Here's a Feb. 9 update of what I'm working on both in Oregon and in Washington, D.C.:
Funding the Government in Fits and Starts
On February 9, Congress passed a six-week stopgap measure and budget agreement, the fifth short-term extension to fund the federal government in more than four months. We are running our government in fits and starts, instead of addressing the issues facing working families today. I voted against the measure that kicks the can down the road and explodes our national debt with a massive funding increase to the Pentagon, a department with a disgraceful record of mismanaging taxpayer dollars.
This budget agreement raises federal spending by more than $300 billion, setting the stage for the U.S. to owe nearly $23 trillion in national debt by 2027. This is in addition to the $1.5 trillion the Republican tax bill will cost our nation.
In December 2016, the Washington Post reported $125 billion in administrative waste at the Pentagon. Just this week, Politico reported that as a result of the Pentagon’s first-ever audit, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), one of the Pentagon’s largest agencies, cannot account for more than $800 million in construction projects. With the audit likely to produce even more examples of the Pentagon’s lack of proper accounting and use of funds, now is not the time to hand the Pentagon a massive one year $80 billion increase in funding.
I will not stand by while Republicans hand billions of dollars in taxpayer money to a bloated and wasteful Pentagon as a means to justify devastating cuts to vital programs that thousands of working Americans depend on such as Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.
Tax Cuts for Corporations at the Expense of Working Families
Last weekend, House Speaker Paul Ryan showed us just how out of touch he is by celebrating in a tweet the news that a secretary in Pennsylvania will now receive $1.50 more in her weekly paycheck thanks to the new Republican tax law.
What he didn’t explain is that the Republican tax plan is a gift to the wealthy, not working Americans. Seventy-five percent of the benefits under the plan go to corporations, 20 percent go to individuals earning $500,000 a year or more—and those tax cuts are permanent. That leaves just five percent of the benefits for the remaining 99 percent of Americans which eventually expire.
Take the secretary from Pennsylvania. Her tax cut adds up to an extra $78 a year. Compare that to a person that earns $500,000, who will receive $21,000 in tax breaks this year.
Walmart is getting lots of positive headlines for increasing its minimum wage by $1 an hour and offering bonuses to hourly workers, which together costs the company $1 billion. Compare that to the $24 billion Walmart is spending to make its wealthy shareholders even wealthier with stock buybacks, all while laying off thousands of employees. This gross disparity is true of other major corporations as well, including Home Depot, Bank of America, Apple, and Exxon.
And if that weren’t enough, the tax plan adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt. Our national debt has ballooned to over $21 trillion, and raising it further will create an increase in interest rates and further hurt working Americans that have to borrow for mortgages, cars, and education. The Republican majority has already begun discussing going after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to pay for the additional debt.
I could think of a trillion better ways to invest American tax dollars. For example, the $1.5 trillion Republicans are spending to lower the corporate tax rate could be used to fully fund federally-mandated special education in our public schools and provide every high school senior in America with up to $25,000 in college tuition assistance over the next decade. The $130 billion cost of lowering the tax rate for those earning over $500,000 a year could pay for a fair cost-of-living-adjustment for Social Security recipients, and leave $40 billion to lower the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans.
Rep. Nunes’s Fake Memo
On February 2, Congressman Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), released a memo he authored which was unverified and filled with misleading allegations against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in an attempt to discredit the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Congressman Nunes was already placed under an Ethics Committee investigation last year for abusing his Chairmanship when he recklessly leaked classified information, in collusion with the White House, to sew public discord. The recent release of his unverified memo only further proves that he cannot be trusted to handle sensitive national security information.
That’s why I wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling on him to immediately remove Congressman Nunes from his position as HPSCI Chairman and to ensure the Ethics Committee begins a swift and thorough investigation into the abuse of his position to access and manipulate highly sensitive intelligence information.
The memo claims to expose alleged misconduct by the FBI in exercising surveillance authority during its investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election, as well as possible links to the Trump campaign. However, the memo itself is crafted with piecemeal and out-of-context information taken from classified materials, making verification of the memo extremely difficult. Unfortunately, due to the classified nature of supporting information, Members of Congress and the American public lack the ability to corroborate any of the memo’s contents.
In yet another glaring abuse of power, Congressman Nunes deliberately refused to share his memo with any other authorities able to assess its validity prior to its release or take action to address the alleged wrongdoing at the FBI. Instead, he chose to employ an obscure, never before used rule to selectively release classified information against the advice of the entire Intelligence Community, the DOJ, and the FBI— setting a dangerous precedent. Congressman Nunes even denied access to the entire Senate, including his Republican counterpart, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr.
I was encouraged to see the HPSCI finally agree to release a response to the Republican memo drafted by the Committee’s Democratic Members, which is based off of the same source material used in Congressman Nunes’s memo. I myself have reviewed both memos and find that the well-documented and footnoted Democratic response definitively demonstrates that the Nunes memo is at best a cherry-picked distortion of the facts and actually presents numerous falsehoods.
Congressman Nunes has actively worked to undermine public trust in our country’s law enforcement and Intelligence Community in an effort to disrupt a federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in our democratic elections and shield the President from political or criminal fallout from the investigation. His partisan, manipulative, and misguided efforts are sewing confusion, discord, and mistrust in our institutions and endangering our national security—which runs counter to both to his responsibilities as HPSCI Chairman and the oath we take as Members of Congress.
Update on the VA Investigation at Roseburg and Eugene Clinics
This past fall, after receiving more than 200 messages from VA Roseburg Healthcare System (VARHS) employees documenting alarming claims of misconduct, mismanagement, and degraded patient care at both the Eugene and Roseburg facilities,I demanded the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initiate an investigation. As a result, the VA sent teams of officials from the Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) and the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) to investigate these issues.
On February 1, the VA announced that VARHS Director Doug Paxton resigned from his position. That same day, the VA also announced a new nationwide approach to improve low-performing medical centers. Thanks to the dozens of brave VA employees who came forward—at risk to their careers—to report sub-standard practices at VARHS, we are making changes together to improve medical care for all our veterans.
These steps, along with other recent leadership and policy changes, are signals that the VA is committed to improving the deeply-entrenched issues at the VA facilities in our community. However, these moves are just steps in a longer process.
As the VA searches for Director Paxton’s replacement, I have asked them to look for a candidate with strong leadership qualities, a history of working in veterans’ healthcare, a proven track record of success in management, and a commitment to working closely with our active local veterans’ service organizations. I have also pressed them to finalize and deliver the results of their investigations in the coming weeks.
I look forward to working with the interim director to put VARHS on track toward success, and I will not rest until VARHS employees and Oregon’s veterans have a health care system that effectively and efficiently serves the community.