The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It’s admittedly a bummer for me to see the legendary musicians that I grew up with passing away. Every few months, I feel like another iconic performer leaves us. Just last week we saw the passing of the legendary rocker Tom Petty.

Frankly, Tom Petty’s greatest hits could describe much of what we’ve seen out of Congress in recent years.

“Stop Dragging My Heart Around?” Yup.
“Don’t Do Me Like That?” For sure!
“Free Fallin’?” Check.

And I can assure you that I’ve repeatedly listened to “I Won’t Back Down” during the four years I’ve been representing this area!

But recently, I’ve been thinking about the Petty song “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

Last week, Congress got around to doing something it should have done this past spring: it finally voted on a budget. I’ve written in past newsletters about the consequences of the budget dysfunction you’ve seen out of our nation’s capital.

Sadly, after all that extra time, the majority in Congress produced something that, in a nutshell, wasn’t worth the wait.

Congress should pass a budget that is focused like a laser on creating economic opportunity in every community. This budget is the complete opposite. It would lock in cuts that take a hammer to domestic programs that help working families. If this budget is put in place, the Economic Development Administration that has been critical to the opening of innovative jobs generators like the Composite Recycling Center in Port Angeles would be at risk. Investments in the cleanup of Puget Sound that help restore shellfish beds, revitalize salmon runs, and recover the waters for future generations would also be in jeopardy. Not to mention federal infrastructure grants that have helped projects like the Tacoma LINK that connect more neighborhoods in the city. On top of that, the budget includes massive cuts to Medicare – and a proposal to end the Medicare guarantee, threatening the ability of seniors to retire with dignity. The budget cuts $1 trillion from Medicaid to finance a tax cut to the wealthiest 1%. 

Simply put, that’s not something I can support.

Congress can do better. It can come together on a bipartisan basis and create a proposal that gets a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges and does right by the American people. It can approve a budget that helps businesses open storefronts and expand, doesn’t burden kids fresh out of school with a mountain of debt at the start of their careers, and makes it easier to find a place to live and raise a family without breaking the bank.

I’ll keep my focus on producing a plan that actually helps create opportunities for folks to get better jobs and wages. And, rest assured, I won’t back down.

Now...on to more news.

Still Waiting

But a good budget isn’t the only thing the American people are waiting for Congress to get moving on. 

I’ve heard from so many people who were heartbroken by the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.  We’ve seen stories of the brave first responders and bystanders who saved lives. We’ve sent our prayers and support to the victims. And we’re reminded that in our amazing nation, these sorts of tragedies happen all too often.

I recently joined my colleagues, including former Representative Gabby Giffords, on the steps of the Capitol to say that it’s time for Congress to combine moments of silence with moments of action.

Like most folks, I think there are common-sense steps Congress could take that don’t take away guns from law-abiding individuals or infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights. For example, Congress could follow the lead of our state to embrace universal background checks to ensure that felons and people with a serious mental illness can’t get their hands on a weapon. That’s a bill that’s had bipartisan support in D.C. but that has never gotten an up-or-down vote in the House. Congress could increase investments in mental health services to get people needed treatment before they cause harm to others. Congress could ban “bump stocks” and other devices that allow anyone to easily convert a gun into a fully automatic weapon capable of firing hundreds of shots per minute. Or Congress could end the senseless prohibition on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even researching the causes of gun violence.

But part of our message that morning on the steps of the Capitol was to say this – if you don’t like any of those ideas, let’s at least agree stop accepting these tragedies as something we cannot do anything to stop. With that in mind, I co-sponsored a resolution to create a Bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence which would be comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans to study the causes of these mass shootings and to make recommendations to address this.

As a representative – and as a dad – I remain hopeful that we can see an end to these senseless tragedies.

Much More to Do

Sadly, congressional inaction is causing problems on some other fronts as well. 

For example, the government’s flood insurance program is running out of money. That has consequences for communities like Hoquiam, where most folks live in a floodplain. Without it, homeowners and businesses could see the insurance rates they pay on their properties skyrocket. Congress has yet to shore up this program.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also expired at the end of September. CHIP provides 8.9 million children with affordable health care through this program. If it isn’t renewed folks in our neck of the woods could get notices that CHIP is ending for their kids. How will they afford the doctor? Or a trip to urgent care? Although many of us have proposed a renewal of this vital program, no proposal has come to the floor in Congress.

Finally, last Friday was the final day for young people to renew their status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I didn’t think it was right for the President to end DACA. Especially since he agrees that young adults and children who came here through no fault of their own – who attend our schools, pledge allegiance to our flag, serve in the military, and are our neighbors – should not be forced to leave the only country they have ever known. But, again, a fix has yet to come to the floor in Congress.

I often note that Congress is less popular than head lice and colonoscopies. These are prime examples of why folks are so fed up with this Congress. Instead of having thoughtful and serious discussion about issues impacting communities every single day we see partisan point scoring. Instead of making the hard choices, it kicks the can yet again.

I remain determined to get this Congress working again and I remain hopeful because I’ve heard so many folks speak out. I’d encourage you to keep at it because we need your voices to make progress.

Getting Veterans the Care They Deserve

I remain hopeful because of other moments too. Take fixing the Veterans Health Administration. It’s simple: veterans should have access to the benefits they have earned. But I’ve had too many conversations – in VA halls, the grocery store, from members of my Veterans Advisory Council – asking why can’t we fix the VA healthcare system once and for all.

I’ve talked in the past about how there are systemic management issues at the VA. I started working on this issue after we discovered that the VA never acted to implement a range of recommendations on how to take care of the problems they have. You also might remember my VA Management Alignment Act that would make sure those changes are actually followed through on.

I’m happy to report that my colleagues recently asked me to testify on the legislation in front of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. I shared why I was working on this and was glad to see the support of my colleagues. I’m pushing to keep this momentum going! Check out my remarks here.

New Innovations in the Timber Industry

Long time readers know how excited I am about the potential for innovation in the timber industry.  Innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber (CLT) can have both an economic benefit and an environmental one. I’m a big believer in the potential of these products to utilize an abundant and sustainable resource native to our region as a way to grow jobs in rural Washington.

We brought this discussion to the halls of Congress last week as I kicked off a panel on how Washington state, and our region, can be at the center of this growing market. Watch it here

A Breakthrough for Local Mental Health Services

Recently, I was proud to be part of the groundbreaking of the new Tacoma Behavioral Health Hospital. This project will address an essential priority for our region – expanding access to mental health care in our region.

With the South Sound community continuing to grapple with a mental health crisis, MultiCare and CHI Franciscan collaborated on plans for a new facility that will include beds for people to stay on a short-term basis when experiencing a crisis. This event represented years of work from an extraordinary coalition of folks all focused on the same goal: get care to those who need it. It’s a great example of what we can accomplish when we put all our oars in the water and row in the same direction. I’m proud to be a partner in these efforts.

Commissioning of the USS Washington

I was honored to join many servicemembers and community leaders from our region for the commissioning of the USS Washington. This state-of-the-art submarine will help protect our nation’s security. This is the first time in our nation’s history that our state will have a sub named after it.

I had the opportunity to thank the dedicated sailors who do such vital work for being part of a proud Naval tradition, and I wished them safe passage on their mission.

Working for You

Thanks for everyone who showed up in Shelton for the annual OysterFest. I got to see competitive oyster shucking, pour some beer for the attendees, and – yes – eat a ton of delicious oysters. It was a really fun time and the proceeds go to some terrific non-profit organizations!

Let me end on this note…. I always mention that I do this newsletter to give people a sense of the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s going on in our nation’s capital. I’m conscious that this week’s newsletter has been a little heavier than normal on the “bad” and the “ugly.”  

Having said that, please know that I’m committed to doing all I can to moving our economy – and this Congress -- forward. In my office, we’ve adopted the motto: “Don’t agonize – organize.” Please know that I’m not wasting effort on hand-wringing. I’m working every day to try to move things forward for our region and for our country. I’m keeping the faith, and I hope you will too.

Thanks for reading. And, as always, thanks for the opportunity to represent you!

Derek Kilmer