Back to School
While Congress has been on “recess” for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running from pillar to post around our region meeting with the folks I represent. I even took a page out of the Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School (though no triple-lindy for me). In the past two weeks, I visited Tacoma Community College, Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, and Olympic College in Bremerton to hold town hall meetings. I spent some time talking about what I’m working on, what’s going on in Congress, and took questions from the audience.
At each of these town halls, I expressed my hope that Congress will avert a government shutdown. Congress needs to pass a new spending bill before the end of the month. Unfortunately, the new Administration and Congressional leadership seem prepared to snatch defeat from the claws of victory, irresponsibly threatening a shutdown unless certain conditions are met (like funding for a border wall and repeal of the Affordable Care Act). In our region, we saw the negative impacts of a shutdown a few years ago, with the national park being closed, Navy employees being furloughed, and other economic ramifications. As I mentioned at each town hall, I will fight for a more responsible approach. In fact, I’ve sponsored legislation known as “No Budget, No Pay” which says that, if Congress doesn’t do its job and pass a budget, members of Congress shouldn’t get paid.
I enjoy these town hall meetings because it’s an opportunity to hear from the folks I represent. Students at OC had good ideas about ways in which the federal government could enhance financial aid. At TCC, folks I talked to provided suggestions regarding how to better serve veteran students. In Grays Harbor, students had ideas to strengthen economic opportunity. It was further proof that young citizens in our neck of the woods are engaged and ready to lead.
I also got to visit the SEA Discovery Center in Poulsbo to celebrate Western Washington University’s investments in our region. From exposing students to marine life (I was mesmerized by the octopus) to setting up a new cyber security degree program, Western is doing big things in Kitsap County.
Take a look at some of the photos from this ‘Back to School Tour’ and then read on for more news!
A new kind of product
Whether I see you at Pacific Pizza in Forks, in a college classroom, or your local Rotary club, one of the most pressing issues I discuss with everyone I meet on the Peninsula is making sure our top export does not become our young people.
That’s why I’ve worked to grow opportunities on the Peninsula. That’s included supporting new innovations in the timber industry, an industry that has been and will continue to be an important leg of the Peninsula’s economic stool. Washington state is the birthplace of so many big innovations. Commercial jets from Boeing ushered in a new era of air travel. Personal computers created by Microsoft changed the way we do business. And Amazon changed the way we shop.
Now we are seeing the rise of “Timber 2.0,” with innovative new products like cross laminated timber (CLT). This is exciting because CLT offers us so many great possibilities. It could increase the use of responsibly harvested wood which could mean more jobs in rural areas of our state. Using a renewable resource rather than concrete or steel means that our buildings can be greener. These new wood products are also strong, fire resistant, and may actually be safer in an earthquake than non-wood alternatives.
People are starting to take notice too. This past year, I joined a bipartisan group of members of Congress to introduce the Timber Innovation Act, a bill to provide research, assistance, and incentives for the construction of tall wood buildings in the US. It’s why the Grays Harbor Daily World just did a two part series on what CLT could mean for our area. It’s very exciting stuff and I encourage you to read both installments. You can find them here: Part One and Part Two.
A new way to use government data
Cross laminated timer isn’t the only structure being created that can help our communities and provide business opportunities at home. Right now, you can use your phone to check the day’s weather or how bad traffic is on the highway. What if we gave researchers, government agencies, and the private sector access to new data from across the federal government? In my view it could have profound impacts that help people, create jobs, and save taxpayer money.
That’s why this year I reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would make data more open to the public and more efficiently used by government agencies. The bill keeps private the stuff that should stay private, but empowers government agencies, private industry, and citizens to use data to drive innovation and efficiency.
The Open Government Data Act would require the federal government to give the American people access to non-private data for free. In this way, we can empower positive changes for our government, citizens, and businesses.
The Seattle Times took a closer look on why we should pass this bill. You can read that here.
Helping those in need
Recently, I’ve expressed concerns with the President’s approach to our budget challenges. The President’s budget blueprint uses a haphazard hatchet rather than being strategic and fails to get a handle on our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. The plans we’ve seen so far are unserious and do not put us on a sustainable path for our future. But most importantly, they would do a great deal of damage to people.
For a closer look at just what some of these cuts could mean I spent some time with dedicated volunteers of the Kitsap Meals on Wheels program. Under the Administration’s budget proposal the Community Development Block Program would be completely eliminated and the Older Americans Act could face severe cutbacks. That’s important because both of these initiatives are essential to Meals on Wheels.
Meals on Wheels is so critical to many older Americans in places like Bremerton. I got a firsthand look at why this matters by preparing and packing meals. I then hopped in a car with a volunteer driver to deliver food to folks. We met some wonderful people that told us how much they appreciate not just the food, but also the company Meals on Wheels provides.
I’d encourage the President to meet with recipients of Meals on Wheels to understand that an investment in it is an investment in our communities and the people that live there.
Eyes and Ears on our Coast
If you’ve lived in our region for some time, you understand our connection to the water. And besides living through earthquake drills you have probably read about the potential for a ‘really big one.’ As Vice Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee, it’s my job to fight for federal programs to make sure we are prepared for future disasters.
An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast is one of those programs. And we are moving closer to the day when it’s completely up and running. It’s why I visited the University of Washington to get an update on the latest progress. They are helping to build a system that tracks seismic activity in real-time and allows emergency managers to notify the public so they can take the right actions to protect themselves before the earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) hits.
I was shown how, for the first time, the entire network – Washington, Oregon, and California – will be linked up. That’s a big deal. The Cascadia Subduction Zone doesn’t recognize state boundaries, so neither should our warning system. This progress gives our scientists and emergency responders the most accurate and detailed picture of how seismic activity disperses through the region.
You can read more about it in the Seattle Times here.
Working for You
Thanks to Bremerton Bottling Company for sitting down with me for a “Kilmer at Your Company” visit. This business has been family owned since 1944. It was great to discuss business and how I can be a better partner at the federal level.
Thank you to the Holly Ridge Center in Bremerton for meeting with me recently. Holly Ridge is an important non-profit in our community that provides vital services. It helps children with developmental disabilities and those who are medically fragile. They also provide vocational rehabilitation services to adults. We discussed the importance of Community Development Block Grants that have funded projects like their rehabilitation pool and the playground you see here.
I’m grateful for the vital work done by service clubs and chambers of commerce throughout our region. They make our communities better places to live and work. That’s why, over the last two weeks, I visited the Aberdeen Lions Club, the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce, the North Mason Rotary Club, and the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce to give a brief update on what's happening in our nation's capital. I was happy to have candid conversations with folks and to respond to their questions. I always want to be accessible and accountable to the people I represent.
I had a great company visit with Kingston Lumber, a locally family-owned business with more than 60 employees specializing in construction materials. Thanks to Joe Hurtt and the team for the tour and for doing business in our community!
I had the pleasure of spending a recent morning with Mendy Harlow and her staff at the Salmon Center in Belfair. The Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group does regional work on habitat restoration, salmon recovery, and recreation projects. They are active in the community, providing educational services for youth, organic farm produce, and opportunities in the AmeriCorps program. The federal government has been a committed partner to this organization, and I plan to continue to advocate for the essential work they do in our community!
That’s it for now. As always, it’s an honor to work for you.
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