A very hot and humid week in Washington was met with some very interesting legislation on the House floor and in two subcommittee hearings I attended.
EPA/Interior Approps bill
The real focus of the week was H.R. 2822: “Department of Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016,” which had more than 50 amendments. During debate on this legislation, I emphasized the need to invest in our nation’s water infrastructure. In the previous legislative week, I introduced an amendment to provide funding for projects that improve the quality, safety, and availability of our drinking water. However, since I did not offer cuts to other necessary programs – which were already dramatically cut in H.R. 2822 – to pay for my proposal, the amendment was out of order and withdrawn. This week, I spoke on the floor to highlight the need to invest in water recycling. Watch it at this link.
Republican dust up over Conference Flag
In an unfortunate turn of events, the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag became a part of H.R. 2822. This flag represents the darkest part of our nation’s history: racism, slavery, and treason. I cannot understand why people would wish to display so hurtful a symbol, but especially, why such a subject would even become a topic of discussion in the House of Representatives. In the end, the appropriations bill was withdrawn. This is good, because the underlying bill slashes money for essential water investments and environmental protections.
We also debated H.R. 5: “Student Success Act.” Although the “No Child Left Behind” law has some very serious problems that need fixing, the approach in H.R. 5 is to increase the funding disparity between schools in poorer regions and schools in wealthier districts by making funds portable. This is not going to help us meet the diversity challenge we face, and I opposed the bill, which passed by only one vote.
Bipartisan Effort Advances 21st Century Cures Act
One bit of good bipartisan news is that H.R. 6: “21st Century Cures Act” passed the House with a large majority of votes. This bill will provide that more than $8 billion will go to the National Institute of Health over the next five years to fund research on curing some difficult diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
In the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, we held a hearing on vocational rehabilitation. This was a good hearing that should point the way to better oversight of the VA and legislation to improve how resources are spent on helping veterans find good jobs after their service.
Discussion in the energy subcommittee about the oil ban
In the Energy Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we had a hearing to discuss the pros and cons of lifting the ban on exporting oil produced in the United States. The ban has been in place since the 1970’s as a result of the oil embargos of that decade. Fracking and increased automobile efficiency has reduced but not eliminated our dependence on imported oil. The panel was knowledgeable and the discussion was insightful. My concerns are first, that if we ship oil overseas instead of developing adequate refining capacity here, then we will be dependent on imported refined gasoline. This means we will have to defend major sea lanes at a significant cost to taxpayers and put our service men and women at additional risk. Second, with the increased fracking, we do not have the infrastructure or regulatory framework to capture harmful methane emissions in production and transportation or prevent groundwater contamination. This being the case, we will be aggravating climate change if we eliminate the export ban and increase oil production. Third, most of the oil could very well be shipped to China, and I don’t see how this would be in the best interest of the American people or economy.