Washington Watch - 5/23/16
Last week, the Supreme Court unanimously decided to remand Zubik v. Burwell to lower federal courts for resolution, marking a win for religious liberty, and further highlighting a long list of objections the American people have with Obamacare. The case centers on the Obamacare requirement that employers provide employees with healthcare benefits that include contraceptive coverage even if it violates the principles of the employer’s faith to do so. Many Catholic charities and religiously-affiliated employers have expressed deep concern over the mandate’s intrusion on their religious beliefs, and they have sued the government to protect their religious freedom.
As Americans, we certainly don’t agree on everything, but irrespective of our differences, protecting our shared principles and constitutional rights should always be our first priority. It’s my hope that we will soon see a solution prioritizing the religious liberty we all cherish, and I will certainly continue to monitor the case closely. In times of divided government, we have a wonderful opportunity to build the consensus needed to move America forward in a way that doesn’t silence the voice of millions of people. Sadly, that’s the approach with which Obamacare was crafted and passed, and consequently as a nation we’re still sorting through the aftermath.
- Wall Street Journal. Supreme Court sends birth-control case brought by religious employers back to lower courts
- CNN. Supreme Court sends Obamacare case back to lower court
Last week, the House passed one of the most important bills that I have the opportunity to vote on each year with strong bipartisan support: the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This year’s NDAA provides crucial resources to address our nation’s readiness shortfall so that our men and women in uniform can succeed in their very important missions, blocks the President’s attempt to reduce our troops’ annual pay raise, includes important reforms to the Pentagon to make it run more efficiently and effectively, and includes many other provisions that help ensure our nation’s all-volunteer force remains the greatest and strongest in the world. And, it’s not just the bill itself that I’m proud of; the process in which it was considered last week is just as impressive. No less than 180 amendments from both Republicans and Democrats were offered on the House floor and debated. The end result of such a robust and inclusive process is a better bill for our men and women in uniform and a better bill for American democracy.
One amendment in particular that I’d like to highlight started as a stand-alone bill that I am proud to cosponsor. My colleague on the House Rules Committee, Representative Alcee Hastings, authored legislation that says, “If you’re a low-income veteran receiving a pension from the VA, you shouldn’t be punished for receiving medical compensation for an accident that was no fault of your own.” Currently, medical compensation that a veteran may receive is seen by the VA as regular income, even if it simply being provided to reimburse the costs of medical care, causing a veteran to potentially become ineligible to receive pension payments that so many rely on for day-to-day expenses. The amendment to the NDAA offered by Representative Hastings rights this wrong, and I’m pleased to say that it passed the House unanimously. Making sure our nation’s military remains the best in the world is no easy task, but I, for one, am proud of the House’s work on this year’s NDAA and was proud to join many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in supporting it and making it that much closer to becoming the law of the land.
- ABC News. GOP-Led House Decisively Approves $602 Billion Defense Bill
- Politico. House passes sweeping defense policy bill
The House, last week, also kicked off this year’s appropriations process by debating and passing the first of twelve annual appropriations bills: the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. As is tradition, before considering or debating the appropriations for any other part of the federal government, the House’s top priority is ensuring that veterans’ benefits and healthcare programs have the funding they need to serve our nation’s veterans. Taking care of those who have served us could not be more important, and I am very proud of this tradition and this year’s bill. At a time when many other agencies and departments are seeing their funding cut, this year’s bill increases discretionary spending on veterans’ programs by $2 billion and also contains a number of provisions that help hold the VA accountable to the veterans that it was created to serve and the American taxpayers that provide its funding. The House got off to strong start with this year’s appropriations process, and I am eager to continue work on the remaining eleven bills in the coming weeks.
The House took another step forward last Wednesday to combat the Zika virus and prevent it from spreading in the U.S. The bill, H.R. 5243, the “Zika Response Appropriations Act,” provides more than $620 million for several federal agencies charged with assisting states and local communities with efforts like mosquito control, disease surveillance, and outbreak response and preparedness. A portion of the funding is also targeted for Zika virus research and development activities, including the development of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and for international mosquito control efforts, which will help keep the Zika virus from spreading to new areas. I hope to see the Senate quickly pass H.R. 5243, as it will bring the total FY2016 funding for the U.S. Zika virus response to $1.2 billion. In the coming weeks, as we continue to work through the FY2017 appropriations process, I expect the House to approve additional funding to both protect Americans from a Zika virus outbreak and ensure adequate resources are readily available should one occur.
- Reuters. House approves $622 million to combat Zika virus
- Wall Street Journal. House Passes $622 Million Bill to Fight Zika
On Wednesday of last week, President Obama’s Department of Labor finalized its federal overtime regulations, which more than double the threshold under which salaried workers automatically qualify for overtime pay. While the President is promising that his new overtime rules will increase the paychecks of millions of hard-working Americans, I’ve heard from small business owners in various industries across our district over the last few months who say that’s simply not going to be the case, as small businesses won’t automatically have more money to increase employee pay. The added business costs associated with the new rules will likely just force small businesses to reduce costs elsewhere, meaning some employees could see a modest increase in their pay checks when the rules take effect in December while countless others lose flexibility with their schedules, be converted from salary to hourly employees, or simply see their hours reduced. It’s also possible that the new rules will have the unintended effect of reducing the number of entry level jobs available in the U.S. or at least the starting salaries for those positions. Despite having a front row seat from which to witness the U.S. economy struggle to deal with the regulatory labyrinth he has created over his two terms in office, President Obama has decided that burnishing his legacy is more important than working with Congress to enact pro-growth policies that will actually benefit American workers.
Above I mentioned the House-passage of the first of twelve appropriations bills. These bill are so important because this is the House opportunity to use the power of the purse to prevent regulatory overreach. Without the votes to override a presidential veto, “no funds shall be used to enforce” language in an appropriations bill is the only way to create a win for family businesses and employees. When you see me working to pass appropriations bills, I’m not working to spend money; I am working to control how the money is spent.
- Forbes. The Harsh Reality of Regulating Overtime Pay
- USA Today. Businesses adopt myriad responses to overtime rule
- Politico. Obama rushes out rules to guarantee legacy
- CNN Money. 4 ways the new overtime rules may affect your paycheck
- Associated Press. Overtime pay become reality for more U.S. workers
If you have flown recently, you may have noticed that it took a lot longer than usual to get through the security lines. One of the suspected causes of these delays is a lack of communication between local airports and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Poor staffing choices have exacerbated the problem. To that end, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul announced that he will be introducing a bill next week to mitigate this problem and provide some relief for travelers. TSA has also announced that they will be expanding the Pre-Check program to cover more airlines. I look forward to reviewing his ideas and making sure that you and your family can get from Point A to Point B as quickly, as conveniently, and as safely as possible.
- WSBTV. Long TSA lines snake through Atlanta airport
- The Hill. House prepping bill to relieve long airport lines
This week the House is expected to consider its second appropriations bill, the FY17 Energy and Water Appropriations Act. This bill provides funding for our nation’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy, and the Bureau of Reclamation, to name a few. Though it has taken a little longer than originally intended this year to begin our appropriations work, I’m so pleased that the House and Senate are moving forward and doing the work of the American people.
Also coming up this week will be a bill to reauthorize and reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Over 80,000 chemicals are used in commerce in the United States, and TSCA is the vehicle through which the federal government, the private sector, and state and local governments work together to ensure that our health and our environment are treated responsibly and that these chemicals are secured and used appropriately. The House has been working hard to reform TSCA to better serve Americans, and I’m happy that this bipartisan reform will be coming to the House floor.
Member of Congress