Washington Watch - 12/3/18
On Saturday morning, Americans awoke to the sad news that the nation’s 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, had died late Friday night. President Bush’s life spanned 94 years and was wholly dedicated to public service. He was a distinguished pilot in World War II, the last President of that greatest generation to serve America. He was a two term Congressman from Texas, Director of the CIA, Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. envoy to China, Vice President for eight years, and of course, our 41st President. Of all those jobs, his most important might have come during his presidency when he steered America and the world through the end of the Cold War. His adept and calm handling of the end of the Cold War allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve with a measure of dignity instead of with bloodshed, and it allowed the United States to take its place as the world’s lone superpower. President George H.W. Bush never shied away from the hard jobs or turned his back on his obligation to the American people, and that servant’s heart will be cherished by all of us.
As we remember his extraordinary life this week, and honor him with a National Day of Mourning on Wednesday, I hope that we can all embody his spirit of service and his love for country and family.
- Time. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and the father of the 43rd, dies at 94
- Washington Post. George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, dies at 94
There’s an old joke that all Congress does is name post offices. And yes—we did name some post offices last week—but we also passed a litany of really important and substantial bills with massive bipartisan support. For instance, we passed legislation to codify sanctions against foreign adversaries, to reauthorize the U.S. Coast Guard, to crack down on health care fraud, and more. You can read about all the bills we passed right here.
I want to highlight one of those bills for you. My committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, played a key role in writing and passing the “Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018.” The Coast Guard saves lives and protects our shores, and this bill not only ensures these men and women can continue to fulfill their critical mission, but we also included reforms to improve training, integrate more state-of-the-art technology, and increase efficiency in allocating resources such as vessels, aircraft, and personnel. If you’re interested in learning more, our committee website has all the details here.
It was just a few short months ago that we discussed the Administration’s ongoing effort to deliver on its promises to restructure the more than two decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As you likely know, the year-long negotiation process to do so resulted in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a free trade agreement that makes long overdue updates to better serve each nation’s citizens. I continue to believe that we must make smart and targeted updates to our free trade agreements so that they do not stifle innovation and competition, as well as to ensure that they do not burden the U.S. industries, workers, and companies. For that reason, I am pleased that President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, were able to come together last week to sign the USMCA at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now that the leaders of each country have officially agreed to the USMCA, the agreement will head to the respective legislative bodies of each nation to be ratified.
I certainly believe that the USMCA will deliver on its intended promise to rebalance trade among the three countries and ensure that U.S. workers and companies are not disadvantaged. While I’ve heard from folks who support the USMCA as it stands, I’ve also heard from folks who have some outstanding concerns that they’d like to see addressed before they can lend the agreement their support. Again, given that the USMCA now heads to Congress to be more thoroughly reviewed, as eventual implementing legislation will have to be approved by Congress before it can go into effect, now is the time to share your thoughts with me so that I can keep your thoughts in mind as those discussions unfold on Capitol Hill.
- Wall Street Journal. U.S., Mexico and Canada Sign Pact to Replace Nafta
Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator, Seema Verma, announced the release of four new waiver concepts under the Section 1332 waiver program, also known as State Relief and Empowerment Waivers. Specifically, these new waiver concepts allow states to operate their health insurance markets with more flexibility and work to increase choice and competition for consumers – and in turn, drive down insurance prices in markets across the country. These waivers were codified by the Affordable Care Act and allow those states that want to pursue innovative methods to deliver high-quality health care at affordable costs the opportunity to do so. From acting on short-term insurance plans, association health plans, to numerous efforts to lower drug costs, I certainly commend the Trump Administration for its unceasing efforts to lower healthcare premiums and increase consumer choice for all Americans.
To address many people’s underlying concern about these new waiver concepts, please know that CMS has explicitly stated that “nothing in the new guidance or the waiver concepts changes the requirements for health insurance issuers to provide protections for people with pre-existing conditions.” Moreover, State Innovation Waivers are carefully reviewed by CMS officials to ensure that the innovative care the state is seeking to provide under the waiver would not only be comparable to the care provided absent the waiver, but would also cover a comparable number of individuals in the state.
Too many of our Seventh District neighbors and friends are paying too much in the absence of an efficient and effective health care system, and while I am committed to working to create a legislative solution worthy of all Americans, I simply cannot accept “just wait” as an answer. For that reason, I support the Administration’s action to bring solutions to our states’ markets, as doing so is a step in the right direction to ensure that more individuals and families have more choices and control over their health care dollars and decisions.
Eight months ago, Congress established a Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform. The Committee’s membership was made up of eight Republicans and eight Democrats, equally divided among the House and the Senate, and I was chosen by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be one of them. For months, we toiled together discussing ways we could change our budgeting process and make ourselves more accountable to the American people. Sitting across the table from one another, we were able to share our ideas about what we thought would work best, from making parliamentary changes in our respective chambers to shifting deadlines and even providing incentives to do our jobs on time. As a result, we were able to produce a great first step that would provide predictability to the appropriators and move us in a positive direction towards addressing our nation’s fiscal crisis. However, as often happens in Washington, politics got in the way of good policy with the Committee’s product failing to meet the threshold necessary to report out its product and putting a hold on our good work.
Recognizing the tremendous effort put forth by the members of the Joint Select Committee, however, Co-Chair Steve Womack (R-AR) and House Budget Committee Ranking Member John Yarmuth (D-KY) decided they would not let that work go to waste. Instead, they took the base text and the amendments agreed to in the markup and introduced it as H.R. 7191, the “Bipartisan Budget and Appropriations Process Reform Act of 2018.” The bill would establish a biennial budgeting process to provide appropriators topline spending numbers for two years instead of one; clarifies that reconciliation can be used every year under a biennial budget; and requires Congress to hold a joint hearing on the Fiscal State of the Nation, among other technical reforms.
I had hoped for a better outcome from the Committee and that our hard work and friendship would be able to overcome political gamesmanship. While the reality is that the political divide was too great to achieve the monumental results that I believed were possible, I was incredibly honored to be part of the Committee and move us just a bit closer to real budget and appropriations process reform.
- The Hill. Bipartisan budget reform effort hits roadblock in final days
- House Budget Committee. House Budget Committee Chairman, Ranking Member Introduce Bipartisan Budget Reform Legislation
Technological advances from smartphones to wireless medical devices to state of the art defense capabilities and more have been a defining characteristic of the 21st Century. And while those advances have largely propelled us forward, it is also true that there are bad actors who try and take advantage of these technologies to defraud and harm the public for their own personal gain. Unfortunately, given how advanced our telecommunications infrastructure is these days, I’m hearing more and more from folks back home about incessant and unwanted robocalls.
Michael from Suwanee
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do something about the robocalls. This has become a MAJOR problem. I get 3-5 calls literally EVERYDAY. This is not acceptable, and I’m going to do everything in my power to stop them. Please get on board and do something NOW or the voters will find someone who will. This daily non-stop into our daily lives is not going to be pushed aside.
Holly from Cumming
I am concerned with phony calls requesting financial information. This is financial exploitation over the telephone. My father is elderly, and I would like the government to make changes or laws so the elderly can be protected.
I know that many of you have encountered the scams and the harassment that Mike and Holly mention. We often refer to all these unwanted calls as “robocalls.” Legally, however, a robocall is defined as an automated dialing system that connects the receiver to an artificial or pre-recorded voice, and these calls are already heavily regulated (and generally prohibited) by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To be clear, however, not all robocalls are forbidden. For example, informational robocalls about flight delays, emergency alerts, and charitable or other non-commercial information are generally allowed, as are calls that you may receive from a company with which you do business. But, when a call is prohibited and is fraudulent, the FCC and the FTC are empowered to act, and the good news is that they are acting. The FTC has brought law enforcement action against 750 companies and individuals for placing billions of fraudulent telemarketing calls, and it has obtained more than $1.5 billion in fines and penalties. Of course, we can do better.
The House has held hearings aimed at addressing these abusive calls and finding ways to curb their occurrence. There are also a number of bills aimed at curtailing unlawful robocalls and protecting consumers. For example, earlier this Congress, I joined my colleagues in the House in passing H.R. 423, the “Anti-Spoofing Act of 2017.” This measure became law as part of a related bill in 2017, and as such, the FCC can now levy penalties and criminal fines against individuals that use fake – or “spoofed” – information about a caller’s ID to defraud or harm another person. This is a modest, but important step, and it’s one that I’m proud to say was supported almost unanimously by the House.
While the Anti-Spoofing Act was a necessary step forward last year, it is going to take more than just new laws to stop bad actors. To that end, citizen reporting of illegal and fraudulent calls is critical to our federal agencies’ successes in enforcing the law and curbing these harmful practices. Should you receive any of these fraudulent robocalls, I encourage you to contact the FCC to file a complaint by CLICKING HERE and to report unwanted telemarking or scam calls to the FTC by CLICKING HERE.
Kindness is everywhere you look in our community. I’m so grateful for that. Around every corner – in churches, civic organizations, schools, and local businesses – we have so much to be proud of when it comes to taking care of one another. Sometimes the generosity is obvious, but so much of the time it is quiet, selfless, and sincere. That’s what’s happening here at home through initiatives like the Little Free Pantry. If you’re not familiar with this movement, anyone can participate and make a difference. The concept is simple: establish a location (pantry) in a safe and appropriate place that is self-sustaining through contributions of church or organization members, and begin helping those in need anonymously 24 hours a day, seven days a week! Word of the movement is spreading across the country and across the Seventh District, and recently Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church was featured in the Gwinnett Daily Post for their good work. As is so often the case with service to one another, the process began with one individual deciding to act, talking to friends, family, and neighbors, and making their ideas a reality that improves the lives of those around them.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Duluth church joins in Little Free Pantry movement
I just love these stories that capture the essence of who we are as a community. It would be easy to take for granted that we live in an amazing place, but we seem to always avoid that tendency and up our game instead. If you would like to learn more about the Free Little Pantry movement, or if you’re considering starting one in your own neighborhood, you can visit http://www.littlefreepantry.org/ where they have extensive information available. Once again, thank you all for your leadership, your partnership, and your example!
If you’ve been around the Seventh District for very long at all, you know just how fortunate we are to have some of the very best educators in the country! Each year, we have the opportunity to recognize those who have stood out in their efforts, and let me tell you, that’s a tough task given the field of competition. Last week, Forsyth County Schools announced its semifinalists for Teacher of the Year. Appropriately, the winner will be announced at the annual “Celebration of Excellence” luncheon in the spring, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting time. Excellence is the standard in our community, and we seem to only be getting better! I’d like to wish each of these remarkable teachers the best of luck going forward in the selection process, as well as thank every single educator throughout the Seventh District. You all do such important work and make an incalculable difference in our community now and in the future.
- Forsyth County News. Here are the 19 semifinalists for Teacher of the Year in Forsyth County Schools
It’s a time of year when most of us are gearing up for holidays and family visits, but for hundreds of service men and women in our community in the Georgia National Guard 3rd Battalion, they are beginning a 9-month deployment to Afghanistan. The sacrifices that they and their families make on our behalf is humbling. At times such as these, it is vitally important to support them, thank them, and demonstrate just how much it means to our community and our country. Residents of Forsyth County did that in a big way last Monday despite frigid temperatures, and I couldn’t be prouder. Downtown Cumming was filled with family members, friends, neighbors, and more, who turned out to wish them well, share their prayers, and express the deep gratitude we have for them.
- Forsyth County News. ‘We serve the people’: Forsyth County comes out to see hundreds of local soldiers deploy to Afghanistan
Throughout our history, we have been blessed with patriots just like these men and women who place service above self, and it is America – all of us – that benefit. I want to express my personal gratitude to each one, as well as let you know I will pray for your safe return. Thank you so much, and if I can ever be of service to you, please do not hesitate to call on me.
For millions of people around the world who practice Judaism, Sunday marked the first night of Hanukkah. This beautiful celebration is manifested around America by public lightings of a menorah, oftentimes in public parks or outside synagogues in our neighborhoods. This year, after so much tragedy in Pittsburgh, I am certain that seeing the warm light of the menorah after the sun sets will be a heartening inspiration. Through the darkness there is light, there is the miracle of oil lasting for eight days and nights, and there is the certain truth that in America, we can come together to recognize and appreciate how faith, family, friends, and special traditions can bring light to the world. If you are celebrating Hanukkah or if you have friends and family who are, I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.
- National Geographic. Hanukkah: How an ancient revolt sparked the Festival of Lights
- AJC. It’s lit times 8: where to see metro Atlanta menorah lightings
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