07.11.16

A Difficult Week

Friends,

This past week was a difficult one for our country. After several days of tragedies, it’s important that we don’t simply go about our business. Rather, now is a time for reflection and dialogue.

Too often, in Washington DC, these moments lend themselves to partisan bickering. But something constructive and unique happened on Friday when House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined together to make a joint statement. Speaker Ryan commented, “Every member of this body — every Republican and every Democrat — wants to see less gun violence. Every member of this body wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the color of their skin. And that's not how people are feeling these days.” He continued, “We need to take a moment here for reflection, for thought, for prayer, for justice, for action.” 

Following those remarks, Leader Pelosi added, “Episodes like this must not harden our divisions but should unify us as a country.”

I’m struck that in tough times like these we have choices to make.

We can either turn away and become more divided as a nation. 

Or we can be reminded of our common values and our common humanity. We can respect one another – and even respect one another’s differences. We can value our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for us every day, and we can push every day to combat racism to ensure that every American is treated with respect and dignity. We can have compassion for one another. We can, as Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “bind up the wounds of our nation.”

I hope you’ll join me in pushing for that second path and working toward something productive and constructive coming out of these tragic days.

Having covered that tough news, let me move on to the good, bad and ugly from our nation’s capital.

 

A Bipartisan Effort to Combat Opioid Addiction

On Friday, the House voted to approve bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help Americans hit by the opioid epidemic.The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed the House by a vote of 407-5 and contains many initiatives and provisions to help those suffering from opioid and heroin abuse.

Both the House and the Senate previously passed bills to address the problem. A Conference Committee met and sent the revised text to both chambers for consideration. The act now heads to the Senate for approval.  

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 18,893 people died from an opioid overdose in 2014 and 10,574 died from a heroin overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also report that 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose – and deaths from the epidemic have surpassed the number of Americans killed in motor vehicle accidents each year.

Attached to these terrible statistics are human beings. Sadly, too many folks have felt the impact of heroin and opioid abuse.  This scourge has led to overcrowded jails, overwhelmed medical professionals and emergency responders, and families who simply want to do more to help their loved ones. I’m glad we have come together to pass legislation to help stop the spread of this epidemic. This is a good step but we can do more. It’s why I’m a cosponsor of a bill that targets the right investments in the right programs to help those struggling with addiction and looking to break it.

The legislation includes, among the new initiatives, a requirement that the VA more effectively track opioid use by veterans, modification of drug prescribing practices to reduce the availability of opioids that could be abused and an increase in the use of overdose reversal drugs, along, with allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer medication-assisted treatment.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is supported by 230 organizations including the American Psychological Association, Police Foundation, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions for America. While there’s plenty more to do, I’m hopeful this bill will be signed by the President.

 

Budget Update

You might remember that previously a majority of Congress passed a two-year budget agreement so we could avoid fiscal brinkmanship. Compromises are never perfect but it did some good: It protected Social Security and Medicare so folks can live with dignity after retirement, made investments in education and research to keep us a step ahead of competitors, helped us protect Puget Sound’s iconic waters, and allowed us to show the men and women who serve our country that we have their back. Plus, it got rid of most of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration for two years.   

When that bill passed in October, it was intended to provide a roadmap for spending for a two year period.  It was supposed to make the appropriations process more functional and predictable. Sadly, Congress appears to be in the process of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Let me provide a little context….

By the end of September, Congress is supposed to pass twelve spending bills to cover the basic functions of government. With just one week of session left until early September, Congress has officially passed a grand total of ZERO.  That’s right:  ZERO.

Now, the House has actually passed a handful of these appropriations bills, but unfortunately, these bills are in a form that seem much more designed to make a political statement than to make a law. In fact, these bills are so off the mark that, in every instance so far, the President has issued a statement that he would veto the bills if they were to make it to his desk.

So, to avert another damaging government shutdown, it appears that there will be another last-minute dash to try to pass these spending bills before the end of the fiscal year (again – the end of September). 

This sort of governance by crisis is, to use a technical term, dumb. It creates unnecessary unpredictability for government agencies and for private industry as well. 

It’s quite possible that you’ll see Congress pass something known as a Continuing Resolution (aka a “CR”).  A CR basically locks in spending at least year’s levels. Obviously, that’s problematic because it fails to recognize new priorities (for example, the Zika Virus and the opioid programs I mentioned above).

Again, just not a wise way to do business. 

Please know that, as your representative, I’ll keep pushing for Congress to move away from the game playing and have a more functional approach. We’ll keep at it.

 

Fiscal State of the Nation

Along those lines, I’ve been working with my colleagues who are members of the Bipartisan Working Group to introduce new legislation related to our fiscal challenges.The bill is intended to give lawmakers more information about the long-term fiscal health of our country. Our legislation requires the Comptroller General of the United States to present a financial report of the United States to a Joint Session of Congress.

One of my colleagues asked about the value of this bill, and I shared a personal story. For a number of years, I avoided stepping on a scale because I was about 90 pounds heavier than I am now. Eventually, I figured out that you can’t get a handle on things by being blissfully ignorant. Occasionally, you’ve got to step on that scale. That’s the ethic we’ve embraced with this bill.

If we are going to have an economy that works better for everyone and ensure that current and future Americans can retire with dignity, we’ve got to hear a clear statement of our fiscal situation from a non-partisan, unbiased source. Making progress on tough issues like this requires clear eyes, good information, and a willingness to work for common ground.

 

A New Opportunity for Timber

We generally think of Washington state as the birthplace of big innovations.Commercial jets from Boeing ushered in a new era of air travel. Personal computers with software created by Microsoft changed the way we do business. And a little website called Amazon changed the way we shop.

Now, we have a chance to change the way buildings are constructed. Instead of concrete and steel we can now use innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber (CLT) to construct buildings over six stories tall. These products are being used in buildings all around the world – just take a look at the University of British Columbia in Canada where they are building an 18-story residential hall almost entirely out of these new wood products.

With CLT and other innovative wood technologies we can utilize an abundant and sustainable product native to Washington state that connects rural economies to greener urban growth.That’s why, for the past two years, I’ve directed key agencies like the Department of Defense to explore using these products when constructing new facilities.

And last week, we took the next step on this front by introducing new bipartisan legislation to promote the production and use of these innovative timber products.

For a deeper dive into my legislation and why this matters, please visit my website and check out my blog.You can find that here.

 

A Better Way to Fight Fires

Speaking of wood…. In our neck of the woods, folks are rightfully concerned about the dry climate that makes wildfires especially dangerous. Last year the largest wildfire in our state’s history hit Central Washington and kept our state’s firefighters battling around the clock to protect the communities near our forests.

These developments illustrate that increasingly intense wildfires are swallowing up the U.S. Forest Service’s budget.

That’s because the practice of “fire borrowing” has become routine. Under fire borrowing, once the Forest Service has spent the money allocated for fire suppression, it’s forced to raid other parts of the Forest Service budget to meet this need. In fact, fighting forest fires now consumes well over half of the Forest Service’s budget. 

In a nutshell, the current approach cannibalizes funding from other important areas of the Forest Service like managing our forests – including operations that can actually prevent forest fires in the first place.The current approach hurts forest health, hurts our ability to prevent fires, and hurts local economies.  

I’ve sponsored bipartisan legislation to end this practice of fire borrowing and to treat forest fires like other natural disasters (including floods and hurricanes) are treated. Our proposal is to deal with these catastrophic fires with funding support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That way, we can avoid seeing the gutting of the Forest Service budget year after year. 

I recently joined a bipartisan group of 60 members of the House to call for action on this front. You can read our letter here.

 

Working for You  

It’s been a busy few weeks in the district! I met Aunt Sam at Thunder at the Canal at Alderbrook and I was a "judge" for the Thunder at the Canal oyster eating contest. You've got to appreciate the ability to eat several dozen shellfish.

  

I also got to look at some of the habitat restoration work being done along the Chehalis River (and got to drive an air speedboat) thanks to the Chehalis Tribe! Many thanks for the visit.

I had a great visit in Forks. Many thanks to Lissy Andros at the Forks Chamber and Mayor Monohon and Rod Fleck at the city for being such gracious hosts. We had some really important discussions about the local economy, education, and properly funding our National Park and Federal Forest.

Then I headed to McCleary for one of my favorite annual pastimes, the Bear Festival. 250 lbs of 100% bear in a batch of stew that takes 30 volunteers to just peel and cut the veggies! Thanks to Mayor Schiller and Aimee Rowland for the opportunity to serve for the 3rd year straight!

I’d like to close out the newsletter this week by reminding folks to enter my photo contest! July 13th is the final date to submit photos you’ve taken of our amazing region. Share them at kilmer.photocontest@mail.house.gov for the contest. Your photo could be my new Facebook cover photo!

That’s it for now.  As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Sincerely,
 
Derek Kilmer