Rep. Lou Barletta: 2015 Year in Review
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today reviewed the year 2015 in the United States House of Representatives and highlighted some notable improvements and achievements. Among the important issues covered during the year were continuing the fight against illegal immigration, protecting national security interests from refugees and problems with visas, preserving funding for SHINE, preventing heavier trucks from hitting the highways, and protecting steel jobs in Pennsylvania. Barletta indicated that he would continue the fight on those and other important issues as the 114th Congress resumes on January 5, 2016.
“The world is changing rapidly, and Congress must continue to work to address the evolving challenges we face as a nation,” Barletta said. “In 2015, we addressed many of those needs, and also found solutions to problems we have long been facing. But there’s still work to be done.”
Barletta Priorities in Highway Bill
Rep. Barletta, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was among House conferees appointed to negotiate the particulars of a five-year $305 billion Highway Bill, which included many of Barletta’s highest priorities for the U.S. transportation system and its infrastructure. While voting for the bill, Barletta did express disappointment that the bill was a missed opportunity to develop serious reforms in transportation funding.
Among Barletta’s victories in the final bill were:
Defeating Truck Weight Increase: Barletta was able to defeat efforts that would have increased the weight limit for trucks from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. Barletta said that local roads were not built to handle the increased weight, and the heavier trucks would pose a greater danger to their drivers and other motorists.
Making Railway Cars Safer: Barletta successfully amended the highway bill to require railway tank cars carrying flammable liquids to be equipped with protections for their pressure safety valves. Newer tank cars already have this type of feature, but the legislation requires older cars to be retrofitted. The requirement would make it more unlikely for tank cars to burst into flames or explode in the event of an accident.
Agricultural Vehicles Near Farms: The highway bill also contains Barletta’s priority that states may adopt their own safety standards for agricultural vehicles operating near farms without jeopardizing federal transportation funding. Barletta authored the Local Farm Vehicle Flexibility Act to allow states to permit farmers to operate vehicles that are technically “uncovered” as they travel from point to point on a farm or to a nearby processing facility, even if they traverse public roads in the process.
Highway Safety Improvement Program: Barletta led efforts to ensure that the highway bill fully funds the Highway Safety Improvement Program, which pays for safety measures such as guardrails, retroreflective signs, and road markings. The Senate bill had previously reduced the program sharply.
Safer Trucks and Buses: The highway bill includes much of Barletta’s Safer Trucks and Buses Act, which seeks to reform safety scores for carriers by making the scores more reflective of the company’s safety record. The legislation would temporarily halt the publication of flawed safety scores until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) scoring system is revamped. The language in no way eliminates law enforcement access to safety data, meaning that the worst offenders can still be targeted
Reducing Paperwork for Ready Mix Concrete Drivers: The bill reduces burdensome paperwork requirements for drivers of ready mix concrete trucks, without changing any on-duty rules. Currently, if a driver works for more than 12 hours in a shift, the driver must fill out a log book accounting for every 15 minutes of work. The maximum on-duty period allowed is 14 hours. The change simply makes the two requirements line up, eliminating unnecessary paperwork for the driver.
Saving SHINE Funding and Replacing “No Child Left Behind”
Barletta, a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, supported the Student Success Act, which replaces “No Child Left Behind,” and importantly rescues federal funding for afterschool programs such as SHINE, originally slated to be eliminated before Barletta intervened. SHINE, or “Schools and Homes In Education,” is a successful educational program in Carbon, Luzerne, and Schuylkill Counties that Barletta has championed with state Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon).
By restoring the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, Barletta has preserved a funding stream that accounts for 49 percent of SHINE’s total funding. The bill, the Conference Report to Accompany S. 1177, was negotiated by House and Senate conferees and supplants “No Child Left Behind,” returning many educational decisions to states and localities.
Beginning in February 2015, Barletta began painstakingly working to restore the 21st CCLC program. The original House version of the bill eliminated the program; however, Barletta negotiated 14 changes to the base text of the bill in support of afterschool programs, and specifically the SHINE model, in the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He also engaged in a colloquy with committee Chairman John Kline (MN-2) to establish a record of support for such programs. On the floor of the House, Barletta spoke in support of his own successful amendment that requires school districts to report to state agencies on the use of Title I money for afterschool activities to further demonstrate the importance of such programs. Finally, when the legislation reached the conference committee, Barletta sent a letter to lead House and Senate negotiators imploring them to preserve the 21st CCLC program. As a result, the conference report passed by the House authorizes $1 billion in funding for the 21st CCLC program.
Fighting Illegal Immigration
Barletta once again introduced tough legislation cracking down on “Sanctuary Cities” that he first authored in 2011, the Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Act (H.R. 3002), which would prohibit any federal funding for a minimum period of one year to any state or local government which has a policy or law that prevents them from assisting immigration authorities in enforcing federal immigration law. A state or local government would only regain federal funding eligibility after the Attorney General certifies that its laws and policies are in compliance with federal immigration law.
The legislation was in response to the July 1, 2015 San Francisco murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, whose accused killer is a seven-time felon who had been deported five times previously. Barletta has personal experience with a similar tragedy, as he was mayor of Hazleton in 2006 when a local man, Derek Kichline, was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been released in New York, another sanctuary city. Barletta was also moved by meeting the parents of 20-year-old murder victim Carly Snyder of Northumberland County, who was stabbed 37 times by an illegal immigrant from Honduras in 2005.
Unfortunately, Senate Democrats blocked a similar bill that would have defunded sanctuary cities. The House had already passed legislation withholding certain law-enforcement funding and grants. There are now 340 such sanctuary cities in the United States, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Obama’s Executive Amnesty
Barletta led the fight to defund President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty plans through the passage of an appropriations bill that would have defunded the amnesty program for illegal immigrants, largely through an amendment Barletta co-authored, had the bill been signed into law. The House approved the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with the key amendment known as the Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta Amendment. The House also adopted additional amendments Barletta supported, including one which stops the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has abused the practice of prosecutorial discretion on immigration enforcement.
The lead amendment to the DHS appropriations bill was the one authored by Rep. Barletta, Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-4), and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (SC-5). It was the Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta amendment which would have specifically defunded President Obama’s executive amnesty.
The Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta amendment addressed the Obama executive amnesty by:
- Preventing any funds from any source from being used to carry out the executive actions the president announced on November 20, 2014.
- Preventing any funds from any source from being used to carry out the so-called “Morton Memos,” which directed immigration officers to ignore broad categories of illegal immigrants.
- Declaring that no funds may be used to carry out any policies that are substantially similar to the ones being defunded.
- Declaring that the policies being defunded have no basis in federal law or the Constitution and therefore have no legal effect.
- Preventing any funds from being used to provide federal benefits to illegal immigrants intended to be impacted by the president’s executive amnesty.
Barletta remained a leader in the fight against President Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal immigration, arguing that the policy was a national security threat and unfairly favored illegal immigrants over legal immigrants and American workers.
“We have immigration laws in this country for two basic reasons: to preserve American jobs and to protect national security. President Barack Obama’s unlawful executive actions to grant amnesty to at least 5 million illegal immigrants violate both of those principles. Any objective review must find that the president’s policies have placed the concerns of those who have broken our laws ahead of the interests of citizens and legal residents of the United States,” Barletta wrote in an opinion column in Roll Call on March 23, 2015. “Employment is difficult enough to find for millions of Americans and legal residents who woke up this morning without a pay check. On top of that hardship, the president has now introduced millions of new applicants who will compete for jobs that are already scarce. It is difficult to imagine how such a policy is beneficial to American workers.”
Strengthening National Security
In 2015, Barletta, already a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, was named to the committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Barletta voted against the $1.1 trillion Omnibus spending bill, primarily because it continued funding of the program that relocates Syrian refugees to the United States. In light of the terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, Barletta had proposed suspending the entire refugee program until thorough background checks and screenings can be reliably conducted. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has placed America atop its terror list, and has indicated it would use the refugee program to infiltrate the United States.
In addition, Barletta backed the American SAFE Act, which requires comprehensive background checks of every refugee from Iraq or Syria before they can be admitted into the United States and certification that each does not pose a threat. No refugee from Iraq or Syria will be admitted into the U.S. unless:
- The FBI Director certifies the background investigation of each refugee.
- The Secretary of Homeland Security, along with the FBI Director and the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to Congress that each refugee is not a security threat to the United States.
- The DHS Inspector General independently assesses the refugee approvals, thus making sure that high-risk individuals do not slip through the cracks.
The House passed Barletta’s legislation that clarifies and enhances the partnership between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the national network of fusion centers. A fusion center is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies, including federal, state, and local entities, which share resources and information to improve their ability to detect, prevent, and respond to terrorist or criminal activity. The bill, H.R. 3598, the Fusion Center Enhancement Act, passed the House by a voice vote.
The bill improves fusion centers by:
- Directing DHS to make sure its components are providing information and personnel to fusion centers to better cooperate with state and local officials.
- Requiring DHS to coordinate with fusion centers and State Homeland Security Advisors in carrying out assigned responsibilities.
- Requiring DHS to submit a report to Congress on its efforts to meet these requirements.
Standing Firm on Iran
Barletta voted against approval of the Iran nuclear deal and in favor of legislation that prevents the President of the United States from lifting or easing sanctions against Iran until January 21, 2017. The bill Barletta voted against was H.R. 3461, which would have approved the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The bill failed by a bipartisan vote of 162-to-269, with one member voting present. The bill Barletta voted in favor of was H.R. 3460, which suspends the authority of the president to waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions pursuant to an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran until January 21, 2017.
The votes followed addition House action approving a resolution that found that President Obama is in violation of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which requires the president to transmit the agreement, including any secret side deals, to Congress for its approval. It is now known that Iran has cut such covert side agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and that they have not been provided to Congress.
Defending Steel Jobs, Leveling the Playing Field
Barletta was a key leader in protecting the steel industry during the passage of legislation that strengthens enforcement of U.S. customs and trade laws, and protects American employers and workers from unfair practices by companies in other nations. The conference report on the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (H.R. 644), which is the result of negotiations between the House and Senate, incorporates requirements Barletta insisted upon to protect American jobs from countries which illegally dump cheap products into markets like steel manufacturing.
The provisions of the ENFORCE Act included in the conference report prevent countries from circumventing trade laws by shipping a product through another country and switching the label. For example, when China dumps steel into America, American steel companies spend time and money building a case against the Chinese dumping. If they win that case, the steel companies deserve to have the Chinese penalized for the dumping. The ENFORCE Act makes sure that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) actually investigates the American companies’ case. The ENFORCE Act gives CBP a strict deadline to review the case. American companies can pursue a case in U.S. Trade Court if the company believes CBP is rubberstamping the decisions without fairly reviewing the details.
For his efforts, Barletta was named a “2015 Congressional Steel Champion” by the American Iron and Steel Institute, an organization representing the majority of steel producers in North America. Barletta received the award in recognition of his efforts to strengthen antidumping and countervailing duty laws, and his leadership on the ENFORCE Act to improve the process to ensure the laws against unfair trade are strictly enforced.
Saving Taxpayers $2.8 Billion
As Chairman of the Subcommittee for Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Barletta is tasked with governing federal real estate assets, among other federal responsibilities. In that role, Barletta has steered federal agencies through an improvement in the way the federal real estate footprint is managed. Through creative use or renovation of existing properties, or through better structuring of leases, Barletta has saved taxpayers more than $2.8 billion since being named subcommittee chairman in 2013.
Relieving Burden on the Taxpayers
Barletta supported legislation that makes permanent many tax provisions and extends others, preventing a tax increase for millions of Americans. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act achieves certainty for individuals and businesses by extending or making permanent 55 provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that expired on December 31, 2014 and extending other policies for two and five years.
Among the tax policies made permanent for individuals were:
- Enhanced Child Tax Credit.
- Enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit (for post-secondary education).
- Enhanced Earned Income Credit.
- $250 deduction for K-12 teachers for school supplies (indexed for inflation).
- Charitable giving incentives (food inventory, conservation easements, and IRA charitable rollover).
- State and local sales tax deduction.
- Among the tax policies made permanent for businesses were:
- Research and Development Tax Credit.
- Section 179 Expensing (helps cyclical businesses like farming and construction invest in new property and equipment).
- Active financing exemption.
- 15-year recovery for leasehold and restaurant improvements.
- Charitable contributions of S corporations.
- 5-year recognition period for S corporation built-in-gains.
- The Medical Device Tax contained in Obamacare has been delayed by two years, helping device makers, their employees, and consumers.
In addition, the legislation reins in the IRS and protects taxpayers by:
- Firing IRS employees who take politically-motivated actions against taxpayers.
- Requiring IRS employees to respect the taxpayer bill of rights.
- Prohibiting IRS employees from using personal email accounts for official business.
Fighting the Jeansville Mine Fire
Barletta assumed a leadership role in finding a solution to the Jeansville mine fire, which has been burning for decades near the village of Tresckow in Banks Township in Carbon County. He pressed federal, state, and local authorities for a solution to the ongoing public safety hazard, and also convened a meeting with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and local officials in September to exchange information about the problem.
As a result of the coordinated efforts, DEP has awarded a contract to Hazleton Shaft Corporation to isolate and extinguish the Jeansville mine fire. According to DEP, the $9.3 million contract “involves digging two isolation trenches to contain the fire and stop it from spreading. The project will involve the excavation of approximately 2.6 million cubic yards of material to isolate the fire on the south side. A water supply for the fire will be obtained by connecting to a line owned by the Hazleton City Authority and from a well to the mine pool which lies below the area.”
Protecting Correctional Officers
Barletta co-sponsored legislation that requires the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to supply oleoresin capsicum spray, commonly known as pepper spray, to prison officers or employees who may respond to emergency situations with inmates. The Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act (H.R. 472) is named for an officer at the United States Prison at Canaan who was brutally murdered by an inmate in 2013.
Senior Correctional Officer Eric Williams, of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, was murdered by convicted gang assassin Jessie Con-ui at the high security prison on February 25, 2013. Con-ui, a member of the violent New Mexican Mafia gang, was serving an 11-year sentence when he suddenly attacked Officer Williams, knocked him down a flight of stairs, and stabbed him more than 200 times with homemade blades known as shanks. Con-ui is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree murder of a U.S. corrections officer, and possessing contraband in prison. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Preserving Veterans Cemeteries as Places of Honor
Legislation Barletta introduced would ensure that veterans buried in military cemeteries are truly eligible for that honor and have not been convicted of state or federal capital crimes. The legislation, Bertie’s Respect for National Cemeteries Act, is named for Pennsylvanian Bertha “Bertie” Smith, who was murdered by a man who was subsequently interred in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. The legislation also provides for her killer’s removal from the cemetery. This legislation is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Bertie’s Respect for National Cemeteries Act was made necessary by the burial of George Emery Siple at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. Siple was convicted of the October 15, 1969 capital murder of “Bertie” Smith outside a local store front. He was interred in the cemetery upon his death in prison in 1999, despite his evident ineligibility under current law. Smith’s family has been unsuccessful to this point in petitioning for his disinterment.
- Requires Department of Veterans Administration (VA) National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery to take every reasonable action, including searching public criminal records, to ensure that a veteran is eligible to be buried.
- Allows for the disinterment of veterans convicted of capital crimes, to apply to all burials after 1997.
- Provides for the disinterment of George Emery Siple.
Defending Innocent Life
Barletta supported legislation, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 (H.R. 3762), which dismantles Obamacare, places a moratorium on funding of clinics which provide abortions, provides new funding for women’s health centers, and reduces deficits by an estimated $130 billion over ten years. Under the Fiscal Year 2015 concurrent Budget Resolution, three House committees were required to produce legislation to bring spending into line with the law through a process known as budget reconciliation. As a result, the Education and the Workforce, the Energy and Commerce, and the Ways and Means Committees reported legislation to the Budget Committee, which combined the three into H.R. 3762.
Barletta also backed a resolution that established a select committee to investigate potential wrongdoing and lawbreaking involved in abortion provider practices. The move came in the wake of videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling the organs and body parts of unborn children. Specifically the committee will look into medical procedures and business practices involving fetal tissue procurement, federal funding and support for abortion providers, and providers of late-term abortions, including partial birth abortion and procedures for the care of a child born alive as a result of an attempted abortion.
The Congressman co-sponsored two important bills to protect unborn children. H.R. 3134, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, eliminates federal funding of that abortion provider while the practice of selling fetal body parts and organs is investigated. In addition, H.R. 3504, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, requires any health care practitioner present to administer medical attention to a baby born alive following an attempted abortion.
In a year that saw history made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress, Barletta was outspoken in his support for Israel, America’s strongest ally in the Middle East. Barletta was an original cosponsor of H.Res. 485, which expresses solidarity with the people of Israel in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and condemns the Palestinian Authority for inciting an atmosphere of violence. The resolution details a number of recent terrorist attacks supported and encouraged by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and is also critical of propaganda efforts intended to increase the surge of violence against Israeli citizens.
Barletta was also an original cosponsor of H.Res. 500, which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the State of Israel has the right to defend itself against Iranian hostility and that the House pledges to support Israel in its efforts to maintain its sovereignty. The resolution contends that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, diminishes Israel’s national security. Barletta has been a harsh critic of the deal President Obama approved, which paves the way for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
Welcoming Pope Francis
Congress welcomed Pope Francis to Washington, DC in September, and Barletta expressed his admiration for the Holy Father by saying, “It was a singular honor for me and my wife, Mary Grace, to be present in the House chamber when Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress, the first time any pope has done so. These are very troubling times in which we live, and the pope’s message of peace is something that people of all faiths – or no faith at all – can benefit from. We should be greeting the Holy Father as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, and check our politics at the door as we do so. He is the leader of one of the great religions of the world, the successor to Saint Peter, and we should all listen to and reflect on what he has to say.”
Barletta also presented a painting by Hazleton artist Salvadore DeFazio titled “A Prayer for Peace” to the pontiff’s traveling staff. The painting depicts a pair of hands reaching upward, toward a dove and star in the sky. DeFazio was also named Hazleton’s first poet laureate while Barletta was mayor of the city.
Looking out for Volunteer Firefighters
For the fourth time, Barletta introduced his legislation to protect volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from the unintended consequences of Obamacare. Barletta’s bill, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, ensures that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under the Employer Mandate of Obamacare. If volunteer fire companies were subject to the mandates of Obamacare, they could be liable for crippling new health care costs, causing many to have to close their doors. The House previously has passed similar legislation on three separate occasions by a combined unanimous vote of 1,226-to-0. The legislation is supported by the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute.
In 2014, after months of pressure from Barletta, other members of Congress, and firefighters, the IRS indicated that it will not count hours of volunteer firefighters and emergency responders when determining an employer’s full-time employees in compliance with Obamacare. Barletta, however, has continued to pursue passage of his legislation as insurance against future changes from the IRS.
Connecting to Main Street
In 2015, Congressman Barletta continued his Main Street Tours, during which he visited local businesses and heard the concerns and ideas of small employers and citizens. Barletta has conducted nearly thirty Main Street Tours since 2013 in communities across the 11th District.
While Barletta indicated that while he was pleased with the successes of 2015 and the first session of the 114th Congress, he will continue to fight for the 11th District of Pennsylvania.
“If 2015 taught us anything, it’s that it is much better to get half a loaf of bread than no loaf at all,” Barletta said. “We have much more work to do, and I look forward to 2016.”