New Year, New Congress

Dear Friend,

So far, 2017 has been a whirlwind. We’ve had two Seahawks playoff games (it was a great season and I can’t wait for next year!), the start of a new Congress, and I’ve still managed to keep up my resolution to work off all that holiday food I ate (my daughters polished off the last remaining cookies in the house).

We’ve also had a busy start to the 115th Congress. But before I get into that, I’d like to say a word about the holiday we are celebrating today.

I had the honor yesterday and today to speak at a few celebrations in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This year the celebrations struck a particular chord with me.

Perhaps, it’s because later this week we will say goodbye to the nation’s first African American president. Or perhaps it’s because one of the most meaningful moments I’ve had as your Representative was standing aside the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama – on the 50thanniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Five decades earlier more than 600 people had been beaten, gassed, and trampled by horses simply for advocating for their own rights – for the right to vote. And as I stood there that day, I watched the motorcade of the first African American President cross the bridge. It was a powerful image. Later, President Obama said that despite how far we’ve come, we’ve got a long way to go.  

Those words ring true. We have a lot of work to do. And we need to make progress together.

We’ve got work to do to pass a new Voting Rights Act and ensure that Americans don’t face discriminatory barriers to the ballot box. We’ve got work to do to close the education gap and ensure that all Americans have access to quality education. We’ve got work to do to keep people safe and ensure that our justice system is fair to all Americans. We’ve got work to do when, in the most prosperous nation on the planet, one in every three Americans lives on the financial brink. We need to stand up for better wages so that Americans who works hard don’t need to struggle simply to put food on the table. 

On this holiday, we remember the lesson of Dr. King when he said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability – but comes through continuous struggle.” And so, he said, “we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.”

I’m going to continue my work to keep this economy moving forward and get this Congress on track. And there were plenty of developments on that front over the past two weeks. Read on for the news!

Protecting Federal Workers in our Region

This new Congress gives both sides of the aisle a chance to work together to accomplish some big things. But unfortunately, the first week of Congress was taken up by a proposal to change the House Rules in a way that I think will be harmful. These rules determine how specific legislation comes to the floor of the House to be considered and sets out the norms for debate.

I voted against the package because it weakened Congressional ethics rules, limited the rights of representatives to speak out about issues that matter, and made it easier to attack our public lands.

Another provision I found particularly troubling would allow any member to add amendments to spending bills to cut federal jobs or lower the pay of federal workers. In our region, we know how valuable the work is of the federal workers who keep Olympic National Park running smoothly, who take care of veterans at VA facilities, and who work to keep our sailors safe through their work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The federal workers that these proposed rules harm are our friends and neighbors. With that in mind, I spoke out against these changes on the House floor. You can watch my speech here.

The Path Forward for Health Care

This past Friday, the House of Representatives passed a budget bill that was problematic on a few fronts. First, the budget bill that was voted on would increase the national debt by $9 trillion over the next ten years. And second, the bill included language that establish special budget procedures to enable the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I opposed this bill, and I want to take a moment to tell you why.

As many of you know, I wasn’t in Congress when the ACA was passed. In fact, I’ve proposed making some changes to help rural health care providers and make insurance more affordable for small businesses. I don’t believe it’s a perfect law (almost by definition, something written by Congress never is). And I agree with President Obama who has said we should be open to changes if there are constructive ways to reduce health care costs for families and seniors, invest in prevention, increase choices for consumers, streamline regulations and reduce burdens for small businesses.

But what I’m not supportive of is repealing the law without a clear plan for ensuring millions of people don’t lose their health care or for preventing insurance costs from skyrocketing.

Often times, it’s easy to make this seem like some distant policy debate. But let’s talk about what this is really about. It’s about people.

I heard from many of those people on Saturday when we had a roundtable at Community Healthcare’s Clinic on the Hilltop of Tacoma. There, we heard from health care providers, patients, business and labor leaders and others.

And I’ve heard from many others over the past several years. 

This is about the woman I met in Gig Harbor who was diagnosed with breast cancer who told me that the Affordable Care Act has enabled her to get the treatments she needs.

It’s about the young man from Tacoma who said he was getting the care he needs because he was able to stay on his parents’ insurance plans.

It’s about every woman in this region that no longer faces the prospect of having to pay more for insurance simply because she is a woman.

It’s about every staff member and every patient at Franciscan, Multicare, Olympic Medical Center, Mason General, Summit Pacific, Grays Harbor Hospital, Harrison Hospital, Jefferson Healthcare, and every other health provider in our region. These health care providers have saved millions of dollars because they have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured patients walking through their doors.

It’s about seniors who no longer fall into the prescription drug donut hole. Seniors who are able to afford prescriptions and don’t have to face the awful choice between paying for food and paying for prescriptions.

And this is about families who no longer have to fear a loved one being denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

The reality is this: what’s happening in Congress has not been about repeal and replace. As your representative, I’ve now voted nearly three dozen times against proposals to repeal the law. But, for years now, we’ve seen no plan for replacement. 

With that in mind, this week I joined dozens of my colleagues in sending a letter to Speaker Ryan opposing the plans to repeal this bill and suggesting that improvements to the law that help small businesses, reduce costs, enhance prevention, and help patients and providers should occur through bipartisan cooperation. Please know that I’ll keep working in that regard and will continue pushing my proposals to help small businesses, reduce insurance premiums, and to help rural providers.

A New Role to Help Get This Congress on Track

Speaking of bipartisanship…

Being a somewhat newer member of Congress, I’m still growing accustomed to many of you asking how I’m doing as though I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But it makes sense why I get those looks. According to Pew, trust in government fell below 30 percent a decade ago and hasn’t recovered. 

But individual members of Congress all come to the nation’s capital motivated to make a difference for you. If you talk to most representatives they will say there’s widespread agreement that we should pass a budget, enact spending bills on time, and respond to critical public health threats like the Zika virus. But the last three Congresses have been the least productive since the 1940s. You read that right. The 1940s.

As an institution, Congress has dropped the ball. Generally, that’s because these days in Congress, there’s too much focus on partisan bickering and not enough focus on progress. Bills too often seek to highlight partisan differences rather than forge common ground.

That’s why I’ve been a proud member of the Bipartisan Working Group, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans that sit down at the same table and talk about the big, hairy issues facing our nation.

Recently, I was honored to be selected as co-chair of this group.  Along with my colleague, Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio, we’re hoping to work together on bipartisan infrastructure proposals and on tax policies focused on growing our economy and spreading prosperity to more Americans.

You can read more of my thoughts about this in an op-ed I wrote.

A Fiscal Wake Up Call

In fact, the Bipartisan Working Group has already introduced one such initiative that we can all get behind.

As our nation approaches nearly $20 trillion in debt, it’s clear we’ve got work to do to get a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges. I believe it’s critical that we get a handle on things so we can maintain investments in education and transportation and those things that help us grow a robust middle-class.  I believe it’s critical that we protect Medicare and Social Security so seniors can retire with dignity. 

Unfortunately, Congress has largely turned a blind eye to these issues in recent years. Consequently, together with a group of members of the Bipartisan Working Group, we recently reintroduced a resolution that would ensure all members of Congress get a presentation from the Comptroller General that analyzes the fiscal state of the federal government and assesses some of the long-term sustainability challenges.

I know all too well what happens when we don’t face the truth. 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 this bill embraces. It simply says that, if we’re going to get a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges and have an economy that works better for everyone, we’ve got to occasionally hear a clear statement of the problem from a non-partisan, unbiased source. Making progress on tough issues like this requires clear eyes and a willingness to work for common ground.

Check back in for updates on this legislation!

Keeping our Nation Secure

Many of you have contacted me over the course of the last month regarding your concerns about allegations of Russia interfering with the American election. After intelligence reports from our experts detailed how Russian hackers meddled in this year’s elections, it’s clear further investigation is needed to understand what happened and to ensure such attacks don’t happen again. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing legislation that would establish a bipartisan, independent commission to figure out how this happened and what we can do to protect ourselves from future foreign cyber attacks. No state actor like Russia should have the ability to use hacking to interfere in our democratic process.  I remain hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can join together to get to the bottom of this and make sure we are prepared for any attack that might come our way. Read more about the bill we introduced here.

Closer to Home

In our neck of the woods we are blessed to have thousands of active-duty service members, DOD civilian employees, and veterans living and working in our community. Part of that means services like the Navy will propose exercises and training that can impact neighboring communities. Over the past few years I’ve worked hard to ensure that the Navy continues its commitment to being a good neighbor. Because in our neck of the woods we are passionate about protecting the unique soundscape and environment of our region and at the same time having the backs of the men and women who serve on our behalf. 

One of the Navy’s recent proposals has been to increase the number of training missions that take off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. I believe that folks on the Peninsula should have enough time to understand and respond to the proposal in the official public comment period. In order to give you more time to read through their plan and respond in your own way, I’ve asked the Navy to extend the public comment period on this for another 30 days. I want to make sure we do what is right for both our national security and for local communities and local environments.

You can read more about my letter in the Port Townsend Leader.

District Work

Tess and I had an awesome time at the Mochi Tsuki Festival. Thanks to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and President Clarence Moriwaki for the mochi, origami lessons, and the amazing Taiko Drumming.

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I was honored to join Dr. Charles Horne and former Kitsap County Auditor Walt Washington for the 35th Annual Commemoration Banquet Celebrating the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sponsored by Blacks in Government. This year's theme was "The Power Behind the Dream -- Celebrating African American Women in Leadership" and we heard inspiring remarks from Erin Jones. Congratulations to all of the honorees!

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I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at several other celebrations of the life of Dr. King, including one at Shiloh Baptist Church on the Hilltop of Tacoma. Thanks to everyone who took the time to honor this iconic civil rights leader.

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That’s it for now.  As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you need a hand. 

I’m honored to represent you.

Derek Kilmer