This week Congress took a big vote on the budget, a proposal that I strongly disagreed with. We need to have a more strategic approach to budgeting that protects our values and economic security. Folks in our region want better roads and schools, more middle-class jobs, a brighter future for their kids, a healthy environment, and a secure nation that looks after those who served. To do this responsibly, Congress must work in a bipartisan fashion to address sequestration and our nation’s long-term debt and deficit issues.
Unfortunately, the budget passed by both the House and Senate does not meet these goals. This budget is not a product of compromise or collaboration. It fails to invest in these priorities and leads to cuts that would hurt seniors and the disabled. Moreover, the budget does not address the spending caps or long-term debt, limiting our ability to make strategic investments and fiscal security. In fact, it makes it worse. This budget is simply not a solution to the problems that America faces. This is wrong and why I voted against the proposal.
Other Important Votes this Week
This week we also passed some bills with overwhelming bipartisan support that didn’t get as much media attention but are worth discussing. One of them, H.R. 1698, is related to hostile behavior from Iran. We must remain committed to the goal of keeping Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. We also need to be vigilant against Iranian actions that encourage destabilization and hateful rhetoric in the Middle East. To that end I supported this bill to expand and strengthen sanctions targeted to prevent their government from developing ballistic missiles that could cause harm to America or our allies.
The other has to deal with a problem that hits closer to home. Wherever you live, too many folks have felt the impact of the opioid epidemic. It’s a scourge that in our region has led to overcrowded jails, overwhelmed medical professionals and emergency responders, and families who simply want to do more to help their loved ones. We need to do more to help those struggling with addiction. We also should do more to stop the supply of opioids from other countries. That’s why I voted to pass H.R. 2142 which provides additional investments at the border for more chemical screening devices so we can stop drugs like fentanyl from coming in.
Just as folks started to assess the damage to their homes in Texas and Florida after hurricanes, natural disasters hit other American communities. Hurricane Maria decimated the entire island of Puerto Rico. Ninety percent of folks there still don’t have power. The worst wildfire in California history continues to burn through Northern California with hundreds still missing. The government of the United States should stand behind those who lost everything.
It’s why I voted with a majority of my colleagues this week to provide additional disaster assistance to those in need. It will provide direct investments to firefighters still responding to the blazes in California. Plus, it will ensure the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund (which helps provide things like shelter, food, and clothing) doesn’t run out of money. It also shores up the national flood insurance program, which badly needed investments. Without it, homeowners and businesses in places like Hoquiam could see the insurance rates they pay on their properties skyrocket.
I’m glad we are continuing to help those who lost everything and provide relief to other areas. The bill now has to be passed by the Senate before going to the President.
This week, the House voted on a bill related to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits that seniors and folks with severe disabilities receive. One of my priorities is to make sure that seniors can live with dignity during their golden years. That means we need to make sure that no one is cheating the system.
This legislation sought to ensure that felons don’t have access to SSI benefits. But instead of going after only those who aren’t playing by the rules, it would also immediately cut off those who have not been convicted of a crime. This actually used to be a rule and it was done away with after a woman lost her disability benefits in a case of mistaken identity.
That’s why groups from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare to the Paralyzed Veterans of America spoke out against this bill and why I joined many of my colleagues in voting no. I will keep working for more productive solutions to ensure that benefits go to those who have earned them.
H.R. 3354, Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018
In order to prevent a shutdown in December, Congress needs to pass appropriations bills that fund our government agencies. Earlier this year Congress passed a bill funding some of our federal agencies and today the remaining accounts were taken up and voted on. I voted no on this legislation because it took a hammer to priorities that are important to me. The majority brought to the floor a bill that cuts to the bone programs that ensure our water and air is clean, support transportation programs that help local businesses grow, and further apprenticeship opportunities to help folks get a good job.
It was also littered with unrelated policy proposals that should not be included in a must-pass spending bill. For example, two provisions were slipped in that would make it even easier for big money to flood our political system. I spoke out against that because I don’t think anyone believes that’s a good idea. You can watch that here.
This is why folks hate Congress. At the end of the day it needs to come together and govern. I remain committed to avoiding a shutdown that would hurt local businesses and workers. I also remain committed to passing bills that support quality jobs and education opportunities, honor our commitments to those who serve, and ensure a secure retirement remains in reach for everyone.
H.R. 3697, the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act
Today, the House took a vote on H.R. 3697, the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. Congress needs to come together to support tougher border measures that keep out criminals and repeat offenders while making sure law-abiding folks playing by the rules have a path to becoming a citizen. I don’t believe that members of criminal gangs should be allowed in the country to live and operate. At the same time, I had serious concerns that this bill wasn’t the right way to reach that goal, so I voted no.
I cast a no vote because civil rights and civil liberties groups raised compelling questions about whether this bill provided too few protections for legal permanent residents, who could be deported based solely on a suspicion that they belong in a gang with no procedure for challenging that suspicion. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights extends protection not just to American citizens, but also to folks who are here legally. Folks like my grandmother who came here from Europe after World War II and lived here legally for decades before becoming a US citizen.
This is why people hate Congress. This is another example of a legitimate issue that’s been handled in a ham-fisted partisan way. Instead of putting forward a bill that’s been through the committee process, received public testimony, and been subjected to amendment, it was rammed through in a partisan fashion. As a consequence legitimate concerns about due process were ignored. This also meant members like myself, who support the goal but were concerned about the details, did not get a chance to raise legitimate questions about making sure this bill does the right job of balancing public safety against the rights of individuals to have due process.
Earlier this week, the House voted on additional investments for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration in the wake of devastating hurricanes hitting states like Texas. I was hopeful we could move quickly on this because FEMA was about to run out of money and they help pay for things like shelter, food, clothing, and medicine.
Yesterday, the Senate took up the bill we passed, approved it, and also added on short-term measures to raise the debt ceiling and fund our government through December 15. Today, I joined the House in voting to pass this legislation and get it to the President for a signature. The good news is that we can get emergency money to victims of natural disasters, we won’t default on our debt, and we won’t have a government shutdown. America should pay its bills while at the same time getting a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges. We also know how damaging a government shutdown was to our region last time.
That being said, I’m disappointed we will be dealing with the debt ceiling and a potential government shutdown yet again in December. I spent 10 years working in economic development. No business I ever worked with would run its operations this way. In the coming months I’m going to push for a longer-term budget that focuses on growth and can pave the way to help us address our fiscal challenges. It’s past time to bring a little certainty and predictability to this Congress.