With the President’s signature on the bipartisan border security deal, the Trump shutdown mess is over, for now. Sen. Warner voted to keep the government open, as he had consistently throughout the funding debate. Now that the Senate has adjourned for the President’s Day recess, he heads out for a road trip across Virginia next week.
The President signed into law this afternoon the bipartisan funding and border security bill, averting another disastrous government shutdown.
The legislation fully funds the government through September 30th and includes numerous provisions the Senators championed to benefit Virginia, including a salary boost for federal workers and more funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Sens Warner and Kaine released the following statement on the government funding bill becoming law.
“We’re relieved hundreds of thousands of federal employees won’t have to go without pay again because of President Trump’s determination to shut the government down, but these hardworking public servants are sick of us lurching from crisis-to-crisis every couple weeks,” said the Senators. “While we’re glad this bipartisan package includes many key Virginia priorities, it’s inexcusable that it does not include back pay for federal contractors, who are still hurting from the last shutdown. We hope Congress will finally pass legislation to address this issue.”
On the President’s national emergency declaration for border wall funding, the Senators said,
“We made significant investments in border security done the right way, and there’s no good reason President Trump should do a political power grab for more. When national security leaders brief us on the big security threats against our nation, they are not asking us for a wall. The President is just saying this is an emergency so he can get his vanity project, and it’s deeply concerning that he’s trying to build it by pulling from military construction funds, which is money that should be going toward projects like fixing military family housing and making security improvements to our bases.”
Click here for a list of the many provisions Sens. Warner and Kaine supported on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations bill.
Before the vote on the funding bill, Sen. Warner took to the Senate floor to call on his colleagues to pass legislation providing back pay for low and middle-income federal contractors.
After the vote, Sen. Warner vowed to continue fighting to pass his contractor back pay bill, as well as legislation — such as Sen. Warner’s Stop STUPIDITY Act — which would end the practice of government shutdowns.
Sen. Warner also introduced legislation this week that attempts to undo some of the financial hardship facing federal workers and contractors harmed by the shutdown. The Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act would protect the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who were hurt by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
This bipartisan bill would require credit bureaus to remove negative information that was placed on the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who missed payments as a result of a government shutdown. The bill would apply to the recent shutdown and any future government shutdowns.
OUT OF TIME
On the Senate floor this week, Sen. Warner urged his Senate colleagues to take immediate action to ensure that 1,200 retired coal miners—500 of whom live in Virginia—do not lose their healthcare coverage by the end of the month.
In his remarks, Sen. Warner asked Senate leaders to protect miners who risk losing crucial benefits if a bankruptcy court allows the Colorado-based Westmoreland mining company to shed its obligations to provide healthcare to retirees. Sen. Warner joined several colleagues on the floor to urge passage of the American Miners Act, legislation that would secure pensions and healthcare benefits for the nation’s retired coal miners.
“We’ve got a crisis right now,” Sen. Warner said on the floor. “We talked about the Westmoreland bankruptcy, 1,200 miners. Five hundred of those live in Virginia. If we can’t get a solution on this deal right now on the American Miners Act, then a lot of those miners and their families are going to go without relief, because their day of reckoning is already upon us.”
The bill would also stabilize the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that provides critical benefits for retirees suffering from this deadly disease. More than 25,000 coal miners and their dependents rely on the fund, but Congress needs to act to renew funding for the program. Failure to renew the tax that supports the fund would be particularly devastating for coal miners in Southwest Virginia, who have been disproportionately affected by an advanced form of the disease known as complicated black lung.
PARKS AND LEGISLATION
This week, the Senate passed a bipartisan public lands bill that permanently reauthorizes the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This permanent funding is key to preserving and protecting Virginia’s rich history and beautiful landscapes. By providing long-term security for this critical program, communities across the Commonwealth will be able to continue caring for our natural resources and history for future generations to enjoy.
The LWCF provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more. This bipartisan package is supported by dozens of conservation and recreation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Nature Conservancy.
The lands package also reauthorizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program, which support the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.
In addition, the bill includes language Sen. Warner supported with Senator Kaine and the entire Virginia delegation, which designates the George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library in Lexington as the National George C. Marshall Museum and Library.
Senator Warner also re-introduced legislation this week, the Restore Our Parks Act, that would make the largest investment in history in our national parks. Years of chronic underfunding have left our national parks with a whopping $11.6 billion maintenance backlog.
This bipartisan bill, which Sen. Warner introduced with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME), would use existing revenues from mineral leases collected by the Department of the Interior to address approximately $5.6 billion of the highest-priority maintenance projects at national parks around the country. The legislation has the support of the Trump Administration, as well as a number of conservation groups and advocates for National Parks.
Currently, national parks in Virginia have a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion, ranking third behind only California and the District of Columbia in total deferred maintenance. For a detailed park-by-park breakdown of Virginia’s backlog, click here.
Over 100 organizations, including the National Association of Counties, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, have announced their support for the Restore our Parks Act.
Some highlights from the past week:
• NO ON BARR: In a floor speech, Sen. Warner expressed his opposition to the President’s Attorney General nominee, William Barr. He later voted against the Barr nomination in the final Senate vote.
• PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Sens. Warner, Cardin, Shaheen, and Baldwin introduced the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would prevent the Trump Administration from promoting “junk” health care plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and would increase health care costs for millions of Americans.
• Artificial Intelligence: Sen. Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement on the promise of artificial intelligence technologies while warning against laissez-faire policies put forward by the Trump Administration.
• FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA: Sen. Warner, along with every Democratic member of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, co-signed a letter opposing seismic testing off the coast of Virginia. The seismic testing permits issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which had been denied under the Obama Administration, are one step in the Trump Administration’s plan to open up the coastal waters off Virginia to potential oil and gas drilling.
• STUDENT DEBT: Sens. Warner and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to help Americans tackle their student loan debt.
• SUPPORTING TEACHERS: Sen. Warner alongside a bipartisan delegation introduced the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, a bill which will reform Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation.
• RAPTORS: Sens. Warner and Kaine were joined by every member of the Virginia Congressional delegation in urging U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to relocate an additional F-22 squadron to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads after Hurricane Michael severely damaged the air force base in Florida where the planes had previously been based.
Senator Warner will be traveling through Virginia next week, holding events in Blacksburg, Salem, Hardy, Martinsville, Danville, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. The Senate is out of session until Monday, February 25.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline: July 20, 2019
On this day 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and spoke words heard around the world. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The years since Apollo 11’s crew touched down on the moon, America has led the world’s powers in space exploration. Our men and women in space have launched the world’s most powerful telescopes, satellites, and conducted experiments which have opened the eyes of scientists and non-scientists alike. We have even worked across borders to build the International Space Station.
President John F. Kennedy said in 1962, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He knew the challenges America faced. Russia was advancing in a space race that had a lot at stake and yet he challenged our country’s engineers and scientists to achieve the impossible.
We live in a time where we have the world available in the palm of our hands, but many people forget that just half a century ago computers were not commonplace. The computing power necessary to put the Apollo 11 crew was unfathomable to the typical American in 1969, and yet the engineers at NASA met the challenge.
We should all be inspired by the accomplishments of the Apollo 11 crew and the scientists and engineers who worked on the mission. When met with the impossible, they found ways to make it happen. It is something we should work toward today. In Congress, we are also faced with seemingly impossible odds of reducing the national debt, reforming healthcare, addressing our nation’s immigration crisis, and defending our homeland and allies around the world. Oftentimes, Members of Congress have chosen to simply kick the can down the road. When I took office in January, it was during the longest government shutdown in history. Even today, Members of Congress refuse to fund a permanent boundary along the U.S.-Mexico border while the number of illegal crossings and detentions continues to rise.
The political fights have also continued in the months since the government re-opened. Disagreements persist over how to address the crisis at the Southern border and out-of-control government spending which will leave future generations paying the tab. In addition, partisan politics involving the President boiled over this week in the form of resolutions attempting to impeach him and condemning his “Tweets” on social media. I voted against both resolutions because these types of political attacks distract from the serious policy issues that are facing our country. However, I remain inspired by the men and women of Apollo 11 and the NASA program. Just as they put Neil Armstrong on the moon 50 years ago today, I believe Congress can come together to address America’s most pressing issues. It will take a lot of hard work and many difficult votes, but I am willing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help the American people achieve greatness. I hope my colleagues in the House and Senate will join me as we set forth on this journey of fixing our government and performing work of which the American people can be proud.
Highland County Town Hall
On Monday, I will host a town hall in Highland County. This town hall event is an opportunity for residents of Highland County to engage in a dialogue about important issues in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia.
The town hall will take place Monday, July 22, from 1 – 2:30 p.m. at the Highland County Courthouse, 165 West Main Street, Monterey, VA 24465. Residents may RSVP to attend the town hall by visiting https://highlandcounty.eventbrite.com and clicking the “Register” button.
Sixth District Perspectives by Congressman Ben Cline: July 15, 2019
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In addition, thousands of patriots gave their all in the effort to save lives, recover victims, and remove the debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. At the time, first responders, construction crews, and residents around the World Trade Center were told by representatives from the Federal Government their air was clean to breathe. As we now know, the Government was wrong. The air in Lower Manhattan was toxic and has resulted in numerous illnesses that are prematurely taking the lives of first responders.
That is why I was honored to co-sponsor the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, which passed the House of Representatives on Friday. This bipartisan legislation provides funding to cover the costs of health care for individuals whose illnesses are tied to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Too many heroes have died because of the attacks and countless others of associated illnesses. Supporting this bill was the right thing to do, and I am proud to stand with the men and women who will benefit from permanent reauthorization of this program.
As the House of Representatives came together in bipartisan fashion to support legislation for our 9/11 heroes, I wish the same could have been said of legislation for our military. Unfortunately, the Democratic version of the National Defense Authorization Act brought to the floor this week was not the traditionally bipartisan bill that authorizes programs for our military. The bill that the Democrats brought to the floor this week fails to provide necessary levels of funding to ensure military readiness to deal with threats around the globe. Additionally, the measure cuts funding for key defense initiatives which are critical and necessary in our ability to deter advisories like Russia and China. This bill would slash funding for our military’s modernization efforts at time when Moscow is actively working to build its nuclear stockpile, and China is likely to double its own stockpile in the next decade.
Unlike the Senate version of the NDAA, which passed in bipartisan fashion by a vote of 88-8, the House version of the NDAA was a partisan bill that includes a backdoor provision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Additionally, it would block President Trump’s efforts to alleviate the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. I voted no on this bill for many reasons, but primarily because I believe we must provide our military men and women with the tools necessary to win on the battlefield and prevent conflict with our adversaries. It is my hope we will eventually take up a bipartisan version of this important bill so it can go to the President’s desk for his signature.
We also saw the continuation of House Democrats’ efforts to impeach the President. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been subpoenaed to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member of the Committee, I am looking forward to asking him questions about his investigation and some of the decisions that were made prior to, during, and after his investigation was concluded. Unfortunately, in another example of the ineptitude of the House majority, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler informed members last week that only the 11 most senior committee members from each side would be able to question former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The portion of our time that would have been used by less senior members of the Committee would instead be given to the House Intelligence Committee. However, after Judiciary Committee members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns about this arrangement, Chairman Nadler reversed course and will now allow all members of the Judiciary Committee to question Mueller when he appears on July 24.
Last week, dozens of constituents from across Augusta County discussed the Mueller Report and much more Tuesday at another town hall meeting, this time in Stuarts Draft. I have enjoyed the opportunity to engage with constituents across the Sixth District and discuss the issues facing our nation. Last week’s town hall gave me the opportunity to hear Augusta County residents’ views on immigration, transportation, education, and much more. I take these perspectives to Washington with me and consider them as I introduce legislation, work in committee, and vote on the floor. I look forward to hearing from you and will announce more town halls soon. Please continue to watch the “Events” page on my website at cline.house.gov/about/events to find a town hall or staff mobile office hour near you.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline: July 6, 2019
After a busy June in Washington, I was grateful to spend this past week traveling the Sixth District and meeting with constituents in every corner of the Shenandoah Valley. Fortunately, this week was filled less with politics and more with picnics as families celebrated Independence Day with friends and loved ones. While the Fourth of July is a time for fireworks, barbecues, and parades, it is also a time to remember the origins of this great country.
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia and voted to officially sever ties with Great Britain. Pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, 56 brave men proclaimed to the world the sovereignty of the Thirteen Colonies. This statement has since become known as the Declaration of Independence, and its words are at the very core of the American Ideal.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I strive every day to uphold these values as your representative in Congress. I fight to ensure that the American Dream is never out of reach for any citizen in this country and that regardless of status, I will always work to preserve liberty, opportunity, and equality. It is important to take a moment this Independence Day weekend and remember that rather than Republicans or Democrats, on this day we are all Americans first.
Should you and your family wish to visit the National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence and other documents relating to American history, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington office. My staff is happy to assist in arranging tours of not only of the National Archives, but of the Capitol Building and White House as well. To request tours, please visit my website at cline.house.gov.
Augusta County Town Hall
I invite residents of Augusta County to a town hall event this coming Tuesday. This is an opportunity to engage on important issues in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia, so I can take your views back to Washington. This is my second gathering in the area, having previously held a listening session with the residents of the City of Staunton in December.
The Augusta County town hall will take place Tuesday, July 9, 2019, from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. at VFW Post 9339, 3251 Stuarts Draft Hwy, Stuarts Draft, VA 24477. Register on Eventbrite by clicking here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If you have comments on legislation moving through the House, you may leave your comments with my Washington office by calling (202) 225-5431. If you need assistance with a federal agency, my district office may be reached at (540) 857-2672.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline: June 28, 2019
The crisis at the southern border is real and getting worse. Illegal immigration, asylum requests, and apprehension rates have reached staggering levels not seen in a decade or more. In May FY 2019 (the most recent month data was available), U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 132,887 apprehensions at the southern border. That is an increase of more than 160 percent since October when only 51,008 apprehensions were made.
Perhaps more staggering than the total number of people apprehended is the number of unaccompanied minors who are taken into custody at the southern border. In May FY 2019, 11,507 unaccompanied minors were apprehended compared to only 4,966 in October, an increase of more than 130 percent.
President Donald Trump has identified this problem and called for action. House and Senate Republicans agree with the President. Even former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has said the situation at the border is a crisis. But for months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic Caucus have played politics and refused any attempt at considering bipartisan legislation to improve security at the border and help illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in need of humanitarian aid.
On Wednesday of this week, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation 84-8 which authorizes $4.5 billion to combat the humanitarian crisis along the southern border. While Speaker Pelosi initially refused to consider this legislation in the House, it became clear that the Senate passed bill was the best way to quickly get aid to those most in need and begin taking the important steps necessary to improve security at the border. I was proud to stand with my colleagues to vote for this critical legislation that addresses both the security and humanitarian crises at the border.
In addition to the action regarding the southern border, the House also took up a second “minibus” package. If you remember from the Sixth District Perspective two weeks ago, a minibus is a collection of appropriation bills usually debated and voted on as standalone bills. This week’s minibus dealt with military construction and the VA, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as Agriculture. As stated before, the process for appropriations is broken. The House has not yet passed a budget but is appropriating funds at levels that bust through the spending caps put in place by the Budget Control Act. This minibus package overspends by roughly $29.8 billion above FY19 levels and would raise discretionary spending by $350 billion in FY20 and FY21.
Overspending is a detriment to all Americans. The increased debt will be passed to our children and could damage economic growth. And for what? This particular spending package prioritizes spending money on items such as paying for lawyers for illegal aliens who cross the border and preventing the Department of Housing and Urban Development from finalizing a rule to require immigration status verification in order to access public housing benefits. The measure would also omit long-standing 2nd Amendment protections previously supported on a bipartisan basis. The bill is a wish list of liberal spending priorities that should not become law. It is my hope that Leader McConnell stands with House Republicans who have voted against these measures and blocks it from passing the Senate.
Busy as it was, the week was not all about legislation. This week also brought the opportunity to meet with the newest citizens of the United States on Friday at a ceremony in Roanoke. I have attended several of these events across the Sixth District since January and I am always moved by the stories shared by my fellow Americans. The journey to immigrate legally and the process of earning citizenship is not easy, but I encouraged everyone to enjoy their new freedoms, including the right to vote and run for office. It is important to make your voice heard and there is no better way to get involved than to be a part of the process.
I want to hear from you. If you have a thought about legislation moving through Congress, please call my Washington office at (202) 225-5431. If you need assistance with a federal agency, please call my Roanoke office at (540) 857-2672.
Warner & Kaine request funding for I-81 upgrades
WASHINGTON – On June 24th, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) requested additional funding for vital improvements to Interstate 81 (I-81) that would enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion.
In a pair of letters to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Senators emphasized I-81’s crucial role in commerce along the East Coast and stressed the need for federal dollars to tackle necessary repairs to the highway. The Senators also encouraged DOT to approve an application from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for federal grant funding to improve I-81, reduce congestion, and address safety problems along the route.
“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the Senators wrote in the letter of support to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”
The Senators also encouraged the leaders of the EPW Committee to include robust funding for high-priority interstate improvement projects such as I-81 in the next surface transportation bill.
“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the Senators wrote to the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”
More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81. In the last decade, I-81 has experienced significant traffic growth, with travel expected to continue increasing along the interstate. Increased I-81 traffic causes severe travel delays and puts travelers at risk, including the drivers involved in the more than 2,000 crashes that happen annually along the route.
A recent study by VDOT that found an unmet need of about $4 billion in improvements along the interstate – only half of which is expected to be covered by the increased truck registration fees and gas tax increases approved by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of robust financing for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.
Warner & Hawley introduce bill to force social media companies to disclose how they are monetizing user data
WASHINGTON – On June 25th, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act, bipartisan legislation that will require data harvesting companies such as social media platforms to tell consumers and financial regulators exactly what data they are collecting from consumers, and how it is being leveraged by the platform for profit.
“For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Sen. Warner. “But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform. Our bipartisan bill will allow consumers to understand the true value of the data they are providing to the platforms, which will encourage competition and allow antitrust enforcers to identify potentially anticompetitive practices.”
“When a big tech company says its product is free, consumers are the ones being sold. These ‘free’ products track everything we do so tech companies can sell our information to the highest bidder and use it to target us with creepy ads,” said Sen. Hawley. “Even worse, tech companies do their best to hide how much consumer data is worth and to whom it is sold. This bipartisan legislation gives consumers control of their data and will show them how much these ‘free’ services actually cost.”
As user data increasingly represents one of the most valuable, albeit intangible, assets held by technology firms, shining light on how this data is collected, retained, monetized, and protected, is critical. The DASHBOARD Act will:
• Require commercial data operators (defined as services with over 100 million monthly active users) to disclose types of data collected as well as regularly provide their users with an assessment of the value of that data.
• Require commercial data operators to file an annual report on the aggregate value of user data they’ve collected, as well as contracts with third parties involving data collection.
• Require commercial data operators to allow users to delete all, or individual fields, of data collected – and disclose to users all the ways in which their data is being used. including any uses not directly related to the online service for which the data was originally collected.
• Empower the SEC to develop methodologies for calculating data value, while encouraging the agency to facilitate flexibility to enable businesses to adopt methodologies that reflect the different uses, sectors, and business models.
The DASHBOARD Act is the second tech-focused bill Hawley and Warner have partnered on. The first was Hawley’s Do Not Track Act, which would be modeled after the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Do Not Call” list and allow users to opt out of non-essential data collection.