Thompson Times June Newsletter (2011)
With the 112th Congress well under way, the U.S. House has quickly tackled some major issues and brought with it a long-needed system of checks-and-balances on the Administration and runaway government. Finally, we're beginning to see a real focus on the issues that matter most: ending the tax and spend culture in Washington, while working to foster real job creation, not simply throwing hard earned taxpayer dollars at the problem and hoping that it will stick.
In April, the House finished its work cleaning up the unfinished business of the last Congress, by making substantial spending reductions through passage of the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Act. This was a hard fought battle, with the White House and Senate opposed to fiscal restraints, however it resulted in a victory for the American people and the most substantial yearly spending reduction in our nation's history. Subsequently, the House has begun work on the current fiscal year budget and appropriations. The Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Resolution, which passed the House on April 15th, takes even greater steps to address the unsustainable debt and deficit crisis facing our country, reducing spending from billions to trillions.
We've also begun to see real transparency in government, as bills are now debated through an open amendment process, which had not been the case since 2007. The House is well on its way to passing all 12 appropriations bills under open rule. Earlier this month, the House stood firm in opposition to the President's request to raise the nation's debt ceiling without major spending reductions and budgetary reforms, which has sent a tremendous signal to the White House that we must make strides to work together in order to set the country on a sound fiscal path.
Raising the Debt Ceiling Without Spending Reforms in Unacceptable: Raising the debt ceiling without significant structural spending reforms would send a signal to the world that America lacks the political will to restore fiscal sanity and meet our obligations. Last month Standard and Poor’s lowered the U.S.’s credit rating outlook, sending a clear message to Washington that we must work together to end out of control spending. House Democrats and the White House have been asking for a clean up or down vote on raising the debt limit, most recently when more than 100 Democrats signed a letter to the House leadership requesting an up or down vote on the debt ceiling.
Two weeks ago, this request was granted. On May 31, 2011 the House overwhelmingly defeated a request from President Obama to raise the nation's debt ceiling without any spending cuts or budget reforms. I voted to oppose the measure, H.R. 1954, which failed to pass the House by a vote of 318 - 97. The House's opposition to H.R. 1954 demonstrates that any plan to raise the debt limit without dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process is unacceptable to the American people. With any hope, this vote sent a clear message that it's time to stop with the political pandering and get serious about bringing about real budgetary reforms.
America Fulfilling Its Promises to our Nation's Veterans: Veterans Outreach Week: Those who've served our nation with dignity deserve our support and I intend to honor this commitment by providing the best care and support possible to our Veterans. In May, I announced plans for a Veterans Outreach Week, consisting of events to offer local area Veterans direct contact with and support from federal agencies through a series of informational seminars and meetings in locations across the Fifth District. During the events, I arranged for representatives from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and the U.S. Small Business Administration to be available to offer their services and information on the numerous programs available for our Veterans. These events are designed to ensure our Veterans have the latest information and are able to easily access the assistance they need and deserve.
There are many programs available to our former servicemembers, some of which our Veterans are not aware of such as business training, counseling, and referrals for veterans considering starting a small business. These seminars brought this information and the first-rate expertise of our agencies directly to our Veterans. Our outreach week consisted of 9 events across the district.
Reducing Barriers for Veterans Healthcare: The STEP Act: About 1.9 million U.S. Servicemembers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many on repeated deployments with less than a year in between to rest. Studies show that approximately 1,100 servicemen and women committed suicide from 2005 to 2009, an issue of serious concern for me and so many others. After months of meetings with men and women in the Armed Forces, military retirees, and Department of Defense (DOD) officials, one issue of particular concern shared by almost the entire service community was current barriers in access to immediate, quality care – namely, geographic barriers for active duty members upon their return from war. DOD currently has limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state.
In May, I introduced legislation to help address this issue. H.R. 1832, the Servicemembers’ Telemedicine & E-Health Portability Act, or STEP Act, will expand the current DOD state licensure exemption to allow credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders without having to obtain a new state license. The measure removes this state licensure burden, empowering the qualified and credentialed DOD health care professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat Servicemembers regardless of their physical proximity.
I testified before the House Rules Committee on the critical importance of the legislation, offering the measure as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. My amendment was accepted and ultimately debated and passed by the full U.S. House on May 25, 2011. This was a huge win for our brave men and women, especially to our Guard, Reserve, and those in rural America, who have served our country, but have limited access to care.
Top Priority: Reducing Health Care Costs: Health care reform must be based on improving accessibility and affordability while preserving choice and quality. Unfortunately, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the health care reform law passed in March of 2010, is failing across the board. By April, 2011 the one year anniversary of President Obama's signature initiative, my worst nightmares had become a reality, as the law's implementation continues to drive up costs, saddle small businesses with burdensome regulations and impose unfunded mandates on the Commonwealth.
In late April, I joined the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee for a field hearing in Harrisburg to review the PPACA and its impact on the Commonwealth. I participated in the hearing, PPACA in Pennsylvania: One Year of Broken Promises, at the request of Representative Joe Pitts (PA-16), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. As governors and state legislatures across the country deal with implementing PPACA's requirements, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett offered introductory remarks before the Subcommittee. Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Acting Secretary Gary Alexander and Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine were among others who delivered testimony at the hearing. The hearing served as yet another reminder that we must replace this flawed law with commonsense reforms that decrease costs, increase access and ensure America remains the place for quality and innovation in health care delivery.
Offering Real Solutions: The Medicare Orthotics and Prosthetics Improvement Act of 2011: Fraud and abuse contribute not only to rising costs, but it also harms patients, particularly when medically necessary devices are provided without expert care or without necessity. We need to collectively look to create savings by combating waste, fraud, and abuse. For example, under the Benefits Improvement and Protection Act, legislation passed in 2000, Congress mandated that a practitioner or supplier had to be certified in order to be paid for certain orthotic and prosthetic services under Medicare. This was never implemented, contributing to fraudulent payments and leaving Medicare patients vulnerable to substandard care.
In May, I introduced H.R. 1958, the Medicare Orthotics and Prosthetics Improvement Act of 2011. This legislation would improve the quality of orthotic and prosthetic care and reduce fraudulent payments for orthotic and prosthetic services under Medicare. H.R. 1958 would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to reimburse only those providers who have been accredited or licensed in orthotics and prosthetics. This legislation seeks to improve care for patients with orthotics and prosthetic devices and to ensure they are receiving treatment from professionals who are best suited to address their particular medical needs. At the same time, the bill will save money by cracking down and ending fraudulent payments through Medicare. This measure is part of my commitment to advancing bipartisan solutions to improve and preserve Medicare in ways that create better services while also reigning in costs.
Rising Gas Prices and America's Energy Security: I know a lot of you are making tough choices to meet budgets and make ends meet. These decisions become even more complicated with the constant concern of rising gas prices and energy costs. The steady climb in gas prices over the last several years is taking a toll on Pennsylvania's 5th District and left all of us more vulnerable to oil price spikes. That’s why the Washington summertime ritual where politicians spend more time bickering over pains at the pump than working to create real solutions must come to an end.
I serve on the House Natural resources committee, the committee of jurisdiction over America's domestic resources. Recently, we took action on this front and passed three bills. H.R. 1229, H.R. 1230 & H.R. 1231. All three bills are aimed at expanding domestic energy production so we can start to address the increasing burden of $4 gallon gas at the pump and begin the process of weaning our way of foreign sources of energy. The full House considered and passed these bills in early May with bipartisan support. With any hope, the Senate will take the same action.
With developing countries rapidly increasing demand and global liquid oil consumption set to increase by some 10-12 million barrels per day in the next decade, energy prices will continue to rise in the months and years ahead. That is, unless we start producing more of our own supplies here at home. With passage of these three bills, it has become clear that bipartisan support is growing for Washington to take action and America to start producing more domestic energy. I will continue to push for a comprehensive energy plan that meets our country’s demands and builds a foundation for long-term economic growth and security.
Protecting our Forests and our Rural Economies: Forestry and timber harvesting contribute to hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic productivity nationally. This is one of the most important economic engines in Pennsylvania, particularly throughout the Fifth Congressional District and communities within and surrounding the Allegheny National Forest (ANF). I believe we must engage in active land management to ensure for the best possible forest health, which has been one of my top priorities as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. In May, the subcommittee held a public hearing to review the U.S. Forest Service's proposed forest planning rule, which revises the current planning process for its 155 national forests and 20 grasslands.
Warren County Commissioner John Bortz was among the panelists, at my request. In Warren County, John Bortz is one of three commissioners statutorily charged by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth with both executive and legislative authority in order to administrate county affairs, including implementation of the ANF Forest Plan. Commissioner Bortz offered concerns that the proposed rule is complex, lacks sufficient local involvement and does not go far enough to promote job growth in forested communities. Commissioner Bortz’s attendance was incredibly helpful for the Subcommittee as we continue our work to improve this rulemaking process.
The Forest Service developed regulations in 1979 that were ultimately replaced in 1982 and again in 2000. Since then, efforts to make revisions to the forest management plans have failed due to litigation. While I strongly believe that we are in great need of a new Forest Planning Rule, I do not believe this proposal goes far enough to ensure and promote active land management practices, nor does it guarantee the economic viability of timber production. I will continue to work with the Forest Service to make sure they stick to the mission of promoting multiple uses and to ensure that our national forests are in the best health for generations to come.
Constituent Advocate Works to Educate Lawmakers about Down Syndrome: I met Matt Porter when he and his older brother Andy Porter visited my Washington D.C. office in mid-February, as they were on Capitol Hill raising awareness for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and issues most pressing for those with Down Syndrome. They were both in town for the National Buddy Walk sponsored by the NDSS in Washington. They joined 200 members of the Down syndrome community;self-advocates, parents, siblings, professionals, friends and others who came from across the country to learn about the NDSS National Policy Center's legislative agenda, what legislative advocacy means to them and their families, and how they as individuals can affect change.
Having participated in the 2010 Buddy Walk sponsored by the NDSS at Penn State University, the Porter brothers were pleased to learn of my involvement and membership on the House Down Syndrome Caucus --- but not as pleased as I was to learn that Matt and Andy were making rounds on Capitol Hill to educate Members of Congress about how those with Down Syndrome are contributing as valuable members of their families and communities.
Matt has attended Penn State and learned an abundance of life and career skills, which he utilizes when working his many part-time jobs. Matt is proud of his work ethic and loves receiving a paycheck. I find Matt to be an inspiring individual and commend him on the hard work with his employment, participating in the Special Olympics, and volunteering in the community. We all stand to learn a lot from this young leader's example.