@MyKitchenTable: Thursday October 28, 2021
“How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.” – Morgan Freeman
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH INFRASTRUCTURE?
As of writing this in my D.C. office today (3 PM), Speaker Pelosi has indicated that she wants a full vote on the House floor tonight on BIF (Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill) – which the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus helped write over the summer and later passed the Senate 69-30 in August – before President Biden lands in Rome ahead of the Glasgow Climate Conference. This legislation really does address the woeful state of our PHYSICAL infrastructure (think roads, bridges, highways, waterways, ports, etc.) in Michigan and nationwide. It will help states like Michigan rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, and ports; replace lead waterpipes nationwide; strengthen our energy grid against Chinese and Russian cyberattacks; and expand broadband connection to our underserved communities – without raising taxes. Despite the overwhelming Senate vote, the progressive wing of the Democratic party is adamant that they could not support it unless, in addition, their totally partisan trillion-dollar reconciliation framework was passed.
I would note that we have not seen a single word of legislative text for the reconciliation bill as the Democrats have been negotiating for two months now on how to ram this bill through the House and the Senate on a purely party-line vote. Originally, it undid many of the 2017 tax cuts which really gave a break to middle-class folks and small businesses and certainly spurred the economy forward. Reversing these tax breaks, particularly at a time when folks and businesses are desperately looking to recover from the COVID pandemic, is flat out wrong. The words “tax and spend” truly ring.
For decades, we have sidelined real investments in our nation’s infrastructure while China pours concrete and builds skyscrapers at record speed wildly outpacing our efforts. That simply has to change. If we are going to compete with the likes of China now and in the future, we need to get serious about working together – Republicans and Democrats – to actually fund shovel-ready projects that will grow our economy and strengthen our global competitiveness. Projects in Southwest Michigan – from completing the US 131 extension in Kalamazoo to improving our ports from coast to coast – will be an important part of these critical investments. Ever since I’ve served in the Congress, infrastructure has always been a bipartisan endeavor – one where Democrats and Republicans could prove that this place still works. Sadly, it seems that in today’s toxic political environment, we cannot even accomplish some of our most basic tasks as elected officials.
HONORING OUR AMERICAN HEROES
On Monday, the U.S. House unanimously voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 13 U.S. service men and women who were killed by terrorists at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul last August. These folks who gave their lives to evacuate and protect Americans and our Afghan allies are real heroes, and this Medal is a small token of our gratitude for their service and sacrifice in the face of unthinkable danger. Some 7,000 Americans have been killed abroad since 9/11, and tragically, another 30,000 have taken their lives. Our hearts are with their families. We can never truly repay them for their sacrifice for our freedom. You can read more HERE.
We also lost a Medal of Honor soldier last week who hailed from South Haven. You can read Duane Dewey’s beautiful Washington Post obituary HERE.
NEWS ON THE VACCINE BOOSTER FRONT
Also this week, an advisory panel recommended that the FDA approve the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. This is certainly welcome news as we look to get young folks vaccinated, particularly now that schools are rightfully open again. You can read more about the FDA panel’s recommendation HERE.
HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING ON THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR
On Tuesday, the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a number of issues impacting the healthcare industry, including the nursing shortage that our nation faces in the wake of the COVID pandemic, efforts to educate and train more folks in the healthcare sector in less time, and real steps to diversify clinical trials for new cures and vaccines so that a larger majority of the population can feel confident about the efficacy of new treatments. We also heard from Mr. J. Corey Feist who is the President and Co-Founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation and touched on the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. You can watch his remarks HERE. Dr. Lorna Breen was a physician from Charlottesville, Virginia, who worked on the frontlines of the pandemic in New York and died by suicide in April of 2020. I am a cosponsor of this bill, which is comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals. For the last 19 months, nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers in Michigan and nationwide have worked around the clock to save lives and put this pandemic in the rearview mirror, and for sure, the pandemic has put them all under immense pressure day in and day out. We need to have their backs, and this legislation does just that. You can read more HERE.
I would also note that I met with several folks from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (U of M – Flint, MSU, and WMU) on Monday to discuss nursing education, efforts to retain and expand the nursing workforce, and critical medical research. As I told them, it was my work with Senator John McCain in the 90s that doubled the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. Years later, we also provided an additional $45 billion to the NIH through the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in 2016.
PROBLEM SOLVERS CAUCUS MEETING WITH DANIEL YERGIN
On Wednesday morning, Daniel Yergin, who is the premier acclaimed expert on energy policy and global economics and served on the U.S. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board under the last four administrations – spoke to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus on the severe supply-chain bottlenecks at our ports, the ongoing worker shortage, and rising prices for just about everything from groceries to gasoline. Earlier this week, he wrote a column in the Washington Post explaining why supply-chain woes and heightened inflation will continue into 2022 and beyond. You can read that column HERE. He also discussed his new book: “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations” and the challenges that lie ahead for energy production and the global supply chain in the years and decades to come. A very good, must-read now in paperback.
We need to do all that we can to address the supply chain crisis and rising inflation that has dramatically worsened as a result. That’s why the Problem Solvers Caucus has encouraged, and I am a cosponsor of, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act which will really go a long way to alleviate the numerous supply chain bottlenecks we’re seeing at our ports. This legislation will ensure that American goods – like farm products – are given full and equal access to foreign markets and can get on foreign ocean carriers for global delivery. Recent reports have revealed that foreign shippers – particularly those headed back to China – will return to their home ports with empty containers. This is a major disadvantage for American farmers and manufacturers who sell their goods worldwide. This bill would also waive fees that are currently being applied to American truckers and ports for delays that are caused by foreign ocean carriers themselves. You can read more HERE.
Yergin also wrote an interesting piece on the challenges that face electric vehicles, particularly the mining and supply chains that are critical to their development. You can read that article HERE.
SUPPORTING VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THEIR FAMILIES
On Tuesday, the House passed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act by a bipartisan vote of 228 to 200. I supported it as it would provide federal grants to states and local communities to help prevent domestic violence and establish a number of support services for survivors and their families. More specifically, this bill would authorize three major initiatives, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence shelters, and the Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances (DELTA) program. The bottom line is that one incident of violence and abuse is one too many, and this bipartisan legislation would really go a long way to provide the necessary support and resources for the most vulnerable among us, particularly the millions of young folks who experience domestic violence firsthand. You can read more HERE. I would also note that I voted for the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and its every following reauthorization, including the latest one this past March. Particularly vocal in support of this legislation was our Kalamazoo YWCA.
DISCUSSING MICHIGAN-CANADA RELATIONS
Had a productive conversation with Canada’s Consul General to Detroit, Joseph Comartin, on Thursday, who oversees Michigan-Canada relations. Canada is one of our top trading partners and purchases a good number of Michigan cars and trucks, auto parts, and farm products. I told him that I was particularly pleased that the U.S.-Canada border has finally reopened to both Canadian and American citizens, which is vitally important to our economies and the countless families who have been separated for far too long.
We also discussed the stand-off between Canada and the U.S. re: Line 5. Earlier this month, Canada exercised a 1977 pipeline treaty with the U.S. in an attempt to shut down Line 5, which provides the UP and much of Northern Michigan with propane and natural gas to heat folks’ homes and keep the lights on. 55% of our propane demand in the state is met thanks to Line 5, and this line also ships crude to Detroit and many parts of Canada. As written, the treaty would supersede any effort in federal court to keep Line 5 up and running. As it currently stands, Governor Whitmer and the Biden Administration have not made any public statements on the issue even though the treaty explicitly requires them to take a stand. It also requires arbitration between the State Department, the Canadian government, and a neutral third party for each to hash out any differences and chart a path forward. It will likely be some time until this is resolved. In the meantime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has requested more information and I will be closely monitoring further developments. You can read more about ongoing discussions HERE.
I would note that Line 5 connects to the Marathon refinery in SE Michigan and refines some 15 million gallons of gasoline each day. There is no way an alternative line could be built through Wisconsin or Canada to replace the existing pipeline just west of the Mackinac Bridge.
Enbridge announced several years ago that they would replace the 60-year-old current pipeline in a concrete tunnel protecting the pipeline from anchor strikes and the like at their expense. That agreement announced in the Snyder Administration has been held up in the Whitmer Administration.
ADDRESSING THE SCOURGE OF THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC ON MICHIGAN
As a Co-Chair of the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, I have long been involved in federal efforts to curb the opioid epidemic that has afflicted far too many families in Michigan and nationwide. Just this week, I read heartbreaking reports that fentanyl, which is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. You can read the USA Today story HERE. Tragically, many of us know the pain firsthand of losing a loved one to a drug overdose. That’s why we must continue to do all we can to support treatment options for vulnerable folks, remove dangerous drugs like fentanyl from our communities, and address one of the root causes of this real problem – the border crisis we continue to face. More HERE. There are so many reasons why we must secure our border, and the opioid trade is a top concern.
MILESTONE SENIOR SERVICES
Last week, Senior Services of Southwest Michigan officially became Milestone Senior Services. For almost 60 years, they have been the leading provider of choice-driven services for homebound and disabled seniors. Milestone Senior Services provides Meals on Wheels service, as well as home care, home repair and managed care. If you or someone you know is in need of service, you can apply HERE. I have long been a proud supporter of these services and will continue to advocate for our seniors. Congratulations to Milestone Senior Services and thank you for serving our seniors in Southwest Michigan!
FINDING COMMON GROUND IN CONGRESS
On a closing note, the Common Ground Committee, an organization that encourages bipartisanship in Congress, has named me the 3rd most bipartisan member of the House. Whether it’s protecting the Great Lakes and expanding broadband in rural communities or rebuilding our infrastructure and replacing lead lines, bipartisan solutions are good for Southwest Michigan and our country. The bottom line is – when Republicans and Democrats work together, the American people win. You can see my bipartisan score HERE.
Stay tuned for my report next week and to those of you who will be watching the Michigan-Michigan State game this weekend, Go Blue! (I am outnumbered by Sparty in all of my offices).
All the best,