Washington Watch - 5/28/19

May 28, 2019
E-Newsletter Archive

BIPARTISAN RETIREMENT SECURITY BILL HEADS TO THE SENATE

I was pleased to support H.R. 1994, the “SECURE Act” last week, a bipartisan bill allowing families and individuals the opportunity to save more of their hard-earned dollars to prepare for retirement and to cover life’s big events. In fact, many of the reforms in the “SECURE Act” build on reforms that Republicans passed last Congress with overwhelming support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, but unfortunately, those reforms did not make it to the President’s desk before the 115th Congress expired.

That said, H.R. 1994 would make several significant changes to retirement plans, and I want to take this opportunity to share some of the bill’s most noteworthy provisions with you. If signed by the President, H.R. 1994 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, delaying the age at which an individual must begin taking required minimum distributions from retirement accounts to 72, 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.

I commend my colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee for their diligent work on this important piece of legislation, and I thank Ranking Member Kevin Brady and Chairman Richard Neal for their many years of work on building consensus on these critical reforms. I hope you’ll join me in urging the Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible so our friends and neighbors can begin reaping the benefits of these reforms and building their retirement savings with confidence and ease.

 

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER WASTED OPPORTUNITY FOR PROGRESS

It seems that every time Americans experience divided government within Congress or between Congress and the White House, the chances of seeing politically-motivated bills expressing displeasure with the opposition increase dramatically. While this is to be expected at the beginning of the Congress, we are now approaching six months into the new Congress, and the leadership of the House of Representatives continues to consider pieces of legislation like these. Two weeks ago it was the “Equality Act,” a bill that—counter to its name—will not promote more equality. The week before that it was the “Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, “which again—contrary to its name—sought to repeal one of the most successful ways states have found to lower health insurance premiums for those with preexisting conditions. So far, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only 17 laws have been signed, with 5 of those dedicated to keeping the government open and the remaining failing to tackle any of the serious issues we face.

This past week the House considered H.R. 1500, the “Consumer First Act.” Again, contrary to its name, it has very little to do with helping consumers and much more to do with impugning the motives and reputation of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who previously led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In fact, the first 20 pages (of a 40-page bill) are solely dedicated to attacking Mr. Mulvaney. Rather than coming together to bring genuine reforms to an agency with serious problems, yet again we find ourselves voting on messaging bills. It is my sincere hope that this Congress can return to the real work of passing meaningful legislation that helps the American people. 

 

MASKING THE TRUE COST OF MEDICARE-FOR-ALL

At the behest of the House Budget Committee Democrats, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put together a report regarding the policy implications of a single-payer health care system, but the one thing that they deliberately avoiding asking was how many trillions of dollars it would cost. Even with that glaring omission, the CBO report made several key findings regarding the viability of such a system. The report revealed that a single-payer system could result in a decline in the number of doctors entering the field of medicine, a decline in the number of hospitals in operation, a decline in investment in new and existing facilities, a decline in access to care, a decline in choice of care, an increase in wait times for health services, and an increase in federal bureaucracy to manage the entire structure.

I had a chance to speak with Mark Hadley, Deputy Director of CBO, about the current failures of our existing government-run systems and the benefits that would go away for seniors if a Medicare for All system was put in place. You can hear his responses by clicking on the picture below.

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Representative Rob Woodall (GA-07) speaks with CBO Deputy Director Mark Hadley at the House Budget Committee hearing Key Design Components and Considerations for Establishing a Single-Payer Health Care System

Our current system is nowhere near perfect as health insurance premiums and deductibles continue to skyrocket and insurance providers pull out of state exchanges, but if the CBO’s report and testimony last week was any indication, a single-payer system is not the answer. As I stated in my remarks at the hearing, I know we have problem solvers in this Congress who can lead on this issue and deliver results, and it is my hope that we take advantage of that leadership.

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Representative Rob Woodall (GA-07) speaks with FOX 5 Atlanta about Medicare for All proposals put forth by House Democrats

 

HOUSE MODERNIZATION COMMITTEE APPROVES FIRST SET OF BIPARTISAN REFORMS

Last Thursday the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress made history by being the first Select Committee in the history of Congress to implement a rolling recommendation process. My colleagues and I on the Committee have recognized that there is no need to wait for the end of this session to put forward recommendations we unanimously agree are good and necessary, so last week we identified five things Congress can do to increase transparency of the legislative process. These recommendations included a streamlined bill-writing process to save time and reduce mistakes, a new system to allow the public to track how amendments change bills and how bills change current law, a new protocol for identifying lobbyists and tracking what they are lobbying for, a central hub to access a list of agencies and programs that have expired and need Congressional attention, and a centralized location to view Members’ votes in committees.

These incremental steps have great potential for changing people’s access to information both on and off Capitol Hill, and I am excited for the even bigger recommendations we will issue later this year to modernize the institution.

 

CONSITUENT SPOTLIGHT: BLUE WATER NAVY VETERANS

While Memorial Day is the day to honor our fallen, not all those whom we honor make that ultimate sacrifice while on the battlefield. Too often our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines pass from the wounds that they bring back with them. They may carry these wounds for days or decades, but their sacrifice remains an extraordinary and poignant one. While we have committed considerable resources through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) towards ending these deaths, there is still more work to be done. I’ve heard from many constituents about one issue in particular: exposure to Agent Orange and similar herbicides.

Hank from Alpharetta 

As your constituent, I write to request you to cosponsor and urge the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. This bipartisan bill was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives in the 115th Congress and would end the injustice of denying care and benefits to veterans who suffer from life-threatening health conditions. Recent statements by the Department of Veterans Affairs dispute scientific evidence that veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange. However, the National Academy of Medicine (formally called the Institute of Medicine) study entitled "Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014" found that existing evidence shows "possible routes of exposure" for Blue Water Navy veterans, which means existing evidence should not be used to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans.

One thing is undeniably clear — thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans are suffering and dying from the same conditions as veterans who served in-country during the Vietnam War. Congress must not delay further while Blue Water Navy veterans sicken and die from diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange. A grateful nation must provide them the care and benefits they need to cope with disabilities as a result of their service. Please do the right thing and pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

Gilbert from Cumming 

I'm writing to ask you to cosponsor H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. This bipartisan legislation would clarify presumptions related to the exposure of certain Navy veterans who served in the territorial waters of Vietnam during that conflict and authorize Agent Orange-related benefits. Despite scientific studies confirming their likely on-board exposure to dioxin and other chemicals that make up Agent Orange, these veterans have been denied service-related disability and access to other benefits arising from illnesses presumed caused by the exposure.

These veterans deserve equal treatment with other veterans who set “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. The limitation stripping them of their benefits was an arbitrary, unfair administrative decision without basis in scientific evidence. As your constituent, H.R. 299 is important to me. Please support the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act without further delay.


The debate over Agent Orange has gone on for decades, and for the second time in nearly six months, the House has passed the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.”  Two weeks ago, my colleagues and I voted unanimously to provide the presumption of exposure, and the health care and benefits that brings, to those who have suffered from the terrible side effects of exposure to these dangerous chemicals. We had previously passed the bill in the 115th Congress, however, the Senate did not vote on the bill before the end of the Congress and it expired. Since then, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9 to 2 in Procopio v. Wilkie that Blue Water Navy veterans are “entitled to a presumption of service connection,” and Secretary of the VA Robert Wilkie has said the VA is not appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court. That said, the Department of Justice still can appeal and has requested an extension until the end of this month to decided if it will.

While it is uncertain if the Department of Justice will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, the law of the land now is that the VA must process claims of Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange and provide their service-connected care. However, until that case is finalized, I encourage anyone who supports this measure to share your support for Blue Water Navy veterans with Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue as they now consider the bill.

Should you need help filing that claim or any other need, please know that my team and I are here to help all veterans navigate the maze that is the VA system. Please call my Lawrenceville office at 770-232-3005 with any such needs and a caseworker and I can assist.

 

THE SECRET’S OUT: THE ECONOMY IS GOOD! 

It’s no secret that the economy is doing well. In the first quarter of 2019, GDP grew by 3.2%, a full percentage point above the first quarter of 2018, more than double the first quarter of 2016, and continuing a more than 10-year expansion of the economy. Over the past couple years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has broken record after record, and at 3.6%, the unemployment level sits at its lowest level since 1969—all while wages continue to grow.

That all sounds impressive, but has that translated to real economic changes and assurances for everyday Americans? Turns out, the answer is yes. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans are confident in the job market and believe it to be a good time to find a job, which is a significant bump from the 65% of Americans who answered in the affirmative in March and April, or the 54% of Americans at that time saying that the economy is getting better and heading in the right direction.

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Another way that many, including the Federal Reserve, judge how the economy is doing is by Americans’ ability to deal with an unexpected $400 expense. In 2013, only half of Americans responded that they could pay for an unexpected $400 expense. The Federal Reserve’s recently released Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018 found that figure has increased to 61%. What’s more, that same report found that 75% of adults now say they are either doing “okay” or “living comfortably,” which is 12 points higher than 2013.

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NORTHSIDE HOSPITALS RECOGNIZED FOR OUTSTANDING PATIENT CARE

While much attention is paid to our work at the federal level in implementing health care reforms that improve patient care, and rightfully so, the role of our hospitals and care facilities on the ground is instrumental in achieving this goal. In our community, we are so fortunate to have health care institutions that are continually highlighted for their good work in this area, and one such institution —Northside Hospital System — was recognized by Healthgrades with its Outstanding Patient Experience Award for the second consecutive year. This award is given to the top 15 percent of hospitals in the county that consistently provide a high-quality patient experience, and I want to congratulate the practitioners, providers, and all the staff at Northside on this well-deserved recognition!

 

EXPLORE SERVICES IN GWINNETT THIS SUMMER 

With the 2018-2019 academic year drawing to a close, I encourage you to explore the wide range of services available in our community. The Gwinnett County Department of Parks and Recreation will be working with Meals for Kids and Georgia Nutritional Services to provide lunches for children and disabled individuals at locations across Gwinnett this summer. Additionally, you can find parks in your area through the department’s online search feature, or check out their Leisure is for Everyone (LIFE) program guide for recreational activities and classes available this summer. There are so many dedicated individuals who work hard to ensure that families have opportunities to be involved in our community and the great outdoors, and I encourage you to take this time to learn more about those services that may be available to you by CLICKING HERE.

 

REMEMBERING FALLEN HEROES YESTERDAY AND EVERY DAY 

Often, in the glee of warmer weather and vacation planning we do not give Memorial Day the attention and respect that it deserves. Like other holidays, most folks use this free time to sleep in, catch up on work, or to visit with their families. All these are good, and Americans certainly deserve their times of leisure, however, let us not forget that the true intent of Memorial Day is to honor those brave veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We may clash over the War in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Vietnam, or any of the other conflicts where our countrymen lost their lives, but, disagreements aside, we should do everything in our power to support those whose sacrifice in those wars was the ultimate show of patriotism.

Let us remember, but let us also pay tribute and take action. As Americans, we can and must do more to honor them. This Memorial Day, we will never forget the fallen.


Sincerely,

Rob Woodall
Member of Congress