Rep. Lou Barletta: 2014 Year in Review
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today looked back on the year 2014 in the United States House of Representatives and highlighted some notable improvements and achievements. Among the important issues covered during the year were fighting illegal immigration, protecting volunteer firefighters from Obamacare, saving billions of taxpayer dollars on federal office space, reducing regulations, and promoting domestic energy. Most of those policy advancements encouraged private sector job growth. Barletta indicated that he would continue the fight on those and other important issues as the 114th Congress begins in January.
“We made a lot of important advances in the last twelve months, all with the idea of improving the lives of everyday citizens,” Barletta said. “Government can sometimes solve problems, but in many cases, the best thing government can do is get out of the way.”
Battling Illegal Immigration
The United States has immigration laws for two primary reasons: to protect national security and to protect American jobs. For too long, the immigration laws that we currently have on the books have been ignored, and there remain too many holes in the system. Throughout 2014, Rep. Barletta fought to fix the system.
By his unlawful executive action on amnesty, the president is introducing five million more competitors into an already tight job market, at a time when 20 million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed. Barletta is looking forward to fixing the problems in the next Congress.
“I have been personally assured by Speaker Boehner that I will play an integral role in crafting new, strong national immigration policies beginning in January,” Barletta said.
Barletta proposed or supported a variety of pieces of legislation to strengthen immigration laws, and protect national security and American jobs:
Defense of Legal Workers Act
Barletta’s legislation removes a $3,000 per job incentive created by President Obama for employers to hire amnesty recipients over legal American workers. Obamacare and the president’s recently announced amnesty program for illegal immigrants combine to make it financially more attractive for businesses to choose illegal immigrants when making hiring decisions. Barletta’s bill removes the incentive by clarifying that illegal immigrants granted amnesty by executive action cannot be issued work permits.
Unaccompanied Alien Minors
In response to the illegal immigrant surge at the southern border over the summer, Barletta introduced legislation to empower governors and local elected officials to control whether or not the federal government can place unaccompanied minors, who have illegally entered the country, into their communities. H.R. 5409, the “Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act” would require the federal government to inform states and localities of relocation plans in advance, and would require the federal government to certify to the states that the minors will not pose a health or public safety risk to the community. It would also require the federal government to provide information such as the costs associated with the housing and education of these minors.
Over the summer, Rep. Barletta learned of a proposal by the non-profit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to house unaccompanied minors in Hazleton. Once Barletta released this information to the public, the organization cancelled its plans following community opposition. Had Barletta not been informed of the situation by Hazleton officials, the plan would have proceeded without public notice.
Barletta was key in the House passage of legislation to stop President Obama’s policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), under which the administration has refused to deport illegal immigrants up to the age of 30, if they claim they have been present in the country since the age of 16, among other factors. Obama’s DACA policy is a key reason for the recent influx of illegal immigrants, who believe that if they arrive safely in the United States, they will be allowed to stay.
“From the first day I came to Congress, I have been asking that we do something about illegal immigration,” Barletta said. “For a long time I got nowhere, but with the situation growing worse, and with the president acting unilaterally, more and more people now understand the scope of the problem.”
In the 114th Congress, Barletta will continue to fight for these improvements, such as making it a criminal offense for someone to overstay a visa, and instituting a biometric entry and exit system.
Protecting Volunteer Firefighters
One of the many side effects of Obamacare was the public safety impact it could have on thousands of communities because of its treatment of volunteer firefighters. After being alerted to a potential problem in 2013, Barletta investigated and discovered that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had been counting volunteer firefighters as employees for federal tax purposes, which could trigger the Employer Mandate Provision of Obamacare. Under pressure from Barletta, the IRS relented and issued a new set of regulations in February that included a section using the same definition of a “bona fide volunteer” as Barletta’s bill. Unwilling to leave such an important public safety issue in the hands of unelected bureaucrats at the IRS, Barletta continued to pursue his legislation. In a rare unanimous vote, the House approved the bill 410-to-0 on March 11, 2014.
Disappointingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) added controversial unemployment benefits language to the bill, effectively killing its chances for the full approval of Congress. Barletta, however, said he has not yet given up the fight and plans to reintroduce the measure in the 114th Congress.
“While we have won the short-term battle and shielded volunteer firefighters and the communities they protect, there is still work to be done,” Barletta said. “This is a public safety issue that is too important to be left to the whims of a federal agency like the IRS.”
Barletta and the House of Representatives voted more than 50 times in the 113th Congress – not just in 2014 – to delay, defund, or dismantle all or parts of Obamacare, because it failed to live up to its name.
President Obama has signed ten pieces of legislation defunding or repealing parts of Obamacare into law.
The bipartisan spending bill passed by Congress continues Republican efforts to:
- Provide no new funding for Obamacare.
- Require Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Treasury to report to Congress on improper payments of ObamaCare tax subsidies.
- Reduce funding to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).
- Maintain all existing pro-life policy and funding provisions.
- Include three new pro-life provisions:
- Obamacare Transparency - requires Obamacare healthcare plans to inform customers if they provide abortion services.
- Conscience Protection - requires HHS Office of Civil Rights to address complaints of violations.
- Provides $12 million in unused abstinence education funds.
Reining in the EPA
Barletta supported legislation that curbs proposed expansion of the federal definition of Waters of the United States, and defends the relationship between federal and state governments established by the Clean Water Act. He co-sponsored H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act, which blocks the expansion proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“For four decades, the Clean Water Act has worked as a strong partnership between the federal government and the states,” Barletta said. “However, the new definition of federal waters is so vague that it’s impossible to know what standards you need to prove. The result would be higher legal fees, increased costs to farmers and builders, and fewer jobs. Local farmers I have talked to said the legal fees alone would probably run them out of business. Simply put, sometimes a mud puddle is just a mud puddle.”
In addition, the bipartisan spending bill adopted by Congress:
- Cuts EPA by $60 million, representing the 5th consecutive year of cuts – a total reduction of 21 percent since Fiscal Year 2010.
- Reduces EPA staffing by 2,000 positions, which is equivalent to 1989 levels.
- Prohibits regulation of farm ponds and irrigation ditches.
- Protects Second Amendment rights and prohibits EPA from regulating lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle.
Restraining the IRS
The bipartisan spending bill adopted by Congress continues Republican efforts to:
- Cut IRS funding by $345.6 million ($1.5 billion below the president’s request and below Fiscal Year 2008 levels).
- Prohibit IRS targeting of organizations based on their ideological beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights.
- Prohibit the White House from ordering review of tax-exempt status.
- Prohibit use of IRS funds for inappropriate videos and conferences.
“No federal agency strikes more fear into the hearts of citizens than the IRS,” Barletta said. “It is time to stop the use of federal tax collectors as political enforcers.”
Saving Billions on Federal Office Space
Rep. Barletta used his position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to save taxpayers more than $2 billion by more efficiently using federal office space. Barletta is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. In some cases, the changes involved reconfiguration or alteration of existing federal sites. In others, it involved better leasing arrangements.
“This can really be just the beginning,” Barletta said. “As these decisions are made, we ought to be asking every time: can we do this better, and how can we save the taxpayers money?”
Promoting Domestic Energy
Barletta supported measures designed to ease American dependence on foreign sources of oil and create private sector jobs:
- Barletta cosponsored legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project which has been more than six years in the works through many studies, delays, and rejections from the Obama Administration. The pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, would allow crude oil to flow all the way to the Gulf Coast. The completion of the pipeline is expected to create tens of thousands of construction jobs in the United States and establish a reliable supply of energy.
- Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will increase manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania.
- The bipartisan spending bill passed by Congress requires the Department of Defense to use anthracite coal to heat the Army and Air Force Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Congress passed the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014, which addressed a potential expiration of surface transportation authorization and the Highway Trust Fund shortfall predicted to occur. Barletta still supports a highway bill of at least five years to allow for contractors and employers to better plan for the future.
“There are more than 5,000 bridges in Pennsylvania that are structurally deficient, and countless roadways that are in desperate need of repair,” said Barletta, who is a subcommittee chairman in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “If Congress had failed to act, the money to fund surface transportation projects would have run dry. That could have resulted in the stoppage of more than 7,000 projects and the loss of countless jobs across the country, including Pennsylvania.”
Safer Trucks and Buses
Barletta introduced the Safer Trucks and Buses Act (H.R. 5532), which halts the publication of flawed safety scores for carriers and directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to revamp its scoring system. The legislation addresses a problem with the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, which was rushed into usage, and often does not reflect changes made by carriers to improve their approaches to safety.
“As a father of four daughters, I worry every day about the safety of my girls, and I strongly believe that unsafe vehicles should not be on the road,” Barletta said. “Unfortunately, companies across the country and in Pennsylvania are being unfairly misrepresented by their safety scores, causing economically devastating impacts to these bus and truck companies, many of which are small businesses.”
Keeping Promises to Veterans
Barletta supported legislation that overhauls the Veterans Administration and provides veterans with more responsive and accessible health care. The legislation follows revelations of long wait times at VA medical facilities, falsified records, and the resulting deaths of veterans.
- Allows veterans to seek medical attention outside the VA system if an appointment is not available within 30 days, or if a veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.
- Provides funding to hire additional doctors, nurses, and medical staff.
- Extends several existing pilot programs, including those increasing access to care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and victims of sexual assault.
- Requires an independent assessment of VA medical care and establishes a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access in the VA health system.
- Permits the VA Secretary to fire or demote employees in an expedited fashion based on performance or misconduct, while also including due processes rights.
- Requires public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.
- Expands the Sgt. Fry Scholarship Program to provide full post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after 9/11.
“The problems discovered in the VA system needed to be addressed, and we are addressing them now,” Barletta said. “From the beginning, this was not a Republican or Democrat issue. This was an American issue.”
Maintaining Waterway Infrastructure
Barletta backed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which promotes American competitiveness and economic growth by maintaining an effective waterway infrastructure, while also supporting strong flood protection. The legislation originated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Barletta is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management. It passed the House by a vote of 412-to-4.
“This strengthens Congressional oversight, restricts executive overreach, cuts red tape, and provides transparency in the selection of projects,” Barletta said. “And critically for our part of Pennsylvania, WRRDA helps with flood risk management.”
Helping the Disabled
Barletta supported the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which amends the IRS code to establish tax-exempt accounts for individuals with disabilities to assist in paying for certain expenses, including higher education, primary residence, transportation, employment assistance, health and wellness, and other personal support expenses.
“So many times, families have been left in the difficult position of choosing between taking care of children’s special needs and planning for their future,” Barletta said. “The ABLE Act helps families avoid that predicament and lets them plan ahead.”
Serving the 11th District
Contained within the bipartisan spending bill passed by Congress are a number of items that directly benefit the 11th District of Pennsylvania:
- $900 million to address military funding shortfalls, including depot maintenance at facilities such as Tobyhanna Army Depot.
- Restored funding zeroed out under President Obama’s budget request for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which reimburses localities who house criminal illegal immigrants in local jails (increases funding from $180 million to $185 million rather than president’s request of $0.)
- $200 million more than original budget request for Community Development Block Grants.
- $75 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
- Increase for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
- Increase funding for flood prevention under the Streamflow Information Program.
Connecting to Main Street
In 2014, 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 more than twenty Main Street Tours since 2013, including stops this year in Tunkhannock, Elizabethville, Plymouth, Carlisle, Danville, Kingston, Millersburg, Sunbury, Bloomsburg, Mechanicsburg, Linglestown, and Berwick.
“As a former mayor, I know without question that all wisdom does not reside in Washington, D.C.,” Barletta said. “Most of the best ideas come from the people who are dealing with real issues in their real lives every day. I will always continue to be accessible and listen to the people whose lives are affected by the laws we pass.”
While Barletta indicated that while he was pleased with the successes of 2014 and the 113th Congress, which has concluded, he will continue to fight for the 11th District of Pennsylvania.
“If 2014 taught us anything, it’s that it is much better to get half a loaf of bread than no loaf at all”, Barletta said. “With the new Congress taking shape in January, I am optimistic about even more advancements in the coming months.”