This week was decidedly mixed in terms of partisanship and policy. On the one hand, the House easily passed H.R. 2576 the Toxic Chemical Control Act, and other bipartisan acts. I was proud of passing TSCA because it was badly needed and because it represented a significant degree of compromise. Full Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Upton and Environmental subcommittee chairman Shimkus worked to accommodate Democratic concerns.
H.R. 2042 Ratepayer Protection Act
On the other hand, there was plenty of partisanship, including H.R. 2042, the so-called Ratepayer Protection Act. Let me explain. H.R. 2042 would do two things designed specifically to prevent the Administration’s Clean Power Plan from being able limit carbon emissions or the EPA from reducing the acceptable levels of ozone, which has known health risks. It does this by delaying the rules from taking effect until all judicial action has been settled, and by allowing the governors to opt their states out of the rule. The judicial action delay would cause considerable uncertainty, and the opt-out provision would seriously reduce the rule’s effectiveness. Moreover, both of these would set new precedents on federal rulemaking, making it very difficult to create any new federal rules. President Obama has threatened to veto this bill if it passes the Senate, which is already very unlikely.
I offered an amendment to the bill that would eliminate the judicial review provision and replace the opt-out provision with a requirement that before issuing state standards, the EPA would be required to have relevant agencies conduct studies to determine what the adverse impacts of the state or regional rule would be on local reliability of the electric grid. This would actually provide the protections that local utilities have told me they need to protect their customers, exactly what the authors of the bill claim is their goal. If enacted into law, this amendment would be an improvement on the Clean Power Plan – something Republicans should be able to live with. It would change the bill into something that could be bipartisan and practical, and something the President would likely accept. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership rejected my amendment, saying it would decimate their bill. With the Chairman’s opposition, my amendment lost the vote. You can view my effort on this amendment by clicking on this link here.
Trade Adjustment Assistance
Since the President was able to get his trade negotiating authority through the Senate and ready to sign it into law, the House took another vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance, which passed with my support.
Veteran’s Affairs Committee – VA Health Care
The Veteran’s Affairs Committee had a hearing on the VA’s budget situation. It appears that the VA will be as much as $2.6 billion over budget this fiscal year. The hearing featured the testimony of Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. In summary, he said that the VA has been hit with much higher costs for accommodating veterans who are now seeking non-VA health care paid for by the VA and are facing much higher costs of a new and very effective Hepatitis C treatment. The surge of veterans seeking non-VA health care is the result of the Phoenix VA Medical Center scandal that found the system pushing off serving veterans, causing serious delays, and covering up the situation. The problems in Phoenix were also found in other locations, resulting in the new CHOICE policy, which allows veterans to seek non-VA health care in cases where VA services would not be available with reasonable delays or accessibility.
In the hearing, I was able to ask Mr. Gibson about progress at the French Camp Community Based Health Center. I was told, very directly, that French Camp is still a priority for the Administration, that the VA would consider Public-Private Partnerships, and that he would let me know if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be managing the project. I also was able to ask if VA health care had better or worse health care outcomes than non-VA care, and they will do the research and let me know.
Twilight Tattoo Ceremony
I had the rare privilege of attending the Twilight Tattoo ceremony at the Fort Meyer’s Army base just outside the Arlington Cemetery, which was attended by thousands of spectators including students from Eden Hall Middle School in Brentwood, CA. The ceremony illustrated the U.S. Army’s involvement in our nation’s major wars with authentic uniforms, canon fire, muskets, drill teams, patriotic songs, and marching band performances. The entire ceremony lasted about an hour, ending before sunset and giving everyone shivers of pride at several points.
SCOTUS decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Same Sex Marriage
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Supreme Court decision announced Thursday that upholds the Affordable Care Act by holding that residents of states using the federal exchanges are eligible to receive subsidies of their health insurance plans. The ACA has worked better than anyone expected, and this affirms that it will continue to work. The Supreme Court also announced that same-sex marriages will henceforth be legal within the United States of America. This is a victory for our nation in standing for equality and justice that we all so strongly believe in. I’m not always proud or happy about the Supreme Court decisions, but the decisions announced this week reaffirm my belief in the ideals of our great nation.