05.08.17

Balls and Strikes

One of the most challenging things about the last week in DC was the fact that we saw examples of how Congress could work … and examples of how it shouldn’t work. We saw bipartisan progress on a spending bill and on an issue of importance to our national security. In contrast, we saw a health care bill that – in substance and in process – fails the American people.

Let me start with the good.

Congress came together to do something the American people have been clamoring for; Democrats and Republicans worked together to solve problems. Congress approved a bill to fund the government with broad, bipartisan support. It was a bill that averted another damaging government shutdown. Like every compromise, it wasn’t perfect, but it makes progress for folks in our region.

The bill includes provisions that give our service members a pay raise and strengthens services to veterans. The bill helps college students by allowing Pell Grants to be used year-round (consistent with a bill I sponsored). The bill continues investments important to our region, including funding for the earthquake early warning system and the protection of Puget Sound.

For a full rundown, visit my website here.

The House also overwhelmingly passed a new set of sanctions to target North Korea. Many of you may have followed the North Korean regime’s increased aggressiveness and threats of putting a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile. The bipartisan bill passed by the House goes after a network of banks and other entities that help North Korea bypass the set of sanctions already in place. These tough new measures send a message that America won’t give North Korea’s rogue regime a free pass.

Sadly, Congress also showed how not to do things.

Last Thursday, Congress passed a flawed health plan that will be damaging to our state and the nation. President Trump has repeatedly promised that any effort to replace the Affordable Care Act will lower costs, protect folks with pre-existing conditions, and won’t lead to a loss in coverage for folks who have it now. But the House passed a bill that breaks each of these promises.

According to independent analyses, if this bill becomes law, millions of Americans who currently have health insurance will go without coverage. If this bill becomes law, insurance companies would be able to charge older customers five times more than younger policy holders. If this bill becomes law, insurance companies could again charge sick patients more. The bill would make military veterans ineligible for tax credits that currently help them afford private insurance. People with employer-sponsored insurance could once again face annual limits and lifetime limits on the amount of care that insurance will cover, meaning they would have to pay more out of pocket.

Don’t take my word for it. 

The American Medical Association opposed the bill, pointing out that people with pre-existing conditions “face the possibility of going back to the time when insurers could charge them premiums that made access to coverage out of the question.” The American Cancer Society suggested that the stated protections for pre-existing conditions would be “virtually meaningless.” The AARP is against the bill, specifically noting the increased costs to seniors. Mental Health America called it a “tragic day for all those dealing with or caring for someone with serious mental concerns.”

Sadly, the process undertaken to pass this bill was also awful. In 2009, Paul Ryan said, “I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read, that we don’t know what they cost.” That went out the window last Thursday since there was no estimate on the impacts or costs of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office. There was not a single hearing on this bill. As Republican senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “A bill – finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate – should be viewed with caution.”

While some have focused on the political implications of last week’s vote, I’m much more concerned about the folks I represent. The people I’ve met with cancer and other conditions who are honestly concerned about whether they’ll be able to get care. The senior citizens who cannot afford to see their health insurance premiums skyrocket. The small business owners who want a better deal.

I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t in Congress when the Affordable Care Act was passed. There are parts of that law that inarguably represent progress for the folks I represent. That said, it’s not perfect.  I’m willing to work with anyone that wants to improve our healthcare system by reducing costs and expanding coverage. In fact, I’ve sponsored bills to help small businesses better afford insurance, to address the challenges facing rural health care providers, and to improve access to primary care.

But I’m not willing to move backward.

Please know that I’ll keep pushing for Congress to do things the right way.

Know the rules

The dysfunction in DC has certainly contributed to the erosion of the public’s faith in Congress. Beyond that, though, we’ve also seen some high profile ethical lapses over the years that have further contributed to the problem. In my view, we’ve got to do more to ensure that members of Congress abide by the highest ethical standards. It’s important for public servants to know the rules of the road and to follow them.

When representatives first come to Congress, part of their orientation is a crash course in ethics. That’s the one and only time members have an ethics review. Interestingly, that stands in stark contrast to the expectations of congressional staff members. All staff who work in our offices have to conduct an annual ethics review for their jobs. Senior staff undergo an even more rigorous review. Presidential appointees, many federal civilian employees, and some members of the military are also required to do annual ethics training.

Why shouldn’t members of Congress be held to the same standard?

With that in mind, I recently sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for a change to House Rules, requiring an annual ethics training for all representatives. I think it’s an important step in the process of working to restore faith in government. You can read my letter here.

And, because I’m a big believer in leading by example, I recently took the annual review myself.

Restoring our Sound

One of our favorite sayings on Team Kilmer is “don’t agonize – organize.” I’ve generally decided that it’s not too productive to wring our hands and shake our fists at the sky when something misguided happens in DC. Rather, I think it’s important to channel our energies into trying to fix the problem.

We recently got a test of that approach when the Trump Administration released its budget blueprint. Among other bad aspects of his plan, the proposal would completely eliminate of any federal support for Puget Sound recovery.

Puget Sound is iconic for so many reasons. I think of some of the memories I’ve had with my kids in recent years. Going shrimping with Sophie on Hood Canal. Attending a tribal festival on the water with the whole family (and eating geoduck fritters). Taking a ferry from Bainbridge and spotting an orca swimming nearby. 

That’s what protecting the Sound is about. It’s about the orca, the salmon, the shellfish. It’s about protecting the ability of future generations of Washingtonians to develop those memories too.

But it’s also about jobs. It’s about the 3,200 people in our region whose livelihoods are tied to shellfish growing. It’s about the folks who work in our fisheries, who are depending on clean water to recover our salmon runs. It’s about tourism.

With so much at stake, I’m so pleased that folks from our neck of the woods aren’t agonizing – they’re organizing. In fact, last week, I joined my fellow co-founder of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus – Representative Denny Heck – in welcoming dozens of regional leaders to D.C. The mission? Call attention to the need to continue cleaning up our Sound.

It was awesome and inspiring to see leaders from government, tribes, environmental groups, and the business community speak with one voice about the importance of continuing the effort to protect and recover Puget Sound.

As I mentioned, the funding bill just passed continues investments in recovery projects at the same level as last year. I told those who visited that it couldn’t have happened without them. It also couldn’t have happened without you. Whenever you raise your voice on this issue, folks take notice.

We have a long road ahead as we start to work on the appropriations process for the upcoming fiscal year. Given the proposed cuts by the Trump Administration, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But always remember – don’t agonize, organize! 

Unlocking the power of open data

In my last newsletter, I wrote about the power of open data. Since then, I’ve continued to make progress on my bipartisan open data bill. I sat down with my colleague Representative Blake Farenthold at Bloomberg News to answer questions about it. The subject gets wonky but we had an interesting conversation about why this matters. Think of Sputnik. When the Space Race kicked off, we saw a lot of cool developments come out of government laboratories. The computer power breakthroughs needed to get an astronaut on the moon led to many of the innovations for that phone in your pocket.

These days, data analytics is changing the way we do things. We see it in sports with the moneyball approach in baseball or how teams select players in the NFL draft. It’s also leading to cool things like Steve Ballmer’s new project where he created a database for anyone to see where government spends money and on what.

Data analytics is driving innovation. It has the power to lead to the creation of new businesses and greater efficiency in government. Government policies can be helpful.

That’s why our bipartisan legislation makes government data more available to the public to be used for economic innovation and to help better understand how our tax dollars are spent. We think this is an issue Congress can get behind so I’ll keep you posted on its progress!

Helping coastal communities

I like to tell my colleagues that I have the privilege to represent the most amazing district in the nation. Our region has a rich cultural history, stunning natural beauty, and we are blessed to live in a coastal region that is defined – in large part – by its relationship to the water.

But in recent years we have seen an increase in weather-related events impacting our communities. Rising sea levels and increased erosion are hurting communities like Ocean Shores, Westport, and tribal villages. The reality of climate change has forced new thinking about how we grow and prosper as a region. We need to plan smarter and forge strong partnerships to design and build for greater coastal resiliency.

That’s why I’m proud to announce that in 2016, in partnership with my office, coastal entities in Grays Harbor County and the Washington State Department of Ecology contracted the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to conduct an assessment that explores long-term resilience opportunities in response to our region’s challenges. The Center conducted 104 interviews across the coast to address and understand the infrastructure challenges we face, the impacts to the natural environment from erosion, flooding, and landslides; the number and severity of storms; predictions about rising sea levels; and the threats associated with a potentially large earthquake and tsunami.

The assessment provides a blueprint for how we can move forward. You can read the report here. Please know that I have my oar in the water and I will continue to offer my partnership and support to this initiative and our coastal communities. 

Working for you

I got to spend some time hanging in the Capitol with the students of Life Christian Academy. Thanks to the students for the great questions!

Speaking of students… I was excited to stop by the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club on the Hilltop in Tacoma. I had a chance to tour the facility and talk with the organization’s leadership. More importantly, I got to answer some questions from the kids! (Yes – speaking to a group of kids may be the toughest town hall meeting I’ve ever had). Seriously, though, the Boys and Girls Clubs do fantastic work in our community. These are places where kids can go after school, learn, and have fun. I want to give a special thanks to Miley, our student tour guide who really knows her stuff!

I recently started a day by watching the walls of a new cross-laminated timber (CLT) classroom go up at Greywolf Elementary in Sequim! Thanks to a great group of community members and CLT advocates for showing up and supporting the use of an innovative and environmentally-friendly material. I was honored to join Rep. Steve Tharinger and leaders from the local school district in signing a panel in the first building of this kind to go up on the Olympic Peninsula!

 

I also made a stop at Tool Gauge in Tacoma, an aerospace manufacturer that employs 130 people in our district. They are a critical link in our region's aerospace industry, making metal and plastic components for companies like Boeing. In fact, the piece shown here is a piece of the landing gear of the 777x! Thanks to Debbie Lee for taking the time to show me around, and thanks for doing business (and growing) in Tacoma!

  

OK…  that’s it for this time. As always, it’s an honor to represent you.

Sincerely,
 
Derek Kilmer