Rep. Barletta Reflects on Successes in 114th Congress
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today looked back on the 114th Congress and highlighted his record of achievement in a variety of areas, including saving taxpayers more than $3 billion, combating the opioid epidemic, negotiating a new Highway Bill, protecting the steel industry, and strengthening after school programs for children. The 114th Congress opened in January 2015 and already has concluded much of its business leading into its final session days in November and December of this year. The 114th Congress has constituted Barletta’s third term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We made progress on a lot of fronts in the 114th Congress and addressed some problems facing Pennsylvania and the nation,” Barletta said. “There is still much work to be done, but the work we did over the past two years represents large steps in the right direction.”
Saving Taxpayers More Than $3 Billion
Barletta’s efforts as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management have already saved taxpayers more than $3 billion by reforming the way the federal government manages its real estate portfolio. To build on that, Barletta introduced H.R. 4487, the Public Buildings Reform and Savings Act of 2016, which would end up saving taxpayers at least $500 million each year. The legislation increases accountability and oversight of the agency responsible for securing and protecting thousands of federal buildings. The bill also includes language that will give the General Services Administration (GSA) a better ability, where appropriate, to use Public-Private Partnerships to meet space needs, leveraging private dollars to offset costs. The bill passed the House and is now under consideration by the Senate.
Additionally, in his role as subcommittee chairman, Barletta has held numerous hearings in Washington, DC and different regions of the country, providing oversight and holding federal bureaucrats at the GSA accountable for their use of office space and taxpayer resources.
“Within five years, half of all federal leases will expire,” Barletta said. “To give some perspective on how much space that represents – that’s 100 million square feet of space or 32 new World Trade Centers in New York. And, more than half of the total real estate inventory is in commercial leased space, costing the taxpayers more than $5.5 billion each year. How we replace these leases has a huge impact on the costs to the taxpayer.”
Combating the Opioid Epidemic & Saving Addicted Babies
Barletta was part of the conference committee made of House and Senate members who crafted sweeping legislation to fight the growing opioid epidemic. The package contained Barletta’s own bill that specifically protected addicted newborns and their caregivers. The bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), combined educational and prevention programs, enhanced treatment, and increased law enforcement efforts to provide a comprehensive approach to the expanding problem of opioid abuse. As a conferee on the legislation, Barletta was able to secure the inclusion of provisions of his own Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act (H.R. 4843), which had already passed the House on its own by a unanimous vote of 421-to-0. The overall package has been signed into law by the president.
“All you have to do is read the newspapers or watch television news to know that substance abuse is a problem that afflicts millions of Americans,” Barletta said. “The opioid epidemic is something that I consistently hear about when I am home in Pennsylvania. I am pleased to have been a leader on this legislation that will attack the problem, and help bring so many lives back from the brink of disaster.”
Battling Illegal Immigration
Barletta was a signatory to an amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. Texas, which had the effect of blocking President Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal immigrants. At issue were Obama’s blanket executive actions in November of 2014, which violated the separation of powers as laid out in the Constitution. A 4-to-4 deadlocked court left in place a lower court ruling that halted the president’s unlawful plans.
“The president said it himself at least 22 times: he does not have the legal authority to do what he eventually did, which was to grant amnesty to people who have willfully broken our immigration laws to be present in this country,” Barletta said. “We have immigration laws in this country for two main reasons: to protect national security and to preserve American jobs. The president’s actions violated both of those principles and were unconstitutional on top of it all.”
In January of 2015, Barletta led the fight to defund the president’s illegal executive amnesty plans through the passage of an appropriations bill that would have cut funding, 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 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.
Making a Mark on the Highway Bill
Barletta was appointed to the conference committee which negotiated the particulars of the newly-passed Highway Bill, which included many of Barletta’s highest priorities for the U.S. transportation system and its infrastructure. The package totaled about $305 billion over five years and included a number of measures Barletta pushed for, including blocking a weight-limit increase for heavy trucks. Barletta was also able to fight off Senate attempts to cut the Highway Safety Improvement Program and fixed the problem of farmers getting traffic tickets for not “tarping their load” when driving short distances down the road from field to field, or field to processing center. The Highway Bill has been signed into law by the president.
“This is a five-year bill, one that is robustly funded, and it will provide long-term certainty in our highway plans, so that Congress is not forever slapping short-term Band-Aids on our transportation problems,” Barletta said. “I grew up in a family road construction business, and as a former mayor, I know that states, localities, and contractors need this certainty so they can make decisions about projects, hiring, and purchasing equipment. The five-year duration of this bill is a good first step, but ultimately we will have to find a more innovative approach or we will find ourselves with an even bigger problem just half a decade from now.”
Protecting the Steel Industry & American Jobs
Barletta was successful in including provisions to protect steel in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (H.R. 644), otherwise known as the Customs Bill. Barletta insisted on inclusion of provisions of the ENFORCE Act, which prevent countries from circumventing trade laws by shipping a product through another country and switching the label.
The measures Barletta insisted upon are intended to protect the steel industry and related jobs in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States. 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. The Customs Bill has been signed into law by the president.
“Every foreign company wants to sell their goods on American store shelves to American consumers,” Barletta said. “We must make sure we have the tools we need at the border to prevent foreign trade cheaters from sneaking their goods onto our shelves without paying the appropriate duties. The bill also contains critical protections against misguided attempts to use trade agreements to rewrite our domestic immigration laws and environmental regulations.”
Strengthening After School Programs
Barletta was instrumental in preventing the elimination of $1 billion in funding for afterschool programs like SHINE (Schools and Homes in Education) that has proven successful in Schuylkill, Carbon, and now Luzerne Counties. Barletta and Pennsylvania State Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) have championed SHINE together and helped expand it to Luzerne County.
Barletta saved the important SHINE funding source, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, which was slated to be cut out by the Student Success Act (S. 1177). Beginning in February 2015, he began painstakingly working to restore the 21st CCLC funding, which had been slated for elimination. Barletta, however, 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 authorized $1 billion in funding for the 21st CCLC program and was signed by the president.
Barletta also negotiated a change in the language of a bill about youth opportunity to enable afterschool programs like SHINE to compete for federal grants to keep students steered on the right path. During consideration of the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (H.R. 5963) in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Barletta succeeded in inserting afterschool programs into the list of eligible recipients of funds. The change means that states will be eligible to compete for five-year grants to help local leaders meet specific needs in keeping students headed in the right direction through programs such as SHINE. The bill passed the House and is now under consideration in the Senate.
“SHINE has already shown its value in the number of young lives it is positively impacting,” Barletta said. “When you awaken the minds of young children with hope and possibility of what their future can be, there’s no stopping them. That’s what SHINE does, and I am proud to help clear the way for more kids to be successful.”
For his efforts, Barletta was named the National Parent Teacher Association’s 2016 Legislator of the Year – the only House member to receive the award. He was also named an “Afterschool Hero” by the Afterschool Alliance.
Fighting for Firefighters
For the third time, Barletta shepherded his bill to protect volunteer firefighters from the ravages of Obamacare to unanimous passage in the House of Representatives. 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. Under pressure from Barletta in 2014, the IRS changed its previous position of treating volunteer firefighters as employees, but the legislation remains necessary so that the IRS policy is not reversed once more.
The House of Representatives by has passed Barletta’s bill by unanimous votes three times – first by 410-to-0 in March of 2014, then by 401-to-0 in January 2015, and finally by 415-to-0 in March of 2015. Each time House passed the bill, it failed because of actions by the Senate. In 2014, the Senate used it to attach unrelated language about emergency unemployment insurance, thereby killing the bill. In January of 2015, the Senate stripped all language from the bill and turned it into a one-week funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security. Finally, in March of 2015, the Senate converted it into legislation requiring Congressional approval of any agreements regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“Firehouses and municipalities across the country need assurance that they wouldn’t have to pay costly fines or shut down. This bill provides them with that certainty,” Barletta said. “Public safety is too important a concern to leave to the whims of an unelected government bureaucracy like the IRS. Just as importantly, it is time that we stop playing political games with such a vital public safety issue.”
Barletta successfully amended the Defense Appropriations bill to prevent U.S. military installations, regardless of their locations, from purchasing energy from Russia. Barletta’s amendment benefits coal workers in Pennsylvania, since some U.S. military bases, such as one in Kaiserslautern, Germany, use anthracite coal for fuel. The version containing Barletta’s coal language passed the House, which is currently negotiating with the Senate on an end-of-the-year funding bill.
“Time and again, we have seen Vladimir Putin use Russian energy to assert his political will over the rest of the world,” Barletta said. “By ensuring our military does not rely on the Russian Federation to supply the heating and energy needs of our military bases, we can provide certainty and security for the brave individuals protecting our freedom. And this has the added benefit of helping Pennsylvania coal workers.”
Improving Disaster Response
Barletta authored a bill to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the rising costs of disasters in the United States, reduce the toll of future losses, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of disaster assistance capabilities and programs. The FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 1471) authorizes programs that help reduce the loss of life and property and speed recovery for those impacted by disasters. The bill also requires an assessment of trends in disaster losses and recommendations that will result in the reduction of losses and increased cost savings. The bill passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
“While we are making FEMA more responsive, we’ll also be examining why the cost associated with recovering and rebuilding following disasters continues to increase,” Barletta said. “I have travelled to different areas of the country, hearing from local people about their experiences in disaster relief, and I believe our study of rising costs will be critical to the efficient use taxpayer resources in responding to catastrophes. If we can get a handle on rising costs, we will be better able to meet the needs of victims of future disasters.”
Promoting Pipeline Safety
Barletta successfully inserted language into a pipeline safety bill that protects the ability of states like Pennsylvania to use their own pipeline inspectors when dealing with federal agencies. The Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act (S.2276) reauthorizes the pipeline safety program administered by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The president has signed the bill into law.
The Barletta language involves the use of interstate agent agreements between states and PHMSA, which regulates the safety of pipelines at the federal level. The agency is responsible for ensuring safety in the design, construction, testing, operation, and maintenance of pipelines. It is more beneficial for states to be able to use their own networks of pipeline inspectors, since PHMSA has only five regional offices to serve the entire country. Many states, including Pennsylvania, want to be able to use their own resources to protect pipeline safety, which requires interstate agent agreements with PHMSA.
“In Pennsylvania, our Public Utility Commission has been trying to arrange an agreement under which we could use our own pipeline inspectors, instead of relying on regional federal inspectors who are not as available or accessible,” Barletta said. “This legislation allows Pennsylvania and other states better flexibility in keeping pipelines safe.”
Improving Communication in Terror Response
The U.S. House of Representatives passed Barletta’s legislation to clarify and enhance 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 and awaits action by the Senate.
As a Member of the Homeland Security Committee and a former mayor, Barletta has heard from law enforcement officials that there is currently a lack of information-sharing and coordination.
“I have seen this problem firsthand, and know that more can be done to help our local law enforcement get the support they need from the federal government,” Barletta said. “This bill is one small step to make the fusion centers a better resource for the people who know our communities the best – our local law enforcement officers.”
Pushing for the Harrisburg Courthouse
Barletta has gotten the proposed Harrisburg federal courthouse closer to reality than ever before, succeeding in winning authorization for $194,444,000 in funding for the design and construction of the facility. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Barletta pushed for the project, including holding hearings in his subcommittee to discuss the proposal. The Harrisburg structure is part of the long-awaited federal courthouse construction plan, developed by the federal judiciary and the General Services Administration. The authorization is the final step before an actual appropriations bill sends the money out the door.
“Authorization of funds is a huge step toward making the courthouse a reality, as the last hurdle remaining is the actual appropriation,” Barletta said. “This has been a long time coming, with various baby steps along the way, but the hard work of our subcommittee, the judiciary, and the people of Harrisburg is paying off.”
Honoring Veterans with the Medals They Earned
During the two years of the 114th Congress, Barletta presented long-overdue medals to 29 area veterans or their families. Barletta frequently presents medals which were lost or never awarded for a variety of reasons, including fire, lost records, or discovery of old records. Medals awarded this Congress included Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, Prisoner of War Medals, and various unit and individual citations.