Update fromHere's an update of what I'm working on both in Oregon and in Washington, D.C.:
Congressman Peter DeFazio
GOP Tax Bill: The Wrong Priorities
Instead of the partisan tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that Speaker Ryan and the Republicans jammed through Congress without a single public hearing, the federal government could pay for programs that provide real jobs and real benefits to Americans. For example, the Republican tax bill costs almost $1.5 trillion to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Rather than padding corporate profits and enriching Wall Street even further, this $1.5 trillion could be used to fully fund IDEA – federally-mandated special education for students with disabilities in our public schools – and provide every high school senior in America with up to $25,000 in tuition assistance over the next decade.
The Republican tax bill was touted as a way to bring jobs back home to America. In reality, the Republican plan contains loopholes to encourage corporations to move overseas in order to get a lower tax rate, raising the deficit by $207 billion. Rather than increasing our national debt by $207 billion to encourage corporations to move jobs overseas, we could invest $207 billion to improve infrastructure throughout the country, which would create 3 million jobs in America over a decade. These jobs would span construction, design, engineering, high-tech, small businesses, manufacturing, and more.
Moreover, the Republican plan reduces taxes for those earning over $500,000 a year, increasing the debt by $130 billion. We could instead utilize this money to create a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries that actually reflects cost of living increases for seniors. And, we would still have $40 billion left over to help lower the costs of prescription drugs for all Americans.
In addition, the Republican plan borrows $72 billion to give a new tax break to heirs of estates worth at least $11 million (or $22 million for couples). Alternatively, this $72 billion could fully cover the cost of both the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers (CHCs) over the next decade – items that the Republicans say we as a country just can’t afford any more.
Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other essential programs to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, we could provide real jobs and real benefits to the American people. You can be sure that I will continue doing everything in my power to protect Oregonians from cuts to critical programs and provide common-sense investments in education, jobs, infrastructure, health care, and more.
VA Investigation at Roseburg and Eugene Clinics
On January 11, I met with senior leaders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to receive a preliminary report on their investigations. During the briefing, the VA outlined a number of personnel and statutory changes that have been or will be implemented within the hospital system. While investigations are ongoing on a number of fronts, I pushed the team to provide the final public results and implement reform within weeks, not months.
The VARHS has suffered for years from mismanagement resulting in an inability to recruit and retain high-quality providers, which has seriously hindered patient care. This is not the first crisis of management and patient care at VARHS, and previous short-term fixes have only compounded the problem. Oregon’s veterans and VARHS employees deserve lasting, long-term, sustainable change at the VARHS.
I have a long history of fighting to ensure that veterans receive the care they deserve. I am pleased that the VA is finally taking these issues seriously, but I remain committed to ensuring that the investigation produces long-term solutions that will allow the VA to provide veterans with the best care possible and recruit and retain high-quality medical providers.
Defending Oregon’s Marijuana LawsI was disappointed to see Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce his intent to repeal an Obama-era policy that protects states that have legalized marijuana from federal prosecution. The Attorney General’s announcement is a gross overreach of federal authority that will impair thousands of small businesses in Oregon while doing absolutely nothing to stem the tide of opioid addiction and abuse.
I have long advocated for states’ rights to regulate marijuana use for their citizens without federal intervention. Against all logic, marijuana is currently classified at the federal level as a Schedule I drug, the highest possible restriction. These drugs are considered the most dangerous with the highest potential for abuse and no recognized medical benefits. Including marijuana in Schedule I classification means the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers it to be just as dangerous as heroin and LSD. This is completely absurd.
That’s why I am a cosponsor of H.R. 975, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to prevent federal officials from prosecuting residents who are acting in accordance with their state’s marijuana laws.
I have also signed onto a letter in support of the McClintock-Polis Amendment, which would include a provision in any upcoming funding bill that would provide protections from the federal government to states that have medical or recreational marijuana laws on the books.
Meanwhile, Oregon's death rate from opioids has more than quadrupled in the last 10 years. The Oregon Health Authority reported that an average of three Oregonians die per week from prescription opioid overdose. And it’s not just Oregon. According to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 52,000 Americans died of drug overdose in 2016, and tens of thousands more died in 2017. Our Justice Department ought to be focusing its resources on the opioid epidemic, not on attacking law-abiding citizens who are acting in accordance with their states’ own regulations.
Furthermore, the Attorney General’s announcement is a major blow to thousands of small marijuana-related businesses which are already facing challenges with federal taxation and access to banking services.
As a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I have and will continue to work with my colleagues to develop policies and legislation that can help bridge the gap between current federal laws that prohibit marijuana use and the current state laws that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
Positive Train Control TechnologyOn December 18, a terrible Amtrak train crash occurred near Dupont, Washington, killing three people and injuring many more. In its investigation of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the accident could have been prevented by positive train control (PTC) technology, which can automatically stop a train before certain types of accidents occur.
In light of this incident, I recently introduced the Positive Train Control Implementation and Financing Act, which would speed up the implementation of life-saving PTC technology that could prevent catastrophic human-caused rail accidents.
Since Congress first passed legislation to mandate PTC implementation in 2008, some railroads have been diligent in implementing PTC while others have clearly been dragging their feet. Two years ago, Congress granted them more time, pushing the PTC implementation deadline to December 31, 2018. As we approach that deadline, many of the railroads do not appear to be on track to meet the PTC mandate. This is unacceptable – there should be no more delays, no more extensions, and no more excuses from railroads who have had ten years to implement PTC technology.
My legislation requires that PTC be installed by the end of this year, prevents future deadline extensions of this life-saving technology, and provides critical grants for cash-strapped commuter and intercity passenger railroads to implement PTC. To help passenger railroads meet the deadline, the bill includes just over $2.5 billion in grants for intercity and commuter passenger railroads to implement PTC.
Moreover, in response to the recent Amtrak crash in Washington, my legislation would prohibit commuter and intercity passenger railroads from beginning new service on a route unless PTC is fully implemented and operational. It also requires that Amtrak report its progress toward installing PTC on routes that are not owned by Amtrak, but are operated by the railroad, such as the Amtrak Cascades line.
As Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, you can be sure that I will continue to monitor PTC implementation and fight for improved railroad safety across the country.