Doing Right By Our Vets
I hope this newsletter finds you well.
Like many of you, I was touched by a number of the tributes to President George H.W. Bush after his passing over the weekend.
President Bush lived a life of patriotism and public service.
One example that struck me this weekend was a letter President Bush wrote to President Clinton and left for him in the White House. Here is the text:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice; but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck -
This genuine civility and statesmanship is something we should all respect as Americans.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks since Thanksgiving. And it’s going to be a busy December. In Washington, DC, Congress is yet again working against the clock to avoid a partial government shutdown. More on that in a bit...but first, I want to focus on something that’s received and deserves a lot of attention.
Righting a Wrong
As I mentioned in my newsletter a few weeks ago, I recently visited veterans at the UW-Tacoma to talk about how they’ve been coping without the GI Bill housing stipend payments they are owed. This is unfortunately part of a nationwide problem. Sadly, student-veterans at Olympic College and elsewhere are among the 340,000 veterans nationwide that haven’t received payments or have been underpaid because of a computer glitch at the VA. Some students have gone four months without a stipend and are falling behind in classes because they must choose between buying books and keeping the lights on. In some cases, student-veterans who are also parents are considering dropping out until the problem is fixed so they can make money to support their families.
The VA’s failure on this front is completely unacceptable. If you fight for our country, you should never have to fight for the benefits you’ve earned and deserve.
The problem got even worse last week. On Wednesday, the VA’s leaders hinted to Congressional staff that they might not reimburse veterans for the money they are owed.
I’m not willing to sit still and let that happen. After the news broke, I teamed up with Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii to demand veterans get the benefits they earned and deserved. We also called for an Inspector General Investigation into the causes of this problem and to identify who should be held accountable. Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee also grilled the VA’s Undersecretary for Benefits at a hearing.
Within 24 hours the VA reversed course and made clear that every veteran will be made whole, but not until December 2019. Again - that’s not good enough. In the same announcement, the VA said they planned to delay the implementation of the Forever GI Bill, which is designed to help veterans afford college in areas where the cost of living is high. The VA’s computer systems are woefully out of date and incapable of processing a lot of the changes outlined in the Forever GI Bill. Citing the computer issues, the VA said they won’t fully follow the law until 2020.
Again - that’s not OK with me. So, Senator Schatz and I also demanded answers from the VA’s leadership about how they plan to upgrade their computers to be able to comply with the law. I’m going to push from my seat on the Appropriations Committee to make sure the VA has the funds to pay for upgraded computers to prevent this problem from ever happening again. The Inspector General investigation, in addition to holding people accountable, will help identify where investments are needed.
Veterans deserve better. If you have been directly affected by this, there’s a hotline that may be able to help: 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551). If that doesn’t work, let my team know and we’ll go to bat for you.
The Kitsap Sun has been reporting on this issue. The graphic below links to the most recent article:
Making our Government Work
Dysfunction in Washington, DC is not limited to the VA. Congress, too, is a real fixer-upper.
How bad is it? Congress is once again facing a funding deadline that could shut down important parts of the government before the end of the year. The original deadline is this Friday, but it is likely that will be temporarily extended to later this month because of the ceremonies honoring President Bush at the Capitol.
I’ve been banging the reform drum for a while now, and I will continue pushing until I see meaningful reform. For nearly a year, I’ve worked with a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives as part of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform.
I worked on some changes to provide more stability within the budget process with Rep. Steve Womack, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. I recently brought him to our region where the federal government is the largest employer so he could see firsthand how many of our families and how much of our economy is impacted by government shutdowns.
I also worked with Rep. Jodey Arrington from Texas to introduce an amendment in the committee to try to make Congress more accountable. It’s called, “No Budget, No Recess.”
The idea is simple: if Congress fails to do its job of passing a budget resolution and passing appropriations bills by their deadlines, members of Congress should have to stay in DC to finish their work. Currently, the inability of Congress to do its job impacts folks in our community who work at Naval Base Kitsap, at the VA, at the National Park, and at other federal agencies - as well as local businesses that depend on them. Shouldn’t the impact be felt by members of Congress instead?
The proposal that the committee developed wouldn’t solve every problem, but it clearly would’ve meant progress. It would’ve reduced the likelihood of can-kicking by Congress as well as the threat of shutdowns. Sadly, despite our efforts, the committee’s progress was stymied last week because the leaders of both parties outside of the committee couldn’t agree on a deal to move the final legislation forward in the House and Senate. This was incredibly frustrating - it is the perfect example of why so many people are fed up with Congress.
Having said that, this was only the first bite at the apple. Already, I’m working with Chairman Womack and incoming-Chairman John Yarmuth to advance some of the ideas from this effort as stand-alone legislation in the House.
I’m committed to reducing the dysfunction in Congress. And I’m also committed to getting a handle on our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. Please know that I’ll keep at it!
Working For You
Here are some of the highlights from the last couple of weeks:
Connecting With Our Community
Last month, a bunch of students at North Kitsap High School asked me to come in and visit with them. Thanks for all the thoughtful questions, and thanks as well to Superintendent Laurynn Evans & Principal Megan Sawicki for taking the time to meet with me! Go Vikings.
Supporting Our Local Businesses
I recently visited Heritage Distilling Company for a Kilmer at Your Company visit. We talked about how craft distilleries are growing and creating jobs locally. We also discussed some things that Congress can do to support job creation in their industry.
I am thankful to live in an area where folks care for and look out for each other. Thank you to the team at the Rescue Mission in Tacoma and all the volunteers who showed up to make sure our neighbors had a warm meal on Thanksgiving!
Leading The Way Forward
Finally, last week while I was in Washington, DC, I was elected Chair of the New Democrat Coalition. Now at more than 90-Members of Congress strong, the New Democrat Coalition will push Congress to look at old problems through a new lens. We are laser-focused on growing the economic pie, creating jobs in every part of the country, and building an economy where businesses innovate and there are more economic opportunities for more people in more places. I’ve got some big ideas for the coalition to work on that will directly benefit our region. I can’t wait to get started.
That’s all for this week...As always, it’s an honor to represent you. Please don’t be afraid to get in touch if I can ever be of help.