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U.S. House Passes 2016 Funding Bill Containing Key Southwest Washington Priorities

Bill highlights: Portland VA required to address wait times for veterans, onerous health care law taxes blocked, strengthened immigration security included, wildfire prevention and small Southwest Washington ports receive strong funding

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Washington, DC, December 18, 2015 | comments
Today the U.S. House of Representatives approved the fiscal year 2016 government funding bill that includes several Southwest Washington priorities championed by Jaime Herrera Beutler in her position on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
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Today the U.S. House of Representatives approved the fiscal year 2016 government funding bill that includes several Southwest Washington priorities championed by Jaime Herrera Beutler in her position on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

“This deal was far from perfect, but we had two options: support this agreement that had several strong wins for Southwest Washington communities, or reject it in favor of an autopilot spending extension that includes no reforms and cedes all spending control to this presidential administration,” said Jaime.  “While there were certainly a number of tasks that were left undone, like putting a permanent halt to the EPA’s attempt to regulate all ponds and ditches, I won’t cease fighting for them when Congress reconvenes in January.

“As a result of this bill, the Portland VA will be required to investigate and address staff turnover issues that have led to 30-plus day wait times for Southwest Washington veterans. Individuals and families here will be spared from the burden of some of the health care law’s biggest tax increases. I fought to successfully include important safeguards against federal land acquisitions in Skamania County that don’t have the support of the local community. Resources to fight and prevent wildfires were increased, which are so critical given the devastating wildfires that have hit our forests.

Southwest Washington priorities included in the bill:

Protecting Americans from multiple onerous Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes:

  • No ACA bailouts: The ACA requires certain insurance companies to pay into a risk pool to subsidize health insurance companies that incur deep losses.  Under the ACA, if the amount paid into the pool is less than the amount paid out, the federal government is required to make up the difference.  In 2015 the shortfall was approximately $2.5 billion. This bill makes sure taxpayers are not on the hook for billions of dollars in ACA bailouts.
  • Prevents “Cadillac Plan” tax hikes: The bill provides for a two-year freeze on a new tax the ACA would place on employers who offer certain premium health plans to their employees. Under current law, the 40 percent tax is set to take effect in 2018. This tax would hurt businesses, jobs and the economy.
  • Prevents Health Insurance tax hikes: The bill provides for a one-year freeze on a tax imposed on health insurers for calendar year 2017. The Health Insurance Tax is an annual fee charged to health insurance providers, that is passed onto consumers and patients through increased premiums.

Cuts funding from the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board: Doctors and patients agree that the unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) could limit seniors’ access to health care. This bill cuts funding to IPAB by $15 million.

IRS Accountability: The bill includes a prohibition Jaime fought for in the Appropriations process prohibiting the IRS from targeting taxpayers for their beliefs, including political ideology.  It also bars the IRS from hiring former employees who failed to properly file their own taxes, and from using taxpayer dollars to make inappropriate videos or host expensive conferences – all actions revealed to have been carried out by the agency in recent years.

Partially implements the “Email Privacy Act:” Jaime is a supporter of the “Email Privacy Act” that would bar federal agencies from obtaining individuals’ email, social media or electronic communication without a warrant.  Through the Appropriations process, Jaime helped successfully place this requirement on the IRS, SEC and FTC.

Preventing federal land acquisitions in Skamania County not supported by local community: This bill ensures Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars aren’t being used to acquire additional land in Skamania County without the explicit approval of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee on which Jaime sits, made up of electable and accountable Democrat and Republican representatives.  90% of Skamania County is publically owned, and for the last 20 years that land has produced minimal timber harvests.  Only 2% is land that generates tax revenue or be can developed.  This has resulted in severe economic hardships and forced Skamania to rely on meager federal welfare payments instead of local tax revenue to fund essential services. 

“This provision simply ensures that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is being used on popular projects supported by our local communities in Skamania County, which serves the original intent of LWCF and takes the severe economic conditions of this county into account,” said Jaime.

Visa Waiver Program: This bill cracks down on gaps in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) by making changes that help ensure individuals traveling to the US are not security risks. Individuals coming from a high risk area cannot have gaps in their background and be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, thanks to this reform.

VA Wait Time Report: Veterans in Southwest Washington are still being forced to wait longer than the national average to see a doctor. Between January and August of this year, the Portland VA, which includes the Vancouver clinic, hired 470 staff, lost 459 staff and 9.6% of veterans in Vancouver are still waiting over 30 days for an appointment. Jaime authored a legislative directive to tackle the high VA staff turnover rate contributing to 30-plus days wait for veterans seeking health care appointments. The VA is directed to collect data on the reasons medical providers choose to leave the VA system, and to provide to Congress its plan to address this problem.

VA Medical Services: VA medical services are funded at $50 billion, an increase of $4.7 billion.  This funding will allow VA to provide care and treatment for approximately 7 million veterans. This includes: $7.5 billion in mental health care services; $605 million for family caregivers of seriously injured veterans; $6.7 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and $270 million in rural health initiatives.

Wildfire prevention: Wildfires have been increasing in severity over the past several years, damaging forests, threatening safety, and forcing the Forest Service to tap into its budget for other services and priorities. The bill includes $468.6 million for wildfire suppression activities and $170 million for hazardous fuel management.  The bill also calls to prevent wildfires by reducing the fuel load and the prompt removal of dead or downed trees on federal land.  This active management would reduce the threat to our communities.

Federal Rail Administration Safety and Operations: Includes $199 million for the Federal Railroad Administration Rail Safety and Operations to improve the safety of grade crossing and the movement of crude oil.

Community Development Block Grants protected for Southwest Washington cities: Jaime worked successfully to block changes proposed by the Obama Administration to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program that would favor large cities over cities like Longview and Battle Ground in obtaining these grants.  Longview uses these funds for several community needs like supporting the Help Warehouse, the Lower Columbia Community Action Program that distributes food to people in need and making vital improvements to senior housing.

Prenatal Screening Report:  Included in the agreement was a Jaime-authored provision that requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other Health and Human Services agencies to report on how they ensure patients and providers understand the accuracy and limitations of Cell free DNA prenatal screenings that can produce inaccurate results up to 50% of the time.   

Dredging and harbor maintenance: Jaime was able to secure $1.2 billion in harbor maintenance from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) with $48 million of the HMTF designated specifically for small ports like Ilwaco, Chinook and others along the Columbian River. The bill also provides over $30 million for maintenance on the mouth of the Columbia River, including critical jetty rehabilitation. 

Hanford clean-up: The bill provides $2.34 billion for environmental cleanup at the Hanford Site, an 8.5% increase of $184 million over the previous year’s budget.  It also restores funding to continue work at the Office of River Protection on a strategy to retrieve, treat and vitrify the waste currently in underground tanks.

Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $452 million for payments to counties with large portions of land owned by the federal government. These funds help offset the loss of property tax income that pays for education, emergency services, county road maintenance, and other critical services in Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Pacific, and Skamania Counties. 

Continued commitment to strong salmon recovery: The bill secures $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF), a program that provides critical funding for recovery and sustainability projects to improve wild salmon and steelhead habitats in Pacific Northwest. As of 2012, PCSRF funding has been applied to 260 fish enhancement projects in Southwest Washington and has restored over 7,100 miles of stream on the west coast for fish passage.

The restoration work done through PCSRF in part helps secure a future for recreational fishing in Washington state – an industry that as of 2011, contributed 5,100 jobs and $247 million in income for Washington residents, generated $654 million in local retail sales and contributed $390 million to the state’s gross domestic product.

Pollock Bill Language: The bill included Jaime’s legislation barring Russian pollock from being marketed in the U.S. as “Alaska” pollock, protecting Southwest Washington fishermen and businesses from the economic harm caused by misleading labeling.

Law Enforcement: The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and the Byrne JAG programs provide vital support to law enforcement agencies across the country.  They fund the hiring and training of law enforcement officers, prevention and education programs, treatment and correction programs, they help purchase and deploy new crime-fighting technologies, and develop and test innovative policing strategies.  This bill includes $347.1 million for Byrne grants and $187 million for COPS.

Maternal and Child Health Block Grants: Jaime’s recently launched Congressional Maternity Care Caucus successfully restored the Senate proposed cuts to the Maternity and Child Health Block grants used to improve the health and well-being of mothers, infants and children, including those with special health care needs.

Alzheimer’s Research: According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.  This bill increases Alzheimer’s disease research funding at the National Institute of Health (NIH) significantly to $936 million.  This is just over double what it was five years ago. 

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