December 04, 2017

The Inside Scoop on What's Happening in Washington, DC This Week

My newsletter is a little different this week because a lot of folks back home are worried about the potential for a government shutdown. I wanted to give you an inside scoop about what’s going on because this has big consequences for our region.

The way we got here is pretty ridiculous.

Here’s the back story: Back in 2011, in order to incentivize Democrats and Republicans to come together around a compromise to address our nation’s long-term debt, Republicans in Congress and President Obama agreed to pass a law that would, in the absence of a long-term deal, impose extreme and severe across-the-board cuts to spending. This was called “sequestration” (I had to look it up when I first ran for this job--it’s a solid Scrabble move).

The sequestration cuts were intended to be so stupid, so non-strategic, so harmful to our military and domestic programs, that it would force Democrats and Republicans to come up with a long-term budget to prevent the cuts from going into effect.

Well, as you probably can guess, the parties failed to find compromise, and our nation has ended up having to live with these sequestration cuts.

So, problem #1 is sequestration.

To deal with this, since 2011, Congress has passed some short-term budget agreements on a bipartisan basis. These agreements have found ways to offset these harmful sequestration cuts, so that spending bills can actually pass. But this year, a budget that addresses the sequestration cuts hasn’t been passed and, as a consequence, no spending bills have been passed.

So, that leads to problem #2. The lack of legitimate spending bills has led to short-term can-kicking.

OK...I know this is getting a little wonky...but stick with me.

Generally, Congress is supposed to pass spending bills by the end of September. Failing to do that, Congress has frequently passed something called “Continuing Resolutions” which continue the previous year’s spending forward at the same level.

That’s problematic for a few reasons. First, priorities and needs change. But a continuing resolution locks you into the previous year’s priorities. Second, often these continuing resolutions have been for just a few months or, at times, even just a couple of weeks. Imagine running a business by only budgeting two weeks at a time. It would create a lot of churn and inefficiencies. Turns out, this approach is incredibly wasteful for the federal government too. And third, governing by crisis and using short-term budget gimmicks has real consequences. For example, the Navy can’t make a long-term training plan to make sure all our sailors have the skills they need, because they don’t know how much money that will be dedicated to that. One of the things that the Navy and the Government Accountability Office named as a cause of the recent ship collisions in the Pacific Ocean was an inability to plan and budget for skills refreshers for our sailors.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering “This seems crazy! Why wouldn’t Congress just pass a legit budget and pass legit spending bills?” (If you’re thinking that, I’m with you!)

Here’s the situation in a nutshell...This year, Republicans are in charge of the White House, the House and the Senate. As a consequence, the Republican leadership in Congress has, so far, pursued a “go-it-alone” strategy on budget issues. I’m not saying that to cast aspersions...It’s just a fact.

Now, in Congress, going it alone only works if you have enough people to pass stuff. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership can’t get enough representatives from their own party to agree on a budget or spending bills. And, so far, they haven’t taken Democrats up on the offer a lot of us have made to forge a compromise budget. 

The leadership has the ability to try to develop and offer up a bipartisan, long-term budget. But, so far, they won’t do it.

So, what’s happened instead?

Back in September, rather than coming to an agreement on a real budget or spending bill, Congress kicked the can until December 8. So, spending is set to run out this Friday. Failing to come to an agreement means that our nation would see a shutdown.

Honestly, this is why people hate Congress. It’s just wrong when people in DC focus more on playing politics than on solving problems.

And the worst part is that this has real consequences back home, particularly if you’re one of the almost 70,000 federal workers that live in our area. I know that you’re trying to plan your own budgets. You’re trying to make ends meet and buy your presents.

So, I get it. I think what you’re seeing out of Congress is really wrong.

Let me be clear. I oppose shutting the government down. And I oppose the persistent kicking of the can with these short-term fixes.

I hope Congress can do the responsible thing, and pass a real, long-term budget. I’ll keep working toward that end. In fact, as a member of the bipartisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, I joined a group of Democrats and Republicans in writing a letter to House leadership asking that Congress come up with a bipartisan, long-term budget agreement that addresses these mindless sequestration cuts. I’m a firm believer that, if folks work together, Congress can fix the problem and have an approach that works better for federal agencies, for local priorities, and for taxpayers. 

I never forget that, at the end of the day, you’re the boss. I work for you. I know that the choices people make in DC have consequences at home. That’s why I sponsored a piece of legislation called “No Budget, No Pay.” That bill is based on a simple concept: if Members of Congress don’t do their jobs and pass a budget, then they shouldn’t get paid.

Please know that I’ll keep working for a smarter approach. 

Dealing with Disasters

As these negotiations continue, I will be working hard to make sure our region’s priorities are represented. One of my biggest priorities is disaster relief funding. The government is working on a measure to address the damage that natural disasters (including wildfires and hurricanes) have caused over the last few months. I believe that, as part of this effort, Congress should include support for our fisheries, which have been hit repeatedly by natural disasters since 2014. Earlier this year, I teamed up with my Washington state colleague Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to successfully secure $20 million in relief, but our region needs a lot more. Washington State alone has seen more than $150 million in damages and lost revenue from these disasters. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has, so far, not proposed funding the recovery that our region needs. You can read more about that here. I’m going to continue pushing for this because it’s so important to our region’s economy, to our region’s tribes, and to coastal communities.

While we are the topic of natural disasters, I’m also working on a plan to change the way the US Forest Service pays for fighting forest fires. Right now, when there’s a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (aka FEMA) steps in. But, weirdly, that’s not the case when it comes to large-scale wildfires. The US Forest Service has to use money that it would dedicate to other programs, including fire prevention programs. As a consequence, we end up chasing our tails, with funding that could be used to prevent forest fires being used, instead, to fight them.

That, like so much else related to the government right now, make no sense. Fighting forest fires is an expensive task. And, fires are growing more common and more severe. Over time the chunk of the Forest Service’s budget that this takes up has grown from 16 percent in 1995 to more than half of the agency’s budget now. And this week, during a meeting with the Chief of the Forest Service, he told me that fire-fighting would consume 67 percent of his agency’s budget by 2021.

I’ve sponsored a legislative fix for this, and I’m working with Democrats and Republicans all over the West Coast and beyond to get it passed. This is something that Congress can and should take care of during the budgeting process.

We talked about a lot about disasters last Thursday during my telephone town hall. I appreciated having a few thousand people dialed in.

On the call, a caller mentioned tsunamis, and I referred to an article called “The Really Big One” about tsunamis in the Northwest. I promised to include a link to it in my newsletter. It is really interesting, and mildly terrifying. You can read it by clicking here. (Note: Don’t read it before bed).

I also promised to include some links to help folks plan for a disaster. Our state’s Department of Health and Military Department have some great sites that you can see here and here.

Pushing for a Smarter Approach to Tax Reform

There’s been a lot of news in recent days regarding the proposed tax plan in the Senate. I wrote about my concerns regarding the House’s tax plan a few weeks ago when the House voted on it. I support meaningful tax reform, but I don’t think the plan that’s out there is going to help middle class families or the economy. With that in mind, I opposed it. Click here to read more on why. 

Standing Against Sexual Harassment

The threat of a shutdown and lack of action on critical priorities is a sign of broken systems here in Washington. There has also been a lot of news lately about another, very serious breakdown in accountability. For far too long, sexual misconduct has not been adequately addressed.

I want to be very clear: sexual harassment is wrong. Congress needs to revamp its policies to create a system that investigates any reports of wrongdoing and holds people accountable for their actions.

I have co-sponsored several bills to enact substantial reforms to make progress on this issue. I have sponsored a bill to require training for representatives and the members of their staff. While my staff and I have already taken training related to harassment and respectful workplace policies, I believe these trainings should be mandatory for everyone. In addition, our bill would provide additional protections for employees and reform the process for employees who bring forward a complaint. 

Perhaps most importantly, the bill prevents taxpayer money being used to cover this stuff up and silence victims. I don’t think victims should be required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and I don’t think taxpayer dollars should be used to settle these cases.

In my view, those who hold the public trust should be held to a higher standard. Those who abuse that trust should be held accountable. And every person deserves to be free from abuse and harassment.  I’ll keep working toward those ends.

Working for You

I recently had the opportunity to visit RAIN, The Readiness Acceleration and Innovation Network in Tacoma. RAIN is designed to help local biotech startups get off the ground and give students access to labs and research space so they can learn new skills. It was exciting to see this new organization and hear about their vision to grow. Economic opportunity is a big focus of my work in Congress and having spaces like RAIN helps cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs. Thanks for your work! Keep counting me as a partner.

I’m very grateful for the team at the Rescue Mission and all the volunteers for lending a hand this Thanksgiving. My family and I were happy to serve! 

The Kilmers hit WinterFest at Peninsula High School during Thanksgiving weekend. We shopped some awesome small businesses for Small Business Saturday. We even grabbed some delicious sweets from Amy’s Decadent Chocolates.

That’s all for now. A lot is happening here and I’ll keep you up to date.