Dear Friend -
Let's face it: there is a lot of news coming out of Washington these days. And much of it is designed to draw a reaction from you or get you to take sides.
But there is another story out there that you're not hearing. That's the story of the important accomplishments made by the House during the first eight months of this year.
From the outset of 2017, we made it a priority to work on the issues that matter most to you and I believe we took meaningful steps to grow our economy, strengthen the health care system, improve education, boost national security, support our veterans, and protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Below are some highlights of our important accomplishments in the first 200 days of 2017.
ECONOMY AND EDUCATION
We must create more opportunities for people to find and keep a good-paying job. The best thing government can do to achieve this: get out of the way and make it cheaper and easier for companies to hire and innovate.
To that end, the House passed legislation, like H.R. 26, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act and H.R. 5, the Regulatory Accountability Act, offering relief from regulations that hinder economic growth. We also advanced an important bill to address the financial industry, H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE Act. The Financial CHOICE Act replaces many of the flawed policies of the Dodd-Frank bill and focuses on revitalizing community banks our small businesses rely on to be successful.
Access to job opportunities starts with a quality education and so we once again put education at the top of our priority list in the House. We passed a bill to expand support for charter schools (H.R. 244) and fund the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states and local school districts more control over the education decisions that affect our children.
I was also pleased we passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353), which supports our career and technical education programs in Virginia. The bill promotes the development and implementation of programs aligned with state-specific occupations or industries and will help better match future workers with the skills currently in-demand in Virginia.
I am committed to strengthening our health care system and ensuring all of those who want to purchase health insurance can afford to do so.
That is why I supported passage of the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628) or AHCA, a bill that rolls back Obamacare, returns decision-making to patients, and addresses rising premiums and deductibles. The AHCA ensures that the most vulnerable of today and the future are protected and that no one with pre-existing conditions loses coverage. I believe this bill is the much-needed first step to restoring a health care system that works for all Americans. You can read more about why I supported the American Health Care Act here.
The House also advanced a bill called the Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R. 1101) that allows small business employers to band together through association health plans in order to purchase quality health care for their employees at a lower cost.
Finally, the House delivered a $781 million increase in resources for fighting the opioid epidemic, with funds going towards grants, treatment and prevention, and support for law enforcement.
NATIONAL DEFENSE AND SECURITY
We face a wide array of evolving and sophisticated threats from nations like China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. We need a strong national defense to keep our country safe and ensure the men and women of our Armed Forces have the training, equipment, and resources they need to carry out their mission.
To better provide for the defense of our nation, the House passed a bill (H.R. 3219) funding the Department of Defense (DoD) at a level 13% higher than last year. This boost in funding will help restore military readiness damaged by the harmful sequester cuts and continue the commitment to growing our Navy's Fleet. The bill keeps our military on the cutting edge of defense technology by investing heavily in research and development, ensuring the equipment and weapons used by our troops are the best found anywhere in the world, and keeps us a step ahead of our adversaries. And since we ask them to do difficult jobs in an increasingly dangerous world, the bill funds a 2.4% pay raise for our troops, the largest pay increase in 8 years.
Most critically for Virginia, the DoD portion of H.R. 3219 contains language blocking funds from being used to propose, plan for, or execute a new or additional base alignment and closure round (BRAC) and allows funds to be used on multiyear procurement contracts for up to 13 Virginia-class attack submarines. Virginia-class submarines are built in Newport News, meaning this provision will boost job growth in the Commonwealth.
Finally, since securing our border is a part of maintaining national security, H.R. 3219 includes $1.6 billion for the construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico. While not a silver bullet for solving our illegal immigration challenges, building new portions and expanding existing areas of the border wall is an important part of the solution.
As Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, I made it a top priority to take the first steps towards growing the Navy's Fleet to 355 ships. Since not all ships are forward deployed at all times, 355 is the number the Navy has told us it needs to project force around the globe and deter threats but also stay up-to-date on maintenance and training activities. To read more about why 355 ships is critical for our national security click here.
Finally, the House took action to sanction three of our most serious geopolitical adversaries: North Korea, Iran, and Russia. Each of those countries are threatening U.S. national security and undermining global stability with a range of aggressive acts. The North Koreans are testing ICBMs; the Iranians fund international terror organizations; and the Russians are again intervening in eastern European countries, seeking regional hegemony. The House sent a strong signal that these acts will not go unanswered by passing the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act (H.R. 3364). The aim of this bill is to use political and economic leverage to help hold these rogue nations accountable.
Our veterans made great sacrifices for our country. I am dedicated to ensuring they can access the health care benefits and educational and job opportunities they have earned and deserve.
The national defense spending package passed by the House (H.R. 3219) included $73 billion specifically for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a 5 percent increase over last year’s levels. With that funding, the VA will be able to better treat and care for our veterans, particularly in the areas of claims processing, suicide prevention, and treating opioid addiction.
In addition, we advanced a bill (S. 114) authorizing $2 billion in funding for the Veterans Choice Program, which allows certain veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA system. That bill also authorized 28 VA medical facility leases, including two facilities in Virginia — one in Fredericksburg and one in Hampton Roads. This authorization will improve access to care and health care outcomes for our Virginian veterans living in two areas with increasing veteran populations.
Also, the House approved H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act. This "GI Bill for the 21st Century" allows veterans to use the GI Bill throughout their lives instead of within 15 years of service and establishes a pilot program that allows veterans to attend non-traditional technology programs that will help them get jobs right after completion.
Finally, in order to ensure our veterans receive the very best treatment and customer service, the House passed S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. The bill allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire, demote, or suspend VA employees who don’t perform their duties up to the level our veterans deserve.
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, the life-blood of our region's economy, and the home to countless species of fish and wildlife. I am devoted to protecting and restoring the Bay so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
When reports surfaced that the White House budget proposal would eliminate funding for the program, I immediately wrote a letter to President Trump calling for $73 million be devoted to the Chesapeake Bay Program in his 2018 budget.
Unfortunately, that request was ignored and the program was cut out of the 2018 White House budget.
The good news is that after working with House Appropriations Committee members, $60 million in funding for the Bay Program was included in the Interior Department spending bill. Sixty million is a lot more than $0, but I still fear this funding is not enough to sustain the program, which we know is having great success. We have seen the success of the Chesapeake 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 will continue to be a strong advocate for full funding for the Bay Program as the appropriations debate resumes in September.
Two other legislative proposals I am pushing related to the Bay are the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and a bill to reauthorize the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program run by the National Park Service. Each of these bills are critical to the Bay's continued role as a safe habitat for wildlife and an economic driver for our region. I will keep you updated on each of these bills as they move through the legislative process.
In the first 200 days of 2017, the House took meaningful steps to grow our economy, strengthen the health care system, improve education, boost national security, support our veterans, and protect the Chesapeake Bay. Those efforts will continue for the next 200 days and beyond.
Please continue to contact me any time an issue that concerns you is before Congress.
It's an honor to serve you and Virginia's First District in the People's House.