking that demands fairness, careful examination, and bipartisan support. Speaker Pelosi has said as much many times but changed her mind this Fall as the House violated each of these principles and made a mockery of our Constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight. In the end, the only thing bipartisan about the impeachment was the opposition to it.
As you may have read in previous newsletters, like you, I do not believe that the President’s words on his July phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky were perfect, but in the end, while pursuing a confusing and at times counterproductive foreign policy with respect to Ukraine was not in our nation’s best interest, I also do not believe that it rose to the level of impeachment or of tearing our nation apart for the sake of politics.
And now, having put America through impeachment in the House, for reasons I cannot explain Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is now refusing to name House managers and refusing to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Instead of sending the Articles to the Senate immediately, as Republicans did in 1998 and as the Founding Fathers clearly intended, House Democrats have chosen to drag-out this process further and to inject even more political poison into it. We can do better, and I hope that after a holiday spent with constituents that my colleagues will return to the House in January in full agreement with me that we must.
- The Hill. Here’s how newspapers around the country covered impeachment on their front pages
- CNN. Nancy Pelosi won’t commit to sending articles of impeachment to Senate
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5430, the implementing legislation for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). I have long been a supporter of free trade, and I have repeatedly expressed confidence in the United States Trade Representative’s ability to modernize the more than two-decade old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without doing harm to U.S. industries, workers, and consumers who rely on these agreements. The landmark USMCA does just that, and I was thrilled to finally cast a vote in favor of the trade deal. The International Trade Commission estimates that this trade deal, once fully phased in, will generate over $68 billion in new economic activity and more than 170,000 new jobs here in America. As such, it is my sincere hope the Senate will take up the agreement and pass it without delay so that communities across the nation can begin to reap the deal’s benefits.
As Capitol Hill faced another funding deadline last week, Congress and the Administration crafted an agreement to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020.
Some of the biggest wins for Georgia incorporated in these spending agreements include $130 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), funds that will see this critical infrastructure project remains on schedule to completion, and nearly $1.8 billion shared among eight states to go towards helping communities rebuild in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Michael. Other successes in the FY20 spending bills include $1.2 billion for the Department of Education’s Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program, $425 million for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and $41.6 billion to the National Institutes of Health to fund critical biomedical research programs, just to name a few notable provisions that stand to benefit students, companies, and workers across the country.
Lastly, I’ll note that the spending agreement delivers some of the biggest legislative changes to America’s retirement system in more than a decade. That’s because it incorporated the SECURE Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that allows families and individuals the opportunity to save more of their hard-earned dollars to prepare for retirement and to cover life’s big events. Specifically, the provision would make it easier for small businesses to join together to offer retirement plans for their workers by authorizing multiple employer plans, allow Americans to save longer by repealing the maximum age (70½) for contributions to a traditional IRA, and allow the portability of lifetime income, just to name a few. Additionally, the bill includes a provision that would allow families to make penalty-free withdrawals from their retirement accounts for the birth or adoption of a child.
As we now turn to funding for FY2021, it is my sincere hope that lawmakers in both chambers will begin working together in examining each federal program and agency in the name of reducing unnecessary and duplicative discretionary spending.
With each passing year, Congress continues to spend more money than it brings in, misses key budget deadlines, and lacks a coherent vision for addressing our growing debt. Each year, hundreds of bills passed by the House — regardless of the party in power — are left at the doorstep of our colleagues in the Senate, never to be taken up. Increased partisanship and a breakdown in civility have slowly engulfed the most important deliberative body in the world. Members are continually admonished on the House floor for violating rules of decorum, and committee hearings seem more focused on soundbites for social media than thoughtful public policy. All the while, constituents struggle to navigate the legislative process and are often unable to find clarity on the issues most important to them.
The frustration with Congress is palatable both for those on the outside and those from within the institution itself. That is why, amidst the government shutdown in the first days of the 116th Congress, Republicans and Democrats came together to form the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, a Committee made up of an equal number of Members from both parties dedicated to addressing Congress’ outdated practices and norms.
Since then, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has held 14 hearings ranging from congressional reform efforts of the past to cultivating diversity today to improving constituent engagement tomorrow. The Committee has become the first of its kind to issue rolling recommendations – 45 in fact including those passed during last week’s business meeting – all of which were voted unanimously out of Committee.
Among the most important recommendations are those that increase Congress’ transparency with the American people. We are proposing a substantial expansion of Congress’ website to make it easier to track legislation, see the impact on current law, and learn how your member voted. We are also working to add transparency with a feature for people to find out who is lobbying Congress and for what.
The first round of these recommendations were written into H.Res. 756, the “Moving Our Democracy and Congressional Operations towards Modernization,” or “MODCOM,” and I expect these on the House floor soon.
Congress recently reauthorized the Modernization Committee through next year, showing confidence and allowing us time to delve deeper into Congress’ more complex issues and devise new solutions to modernize and strengthen our Article I authority. Common knowledge would have you believe the inefficiencies of Congress are inherent to our republic. I reject that interpretation entirely. Through the hard work of the Modernization Committee and the enthusiasm of my colleagues, Congress can be brought into the 21st Century and restructured to better serve the American people.
While a majority of the time on the House floor was taken up by partisan posturing last week, the House still found time to pass eighteen bipartisan and commonsense bills. Those bills included some relatively simple pieces of legislation including technical fixes like H.R. 4920, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Contracting Preference Consistency Act,” which corrected conflicting preferences for the VA to award contracts to veteran small businesses and those with disabilities, or H.R. 722, the “Miracle Mountain Designation Act,” which was named a mountain near Elk Ridge, Utah. There were also more substantial bills like H.R. 3530, the “Improving Confidence in Veterans’ Care Act,” which will make sure medical staff and health care professionals at the VA have current and up to date credentials.
All hope is never lost in the people’s house, no matter how divisive it may appear, and it is my hope that we continue to do the people’s business as we begin the second session of this Congress.
As I mentioned earlier, this past week Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, two appropriations packages to fund the government through the end of the next fiscal year in September 2020. As that process moved forward, I heard from many of you about the importance of furthering our nation’s health and related interests. Here are just a few of the messages I received:
Victoria from Cumming:
As a constituent and parent of a child affected by cystic fibrosis (CF), I urge you to finalize full-year funding increases for the NIH and FDA before funding expires on December 20. These institutions are vital to continued progress in research, development, and approval of treatments for CF. When stopgap measures are used to appropriate funds, it creates inefficiencies and uncertainty for the NIH and FDA that can slow research and development. I urge Congress to finalize appropriations for FY2020 before the deadline and to enact full year-increases for both agencies.
Richard from Buford:
I am writing to urge you to vote yes for the year end spending deal that includes a full repeal of the Cadillac/excise tax and the health insurance tax.
Like Victoria, I agree that the cutting-edge scientific research undertaken at our federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is worth a significant financial investment. That is precisely why earlier this year I joined my colleagues in Congress in sending a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies requesting that they provide ample funding to the agency so that we can ensure they are best equipped to combat a number of diseases and disorders. I know Victoria and others will be pleased to learn that our collective call-to-action was heeded, and the final bill provided roughly $41.7 billion to the NIH (a $2 billion increase from Fiscal Year 2019), $8 billion to the CDC, including its public health programs and activities, and $5.7 billion for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including increases for food safety activities. Additionally, the package extends funding for the Special Diabetes Program, the Community Health Centers Fund, the National Health Services Corps Fund, and Graduate Medical Education programs.
Further, Richard will be glad to hear that the final enacted legislation permanently repeals three taxes levied under the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the medical device tax, the “Cadillac” tax, and the health insurance tax. These taxes were originally implemented as pay-for-mechanisms to fund the costly mandates created by the ACA, but these taxes always stood to be passed on to employers and consumers in the form of increased costs of healthcare services and insurance. After years of Congress working together to delay these taxes, I am pleased that my Democratic colleagues recognized the dangers of these taxes and worked with Republicans to repeal those once and for all.
While I am glad to share that this year’s appropriations packages included several of these important public health victories for the American public, I hope that Congress can get back to “regular order” and pass all 12 annual appropriations bills individually. In a divided government, consensus may be more difficult to achieve, but it is not out of reach; it demands that we take a serious look at our priorities and work to achieve bipartisan solutions.
It is always special to see how the holiday season brings our community closer together every year. Last week, about 80 police officers gathered at the Hamilton Mill Walmart for the Fraternal Order of Police Gravitt Everett Davis Lodge 66’s annual Cops and Kids Christmas event. Officers were paired up with financially disadvantaged children to help them shop for Christmas. Children under 4 got to purchase gifts up to $75, and others aged 4-15 got up to $125. In the end, more than 58 families were helped by the program.
I would like to thank all these officers for their continued effort to help our community. Not only do they keep our community safe during crisis, but they also make kind-hearted gestures to help those in need and bring us closer together.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Law enforcement buddies up with kids to pick out Christmas gifts
There was plenty more holiday cheer to go around the 7th District last week. In Forsyth County, the seventh annual Lily’s Toy Drive was held at Vickery Village where an estimated 8,000 gifts were collected for patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This event commemorates 11-year-old Lily Anderson who passed away from cancer on Dec. 15, 2012. Her family started this toy drive to benefit other children battling medical issues. At the end of this year’s event, it took two 24-foot trailers to collect toys and bring them to storage. This year’s 8,000 toys are the most that has ever been collected.
I hope you will all join me in recognizing the effort undergone to organize this wonderful event. Through this act of kindness, this will be a special holiday for hundreds of children here in Georgia.
- Forsyth County News. Here’s how many toys were collected at Lily’s Toy Drive
This week, billions of people around the world will gather with their families and friends to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, and it is my hope that all of them will be filled with love and laughter. I know that after a very long year in Washington, D.C., I am very grateful to spend time with my family. As Americans, we need to remember that there is much more that unites us than divides us — and I’m sure you feel the same. We should take a moment to reflect on how truly blessed we are to be living in the greatest country on Earth where we are free to express ourselves, free to worship, and free to commemorate our holidays in whatever way we wish. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah!
Member of Congress