These two weeks produced partisan bills that would be vetoed if they ever pass the Senate. I will get to some very good news later, but first I will discuss the partisan legislation we were treated to.
- The sequester, which has been in place for 3 years, puts strict appropriations limits for federal agencies. Education, transportation, NSF, DOD, HHS, etc. have been subject to these spending caps. If any program is increased, money must be reduced from somewhere else to offset the increased spending. In general, Republicans are fine with this except they want to increase DOD spending without the appropriate offsets. They increased funding for a DOD account that is exempt from sequester in an attempt to circumvent the caps. The National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House did just this. I generally agree with robust defense spending, but had to oppose this NDAA because to support it would selectively violate the sequester instead of establishing responsible spending practices to replace it. The President has promised to veto this bill if it gets out of the Senate.
- There were also two bills to permanently extend tax breaks for a couple select priorities. These extenders would add at least $317 billion to the 10-year deficit if enacted – in effect putting more pressure to reduce domestic spending on such important things as our national infrastructure. I opposed these extenders, including the R&D tax credit even though I strongly support government sponsored research. We shouldn’t ignore the sequester for select tax breaks when we’re applying it to other essential programs across the country.
- America COMPETES Reauthorization. The original America COMPETES Act in 2010 provided money for rebuilding our scientific capabilities. Unfortunately, under Republican leadership, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 imposes significant cuts to scientific research in the following areas: economic sciences are cut by 55%; renewable energy is cut by nearly 30%; and international research is cut by 20%. The Geosciences directorate of the NSF, which funds climate research and a broad portfolio of science-based programs and research, was reduced by 8%. It also bars the results of the DOE-funded fossil energy R&D activity from being used for regulatory determinations.
- Highway of Transportation Funding Act of 2015 extends funding of basic federal-aid highway and transit programs for two months. Two months! Contracting, planning, permitting, and construction of transportation projects are measured in years or decades. This shows a gross lack of leadership.
However, there was some very good bipartisan work accomplished as well. The Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which will provide substantial and reliable funding for the National Institutes of Health to conduct research and develop cures for diseases. It will also help streamline the FDA to examine and approve or disapprove pharmaceutical treatments and medical devices more quickly. This bill was a spectacular display of bipartisanship at its very best. Both sides of the aisle listened and important comprises were produced to create a real breakthrough in health care that is paid for, and it will have a big impact on health treatments in our country.
We had a markup in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee that also showed significant bipartisan cooperation in passing legislation from the Committee to improve the GI Bill and other benefits for our veterans and their families.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Telecommunications Subcommittee marked up a bill to improve transparency of the Federal Communications Committee, some of which was bipartisan and some very partisan.
Passage of My Bill to Help Service-Disabled Veterans-Owned Small Businesses
I was thrilled last week with the passage of my bill, H.R. 1313, the Service’ Disabled Veterans Owned Small Business Relief Act, which will allow service connected disabled veteran owned small businesses to retain that status and the associated preference in obtaining U.S. government contracts for 3 years after the disabled veteran owner dies so the business has adequate time to transition to normal status. The bill passed on the House Floor unanimously!
Campaign Finance Reform
Finally, I spent time on the House Floor talking about the need for Campaign Finance Reform and my proposed constitutional Amendment, H.J. Res 31. I was honored to be joined in this discussion by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who strongly supports H.J. Res 31. Click here to watch the video.