For the past two weeks, I’ve traveled throughout Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District meeting with constituents and discussing issues important to our community. These district work periods provide an excellent opportunity to talk with and learn from the people who are at the forefront of creating jobs, teaching our children and caring for our seniors.
Needless to say, my staff and I spend quite a bit of time in the car going from county to county, which leads us to frequently visit the gas station. It is hard to get over just how much it costs to fill up the gas tank these days. In fact, it was recently brought to my attention that right now we pay an average of $3.40 per gallon here in Tennessee. Unfortunately, the price is only expected to rise as we head into the summer months.
One of the things that I hear constantly from folks is their dismay with the price at the pump. From small and medium sized businesses to individual households, everyone is feeling the pain of high energy prices.
And there is good reason to be frustrated. Gasoline prices have skyrocketed in the past decade. I remember when I could fill up my truck for nearly $20. Now that will barely get a quarter tank.
If we are really serious about bringing gas prices under control, we must increase oil production here in the United States.
One common sense proposal that I have been fighting for in Congress is the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This venture would bring oil to the United States from our friendly neighbor Canada. Not only would this project help to drive down gas prices, it would create tens of thousands of construction and refinery jobs for Americans.
Unfortunately, President Obama postponed granting the permits required to get this project started until after his reelection for fear that it would upset some of his far-left environmental base. While it is a shame that the president let politics trump good paying jobs and low gas prices, there are rumors that he is re-evaluating his position on approval of the pipeline.
Regardless, we cannot wait for the White House to act. This project will put men and women back to work, make our country more energy independent and bring down the cost of gasoline. Therefore my colleagues and I in the House will continue to put forth legislative solutions to ensure the construction of the pipeline.
We must hurry. Canada has already indicated that if we don’t start construction, they have another buyer lined up for their oil – China.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is critical piece to establishing a more secure energy policy that will bring down costs and reduce our dependency on oil from unstable Middle Eastern countries that don’t always have our best interests in mind. This project just makes sense and I hope that the White House will show some leadership and make the right decision before it is too late.
Last week, shortly after a key provision of the Senate gun control bill was voted down, former Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod took to Twitter to announce his displeasure over the bi-partisan opposition to this legislation. Mr. Axelrod tweeted, “No Senator who heeled today on the NRA’s command should have the gall to issue mournful statements the next time gun violence strikes.”
This comment is distasteful as it is illogical. It is especially offensive because the efforts by the White House and their allies are more about winning an ideological battle than truly addressing the underlying causes of gun violence in America.
Like many of my constituents, I am a proud gun owner and strong supporter our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. But I am also a colleague of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and I am father, who has a child nearly the same age as many of the victims of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
I pray that we never again see another Newtown or Tucson or Aurora or Virginia Tech. And I firmly believe we must work to prevent these unspeakable acts of violence.
But the legislation that was defeated in the Senate would have done nothing more than erode the privacy of law-abiding Americans and create a government registry of all individuals who own firearms and the types of firearms they own. In fact, even one of the sponsors of the bill admitted their proposal would not prevent another mass shooting like Newtown.
Yet the administration continues to push for these sorts of superficial solutions while portraying their opponents as beholden to the gun lobby or unconcerned about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. This approach is unfortunate because it has left us unable to develop real solutions to decrease gun violence in America.
For example, we know that mental illness plays a large role in many of these mass shootings. Last year Mother Jones Magazine published a study where they looked at 62 mass shootings over the past 30 years. They found that in more than half of these incidents, the individuals responsible displayed clear signs of serious mental illness.
However, the administration’s strategy on gun control has essentially pushed the issue of mental health to the wayside. This is extremely disappointing because making our nation’s mental health care system more efficient and responsive is an idea that is overwhelmingly supported by both parties. In an era of partisan gridlock, we have an opportunity to do something that would have a demonstrable affect in making society safer.
It has been shown time and time again that simply making it harder for law abiding citizens to purchase guns will do little to hinder criminals from obtaining firearms to commit malicious acts. Our nation’s capital provides a perfect example of this flawed mentality. Until recently, Washington, D.C. had a near-total ban on all guns. But violent gun crime increased each year. In fact, a study found that DC’s homicide rate was substantially higher than that of 49 other major cities.
So why does the administration continue to keep pushing for these ineffective gun laws?
Perhaps the key can be found in a comment made by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the day before the gun control legislation was scheduled to be voted on in the Senate. Majority Leader Reid, in one of those rare Washington moments where the truth is accidentally spoken, stated that good progress was being made on the “anti-gun” legislation.
I think this statement is indicative of the administration’s true goals when it comes to gun control. When President Obama first ran for state office he supported banning the manufacture, sale and possession of all handguns in Illinois. When the president ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1999 he proposed increasing federal taxes on the sale of firearms, restricting gun purchases to one a month and increasing gun licensing fees. And when the president ran for Senate five years later, he supported a law that would only allow former law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons.
The president’s record displays a clear desire to drastically reduce the American people’s ability to lawfully own guns. But because this idea has been overwhelmingly rejected by the majority Americans, the president has been forced to mask his true desire under the guise of public safety concerns.
In fairness, this is not the first time this strategy has been used in Washington. However, for the president and his allies to try to humiliate those who see through his thinly veiled efforts is shameful. It is also unfair to those who believe we can protect both our Second Amendment rights and our fellow citizens. More importantly, it is unfair to the victims of gun violence who deserve real solutions from Washington.
If the president would move past the politics and the ideology and work with Congress to enact real measures to prevent gun violence, I’m confident he would find a willing group of individuals with whom to work. But if the president continues to attack our Second Amendment, either overtly or surreptitiously, then he can expect another bipartisan defeat.
It has been more than three years since President Obama and Congressional Democrats passed their overhaul of our nation’s health care system. From its inception, the Affordable Care Act – commonly referred to as ObamaCare – has been fraught with unworkable mandates, impossibly complex regulations and unintended consequences.
Despite the president’s assurance that his proposal would expand Americans’ access to quality health care, in reality his law will force many who were previously insured to either pay more for their insurance or lose their coverage.
For example, the Associated Press recently reported that some individuals who purchase their own health insurance may lose it because their plans do not meet the standards imposed by ObamaCare. Specifically, younger, healthier people who buy less comprehensive plans will be forced to purchase policies they do not need, do not want and cannot afford. This seems to directly contradict the president’s pledge that “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.”
And this is just the most recent example in a long line of failed expectations and broken promises. The president promised his bill would not raise taxes on those making less than $250K, yet we have learned the law contains 12 new tax increases that will directly hit the middle class. He promised that his bill would not add a dime to the deficit, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the law will add $6.2 trillion to our debt. He promised his law would help 30 million Americans who are uninsured get coverage, yet CBO released a report showing that 31 million people would still be without coverage in 2023 despite the government spending trillions of dollars on ObamaCare.
ObamaCare’s shortcomings have grown so apparent that even some of the law’s most ardent supporters have started voicing their concerns. One of the law’s chief architects, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, warned of a “huge train wreck” regarding the law’s implementation. Labor unions, who solidly backed the law, are now saying that insurance costs for millions of workers will increase. Some union leaders have estimated that nearly 20 million people will see higher premiums under ObamaCare.
Over the last three years House Republicans have put forth and passed numerous bills that would repeal the health care law so that we can implement real, patient-centered reforms. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have blocked our efforts by preventing this legislation from reaching the Senate floor.
However, there is now an effort underfoot by Congressional Democrats and their allies in the Obama administration to postpone implementation of key provisions of ObamaCare.
What could account for this sudden change? Politics of course.
When ObamaCare was passed, its authors front-loaded the bill with provisions that enjoyed broad support, like allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they turn 26. Most of the onerous regulations, taxes and penalties were pushed back until after the 2012 presidential election. But while the president no longer has to worry about an election, many Congressional Democrats do.
With ObamaCare now less than a year away, those who supported the bill are deeply concerned with the ramifications it will have on our economy, our seniors and our middle class. And they are extremely nervous that once voters get a taste of ObamaCare in January of 2014, they will hold them accountable at the voting booth. By postponing the law, they hope to avoid its political fallout.
In fact, just last week the Obama administration announced they will delay a major portion of the bill that establishes insurance marketplaces for small businesses. These insurance marketplaces were a major selling point for the law, but now the administration claims they are “too complicated” to implement at this time.
Republicans and those who seek to do away with ObamaCare must be careful of these tactics. Make no mistake: Delaying portions of the law is not the same as repealing it. While I wholeheartedly agree that we must prevent ObamaCare from being implemented, the only acceptable way to do that is through full repeal. In fact, simply postponing the law’s implementation on an ad hoc basis will only exacerbate concerns and uncertainty. It would be bad for the economy and bad for our nation’s health care system.
If those who previously supported ObamaCare are truly concerned about its disastrous effects, then they should join House Republicans in repealing the law and not simply try to postpone it until a more politically convenient time.
Lately, immigration has been a main focus in Washington, D.C. A group of Republican and Democratic Senators, known as the Gang of 8, have taken it upon themselves to develop a comprehensive immigration package to address the eleven million illegal immigrants living in our country. Unfortunately, I cannot support their proposal in its current form and would vote against it if it were to make its way to the House.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Gang of 8 and one of the chief architects of the Senate immigration bill, recently told a Spanish news station that “First comes the legalization. Then comes the measures to secure the border.” I have a tremendous amount of respect for Senator Rubio, but could not disagree with him more on this issue. Granting amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants in exchange for the promise of future border security is a terribly misguided approach.
The legislation being considered in the Senate contains a series of “border triggers” that gives authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine when and how the border is deemed to be secured. In exchange, we would begin the process of legalizing a majority of these 11 million illegal immigrants. But these triggers lack clear and meaningful metrics to ensure adequate enforcement. Rather, we would essentially trust DHS to set up and meet their own standards. With the DHS’s track record on border security, how can we be confident in the agency’s ability to accomplish something it has been unable to achieve in the past? I agree with Senator John Cornyn of Texas when he stated these measures are really just “talking points disguised as policy.”
To simply grant amnesty without securing the border is truly putting the cart before the horse. We tried that in 1986 and it did not work. Those efforts, however well intentioned, created a moral hazard that precipitated the illegal immigration problem we find ourselves in today. Think about it. We would once again be sending the message that if a person can just cross the border and hide out long enough, eventually he or she will be granted full citizenship.
Most can agree that our immigration system is outdated and broken and that we should pursue reasonable but fair reforms. But the Senate plan would only exacerbate the problems we currently face with illegal immigration.
The United States has always been a haven for individuals who seek to use their skills and determination to build a better life for themselves and their families. As a result, our nation is home to the world’s most talented workforce. We are a diverse group of innovators, entrepreneurs and risk takers and our accomplishments have not only brought forth prosperity here at home, but have helped to shape the world that we live in today.
But while we have always been a country that welcomes immigrants with open arms, we have eleven million people in this country that broke the law by coming here illegally. Many of them find ways to collect food stamps, receive free health care and send their children to public schools without paying taxes. There are those that come here for criminal purposes, like selling drugs, and even others here seeking to do harm to America.
Of course many come to the United States simply looking for job opportunities. I understand these individuals want to work, pay their fair share and live out the American dream, but they have still broken the law. To simply grant them amnesty would not only show that we condone a disregard for the rule of law, but it would be unfair to the millions of folks who are trying to gain citizenship the right way.
Even if there is an argument to be made for providing a pathway to citizenship for those that can meet certain criteria like paying back taxes, holding a steady job, and not engaging in criminal activity, that cannot happen until one thing certain: Our borders are absolutely secure.
Folks across my district universally support providing their children with a good education. Educating our children strengthens our communities, creates and supports jobs, and boosts our economic competitiveness in the global market and at home. As long as parents, teachers, administrators and other state and local actors are offered the ability to hold their educational systems accountable, our schools will be robust and our children will thrive.
Unfortunately, ongoing actions by the President are threatening to take over what we teach our kids. Our schools, and the teachers and administrators that make them work, are being shut out by a program known as Common Core.
Common Core began as a vision by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to bring about uniform “American standards” to schools. After pledging $60 million towards the goal, these groups worked with the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to develop and implement these standards. They found a strong ally in President Obama.
Understanding that implementation would be unattainable without the buy-in of state legislatures, President Obama and his allies saw in the economic downturn an opportunity. Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the stimulus bill, as a vehicle, the Administration effectively tied Race to the Top (RTTT) money for schools to adoption of a specific set of standards that were functionally equivalent to Common Core. The worst part about this coercion is that the states never had a chance to see the standards before agreeing to plans that adopted them.
Now, some may argue that even if the process of implementing Common Core standards was questionable, that the standards themselves are strong and will enhance our kids’ education and better assist them in becoming college and career ready. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Common Core proponent, acknowledges that Tennessee’s previous English standards were stronger than Common Core’s. And while Tennessee’s previous math standards fell just below, Common Core’s math standards have been called into question by many renowned professors of mathematics, including one who served on Common Core’s validation board. The standards were so lacking that Common Core, instead of improving them, simply chose to describe them as “informed by” instead of being “benchmarked” to international standards.
So not only have states forfeited their academic standards to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats, they’ve accepted in return, watered down, internationally uncompetitive standards to which to hold our children.
Not only is this program bad for our kids, it may run afoul of federal statute. Several pieces of education law, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, prohibit the federal government from exercising any control over curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel. This puts the Administration on unsteady legal ground. Its actions have necessitated states modifying their curriculum, instructional agenda, and even textbooks to prepare their students for the assessments that will go along with Common Core.
One may wonder what can be done to fix Common Core, if not remove our kids from it. Unfortunately, since Common Core was designed – and is even owned – by Washington bureaucrats, state and local actors have little ability to amend it. This makes the possibility of fixing Common Core complicated at best and at worst, structurally impossible.
However, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, on which I serve, has diligently worked to bring back local control to ensure that those closest to our kids – their parents, teachers and administrators – have the biggest say in how we choose to educate them. Just this week, I was happy to vote in favor of H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which would repeal No Child Left Behind and empower communities to fix our broken education system.
I was also happy to cosponsor H.R. 2089, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby and Rep. Todd Rokita, which would prohibit the federal government from influencing or coercing state participation in specific education programs, standards, or curriculums – effectively gutting Common Core. This provision was also included in H.R. 5.
While the goal of holding our children to high standards of education is a good one, Common Core is bad policy, implemented unfairly, that achieves mediocrity at the expense of states’ sovereignty and local control. If we are to fix our broken education system, we must do it by including, not excluding, those closest to our kids in the process and I sincerely hope that the President and the Senate will join me in this effort.