Washington Watch - 6/19/17
Zack Barth, Matt Mika, Crystal Griner, David Bailey, and my friend and colleague Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) were all shot as they practiced early Wednesday morning for the Annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.Truthfully, it could have been much, much worse. Agent Griner and Agent Bailey raced toward the gunman as others sought cover and safety, and in doing so, they undoubtedly saved lives. Their heroism was celebrated as the Congressional game went on as planned. Well…almost as planned. So powerful was the outpouring of support from the Washington community that they even raised nearly twice the amount of money expected for great charities like the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literacy Center, and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.
Democrats and Republicans came together in sport and in prayer to support those who were injured by the attack and to redouble our efforts to work as one unified body. Too often we are focused on what divides us in this nation, but in reality, we are united in our shared desire to serve the American people and make this country great. I hope you will join me in continuing to pray for the speedy recovery of Majority Whip Scalise and former staffer Matt Mika, and the safety of the Capitol Police Officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve this legislative body.
- Los Angeles Times. 'Scalise Strong': Congress puts up united front at charity baseball game after shooting
- New York Times. At Congressional Baseball Game, a Different Type of Victory on Display
As you all know, the House and Senate have been working together for months on health care reform, and though the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has gotten most of the attention as this important debate has moved forward, the House has moved several stand-alone solutions for health care issues that Senate rules prohibit Congress from addressing in the AHCA, which is being advanced via the budget reconciliation process. Last week, the House approved three more health care reform bills with bipartisan support, and I was pleased to support each of them and would like to share a few details about them with you all.
The first bill, H.R. 2581, the “Verify First Act,” seeks to ensure that federal dollars provided to individuals pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or the AHCA are only sent to those who are legally eligible to receive them. This common-sense solution will safeguard our limited resources and help us eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. A second bill, H.R. 2372, the “VETERAN Act,” would allow veterans who are eligible for VA health care but choose private health insurance instead to receive the same federal financial assistance as other Americans under the ACA or AHCA. Though an existing Treasury regulation provides such parity for veterans who participate in the ACA, H.R. 2372 will make the practice permanent law going forward and extend the parity to AHCA’s tax credits. Finally, H.R. 2579, the “Broader Options for Americans Act,” would permit the use of AHCA’s advanceable, refundable tax credits to cover the cost of COBRA insurance coverage. This particular reform will make COBRA a much more affordable option for Americans who find themselves between jobs and temporarily in need of a health insurance coverage bridge.
All these common-sense reforms to our health care system are positive signs to me that we can work together across the aisle to fix problems for the American people. I hope that we can continue down this path of success together.
- House Ways and Means Committee. Improving Health Care in America
As you may know, the President declared last week to be “Workforce Development Week.” As our economy continues to grow and more jobs are created each month, it is paramount that our citizens are well equipped to capitalize on those new opportunities. That is why I was so pleased last week when President Trump signed a new Executive Order to promote and direct funding to affordable education and training apprenticeship programs that teach the relevant skills needed to drive our economy.
The new Executive Order comes at a perfect time as we see the cost of higher education ever increasing and our many job training programs failing to provide the skills to fill 6 million vacant jobs in the United States. I know you’ve witnessed, just as I have, how this shortage of skilled labor has affected our district. Business leaders in our community often tell me how much they would love to employ more people and provide good paying jobs to our neighbors, but the labor and necessary skill-sets are just not there. I hope that this new investment in skilled labor will modernize our Federal job-training programs and bring Americans the success they deserve.
- Fox Business. Trump promises high paying jobs with new apprenticeship order
- Forbes. The tremendous promise of Trump’s apprenticeship initiative and what states can do to assist
- Politico. Trump signs executive order on apprenticeships
It’s easy to get bogged down in the latest media speculation or story of the day and feel like nothing good is going on, but I have some great news that received almost no press coverage. Last week, I voted to send S. 1094, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017” to President Trump’s desk for his signature. This new law, which increases accountability at the VA and protects whistleblowers, is the kind of reform we have been working toward for years now. Though blocked for years, we have a White House, a Senate, and a House that all agree that serving our veterans is more important than protecting the paychecks of the lowest performing federal employees. To be clear, most employees in the VA and throughout the Federal government do wonderful work for much less pay than they could make in the private sector. However, there are unquestionably some—and if you are a veteran, you know this—that are simply there to collect a paycheck and clock out. The stakes are too high at the VA to accept even one employee who isn’t 100% committed to treating our veterans with the care and the respect they have earned, and this bill is going to give the Secretary the authority to reward great employees and fire terrible employees while preserving due process rights in the event of a wrongful termination and expanding protections for whistleblowers who courageously report misbehavior to their superiors.
Specifically, the bipartisan "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017" will:
- Create a new streamlined and efficient process to remove, demote or suspend (for longer than 14 days) any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct with a concrete shortened timeline, while still protecting employees’ due process rights, and would provide them with the right to appeal the action.
- Provide expanded protections for whistleblowers and would specifically bar VA from using this removal authority if the employee has an open whistleblower complaint/case with the Office of Special Counsel.
- Provide the Secretary with the authority to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their job at VA; recoup a bonus provided to an employee who engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to receiving the bonus; and allow the Secretary to recoup any relocation expenses that were authorized for a VA employee only through the employee’s ill-gotten means, such as fraud waste or malfeasance.
- Authorize the Secretary to directly appoint individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) if they have a demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration or health care fiscal management. This will make it easier to fill these critical positions quickly.
Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, all working together to serve our veterans with honor and dignity is a victory for America.
- NPR. Congress passes bill to increase accountability among VA employees
- Los Angeles Times. Congress approved VA reform bill that will make it easier to fire department managers
On Friday, President Donald Trump traveled to Miami and was joined by Vice President Pence, several Cabinet secretaries, and members of Congress from the Florida delegation. The purpose of this trip was to make clear to the Cuban people and their many friends and relatives in the United States that now—under the Trump Administration—America stands with them, not their oppressive, anti-American, anti-democracy regime. Former President Obama made the controversial decision late in his tenure to legitimize and befriend the autocrats in the Castro family who have mercilessly ruled over the Cuban people for decades. It was wrong, and as many of my colleagues and I predicted, it did not lead to a freer Cuba. President Trump announced during his speech that he was instituting a new policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from funding the deplorable behavior of the Cuban regime, weakens its militaristic control over the Cuban people, and promotes free enterprise and democratic ideals. I am encouraged by the President’s decision and stand with him in challenging the Cuban authorities to return to the international table to end the violence against its own people and move steadfastly toward a safe and prosperous Cuba that can be fully welcomed to and embraced by the global community.
- Reuters. Trump to limit Cuba travel, restrict business deals with military
- CNN. Trump unveils new restrictions on travel, business with Cuba
As many of you likely know, the Major League Baseball Draft took place recently. Now with summer officially beginning this week, I’d call that fitting timing because summer and baseball go together about as well as our community and excellence, and during last week’s draft, two of Forsyth’s own – Danny Edgeworth of Lambert High School and Andrew Gist of Forsyth Central – were among those selected. This is no small achievement, and I know Danny and Andrew are celebrating with their families as they look ahead to what’s next. It’s a time when years of work and dedication culminate not in the end-goal necessarily, but rather in earning the opportunity to continue that work and dedication. The notion that hard work pays off is true, and no place teaches that principle better than we do in our part of the world. I’m always excited for those putting it to use. Congratulations to these young men and all the many, many others working to make your dreams a reality!
- Forsyth County News. Lambert alum Danny Edgeworth drafted by Rockies
- Forsyth County News. Forsyth Central alum Andrew Gist drafted by Rays
When I think of those in our community who not only make a positive impact on the people around them, but in fact make us better as a whole, Nancy Yancey is without a doubt among them. Nancy has been at the helm of Rainbow Village for the last 24 years. She is a visionary leader who understands that in service to others, we are all stronger. I’ve had the honor of watching Rainbow Village grow, develop, and serve more and more members of our community over the years, and all the while, there’s Nancy with her steady leadership guiding a truly inspiring team of individuals. The pride she feels for every family who has transitioned from homelessness to independence is infectious. If you don’t believe me, just ask her to tell you any one of a number of stories and you’ll never be the same. Now if news of her retirement makes you concerned about the future of Rainbow Village, here’s what I can tell you from my personal interaction with her team: their mission – and success – will absolutely continue. She wouldn’t have it any other way. Nancy would be the first to tell you it’s always been a team effort. I’m grateful for her and her team, I wish her all the best in what’s next, and I look forward to seeing what the good folks at Rainbow Village continue to do for our neighbors and community.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Rainbow Village’s Nancy Yancey to retire after this year
This week the House is moving forward with two bills that cut federal red tape and one bill that follows-up on President Trump’s Workforce Development Week proposals.
H.R. 1654, the “Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act,” provides that the federal Bureau of Reclamation will be the new “one-stop-shop” and lead agency for the permitting process for surface water storage projects on federal lands. Instead of dealing with half-a-dozen federal agencies and endless bureaucracy, this bill streamlines the permitting process so that we can complete critically necessary environmental reviews and cost/benefit analyses in a timely manner. Red tape for the sake of red tape harms our economy and the American people, and I’m happy this bipartisan bill is moving forward.
H.R. 1873, the “Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act,” is another effort to cut unnecessary red tape. If you’ve never travelled out West, you may not realize how much land the federal government owns in western states and how much of that land is covered by forests that need constant resource management. H.R. 1873 provides a streamlined process for removing hazardous forest overgrowth that is near electric transmission and distribution lines so that we can reduce the threat of wildfires and ensure our electric grid reliability.
H.R. 2842, the “Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act,” allows states to use some of their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to incentivize private employers to hire hard-working Americans who are receiving TANF benefits. The federal government spends billions of dollars every year fighting poverty, but we’re not winning the fight as we should be, and part of the problem has been our inability to get people back to work. By creating a pathway for folks on TANF to learn new skills and re-enter the workforce, we will be lifting people out of poverty and putting them on the path to success. I’m so proud that this bipartisan bill is going to pass the House this week, and I hope the Senate will act on it soon.
Member of Congress