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Weekly Update: Top 8 VA-01 Priorities in the Omnibus

Weekly Update: Top 8 VA-01 Priorities in the Ominbus
By Rob Wittman
March 24, 2018

This week, Congress passed a critical funding bill that finally provides increased, stable funding for our military. More than that though, this bill funded many of the priorities of the constituents of the First Congressional District. Here are the eight reasons why I voted for this spending package:

1. It pledges to rebuild our military. I believe it is our primary constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense. In 2017, we have had 80 military casualties during peace time training and operations, and just last week we lost two more sailors due to failed equipment during a training exercise. This is, in part, a direct result of the lack of resources available for training, maintenance, modernization, and other essential readiness programs. As Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, I have been working tirelessly to make sure our men and women in uniform receive the resources they need to be successful. This legislation finally delivers the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years and provides a much-deserved pay raise for our service members.

2. It fully funds the Chesapeake Bay Program. The Chesapeake Bay is critical to the environmental and economic health of our region. And we have seen the success of the Bay Program through clearer water, more oysters and more blue crabs, demonstrating that the federal and multi-state partnership to restore the Bay is working. I fought to have this program fully funded, and I’m proud that it was ultimately included.

3. It supports our Veterans. H.R. 1625 funds the biggest pay raise to our service members in eight years and includes increased funding for the Veterans Administration (VA). These resources will go towards opioid abuse treatment, better facilities, and increased quality of care so that we can create a health care system that works for our active duty military and veterans.

4. It increases access to rural broadband. Getting Virginians access to internet is one of my top priorities. High speed internet access, or broadband, is critical to economic growth, job creation, education, and healthcare. We can no longer leave Americans in rural areas on the sidelines. This funding bill provides more than $685 million for expansion of broadband service - which is approximately $625 million above fiscal year 2017. Of that money, $52 million will go towards Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants to help rural communities, like many in VA-01, connect to educational and health care services and help address the opioid epidemic in rural America. It also funds a new broadband loan and grant pilot program issued by the Secretary of Agriculture to serve truly unserved areas.

5. It invests America’s youth. We must examine the skills needed in today’s workforce and apply real-world requirements to academic curriculum. In Congress, we have been working to implement policies that emphasize the importance of skills and education in building a strong national workforce. Investing in workforce development is critical to bridging the skills gap for our youth; this spending bill boosts funding for workforce development by including a $50 million increase for apprenticeship programs and a $75 million increase for career and technical education programs.

6. It protects our children. My wife is an elementary school teacher, so I hear first-hand how her students have been affected by recent acts of violence. It is absolutely critical that our children feel safe when they are at school. This funding package allocates nearly $1 billion in mental health programs and includes two House-passed bills, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) and the STOP School Violence Act, that take action to bolster school safety. It also includes $75 million for school safety grants.

7. It works to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. To find an example of the classical infrastructure updates this country needs, we need look no further than the First District’s own Robert O. Norris Bridge. After reviewing several studies and speaking with constituents from the area, I wrote to the Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao regarding the condition of the Robert O. Norris Bridge and asked that she consider repair of the bridge as a priority. Serving around 8,000 vehicles on an average weekday, this bridge is critical to the economic vitality of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. Constant repairs to the Norris Bridge, now over 60 years old, slow traffic, block lanes, and close roads. This bill includes $21.2 billion in new funding for long-overdue improvements to our nation’s infrastructure. The Norris is bridge is just one many projects in the First District I believe needs attention with this infrastructure funding.

8. It combats the growing opioid epidemic. In October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. With nearly $4 billion appropriated to fighting this epidemic, this is the largest federal investment to date. These dollars will be coming to treatment, prevention, and law enforcement programs that will save the lives of individuals across the nation.

Although a huge step forward for our military, I’m still extremely concerned about increased domestic spending levels without addressing the fundamental problem of runaway, autopilot spending. I will continue to demand and support actions to reduce spending, especially autopilot spending. However, we must first address our readiness crisis and to properly fund our military. Our military needs this spending package that fully supports our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen. We have a lot of work to do to get Washington’s spending habits under control and to make sure we don’t burden future generations. I am here, ready to work with my colleagues on these critical issues and will continue to fight for the priorities of the First District.