THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS - December 22, 2017

Dec 25, 2017

In this issue:

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Marianas vets clinic study okayed

The House Veterans Affairs' Committee voted in favor of my amendment requiring a report on the feasibility of putting a VA-staffed health clinic in the Marianas. We are one of the few areas of the country without easy access to a clinic. Getting one is my top priority now that I am a member of the Veterans Affairs' Committee. My amendment becomes part of thebill making the Choice program permanent. Choice pays for veterans in areas like ours, where vets have to travel by plane to get to a VA clinic, to go to private health care providers instead. We helped about 70 local doctors and clinics sign on to Choice this year as part of our outreach effort for Marianas veterans. And we worked to make sure veterans know that Choice is now an option for them and understand how to use the system. The Choice bill, H.R. 4242, should go to the full House for a vote in January.

Crisis averted at BECQ

Calling it a “crisis” earlier this year, Governor Ralph Torres and BECQ Administrator Frank Rabauliman said President Trump’s proposal to cut spending at the Environmental Protection Agency would have “direct and possibly irreversible effects on the environment and public health in the CNMI.” Fortunately, along with many members of Congress, I pushed back in our annual appropriation process by prioritizing EPA funding and blocked the President’s cuts. Today EPA announced the Marianas Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality has received an additional $1.3 million, bringing the total for the year to $2.3 million, almost 100 percent of BECQ’s annual operating funds. Environmental protection is targeted for cuts by the Trump administration. But for this year: crisis averted.

Tax bill signed: effect on NMI? 

Without the requested data from the Commonwealth government, I cannot report on the specific effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed on a purely Republican vote in Congress on Wednesday and signed by the President today. Two things are clear, however:

2018 is the year the Commonwealth government will have to start making up for the lost income tax revenue and cuts in federal grants, resulting from the Trump tax cuts.

No pay cuts for federal workers

On behalf of the hundreds of federal employees in the Northern Marianas, this week I opposed any further cuts to their pay or benefits, as Congress begins looking around for ways to pay for the new tax cut law. Our federal workers, who could often make more in the private sector, embody the work ethic and commitment to service that makes America great. They have already seen pay and benefit cuts of $182 billion since 2011. We can not ask more of them, particularly not to offset the $1.5 trillion cut in taxes the President signed today.

 

We fixing CW misclassifications

Three constituents have asked their congressional office for help on CW permit applications misclassified as for “construction workers.” Two cases have been resolved and permits issued. The third is pending. So, I wrote to Governor Ralph Torres and the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corporation this week to let them know we could help on any similar case they wanted to bring to me. The Governor and NMBAC representatives met me last week and said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is denying applications for gardeners, hotel maintenance workers, and CUC engineers, because they are misclassified as permits for construction workers. U.S. Public Law 115-53, which President Trump signed in August, bars the use of CW permits for new construction workers. I wrote this law to protect our local businesses, who could not renew CW permits they depend on, after some 5,000 new Chinese construction workers used up the permits beginning in 2016. So, I want to be sure local businesses are not harmed by any misapplication of the law. Start here if you need help.

Standing up to bureaucrats

As Ranking Member on the Health, Employment, Pension and Labor Subcommittee, I am responsible for leading on national labor issues. That is why, along with Democratic Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Margaret Wood Hassan of Nevada, and my House colleagues Bobby Scott of Virginia and Donald Norcross of New Jersey, I questioned recent actions of the National Labor Relations Board and demanded more information. The job of the NLRB is to protect the rights of private sector employees to act together to improve their wages and working conditions. Earlier this month, however, when the expiring term of one Member threatened the Republican 3-2 majority, the Board issued a spate of dubious anti-worker and anti-union rulings that reversed previous Board decisions. The Board acted without sufficient findings of fact or opportunity for public input. Such high-handed action by federal bureaucrats has to be challenged.

$147,140 to stop the snake

Funding to fight invasive species, like the Brown Tree Snake, is something I always support when we make the annual appropriation decisions in Congress. The snake has caused significant damage to Guam and its spread puts the rest of the Marianas at economic and environmental risk. $147,140 of this year’s funding will be transferred from the Interior Department to the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services Interior announced today. APHIS is engaged at interdiction work at the commercial port on Guam, work that is essential to prevent the spread of the brown tree snake to our islands. So far this fiscal year, over $900,000 has been spent in the Pacific to stop the snake.

OPPORTUNITIES

Grants:

Jobs:

Public Comments:

LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS WEEK

On the Floor

  • H.R. 1 – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Passed, 224-201)
  • H.R. 1370 – Further Continuing Resolution (Passed, 231-188)
  • H.R. 4667 – Making further supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, for disaster assistance for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and calendar year 2017 wildfires, and for other purposes (Passed, 251-169)
  • H.R. 3312 – Systemic Risk Designation Improvement Act of 2017 (Passed, 288-130)
  • H.R. 4015 – Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act of 2017 (Passed, 238-182)
  • S. 1393 – Jobs for Our Heroes Act (Passed, 418-0)
  • S. 1536 – Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act (Passed, 418-1)
  • S. 1532 – No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act (Passed, 393-0)
  • H.R. 3759 – RAISE Family Caregivers Act (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4661 – United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (Agreed to by voice vote)
  • H.R. 4375 – STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act (Passed, 376-9)
  • H.R. 4254 – Women in Aerospace Education Act (Passed, 409-17)
  • H.R. 4323 – Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (Passed, 420-1)
  • H.R. 1159 – United States and Israel Space Cooperation Act (Passed, 411-0)
  • H.Con.Res. 95 – Expressing support for the use of public-private partnerships to bring computer science education to more K-12 classrooms (Agreed to by voice vote)

NEXT WEEK

The House is on recess for the District Work Period.