Monday, October 23, 2017

Durbin Releases Report On Trump's ACA Sabotage Efforts, Promotes November 1 Open Enrollment

Source: Senator Richard J. Durbin  - (D - IL)

Chicago, IL - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today released a new report which details the Trump Administration’s deliberate, year-long efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the impact of this sabotage on patients and families in Illinois. “1,000 Cuts: A Report on the Trump Administration’s Health Care Sabotage” highlights the steps President Trump has taken since Inauguration Day to undermine and create uncertainty in our health care system, including last week’s executive order and the termination of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. Sen. Durbin also highlighted resources included in the report to assist Illinois consumers signing up for health care for next year.  


“Make no mistake—while spending nine months repeatedly trying and failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Trump was simultaneously sabotaging America’s health care system in order to hurt working families. His tactics are well documented: President Trump issued an Executive Order instructing federal agencies not to enforce the law, cut the open enrollment period in half, cancelled television and radio ads that educated people about how to enroll for insurance, slashed funding for patient navigators and outreach efforts, and terminated the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that help keep health care costs lower for working families, including nearly 200,000 people in Illinois. This act alone will increase premiums 20 percent next year” Durbin said. “Instead of joining in a bipartisan effort to strengthen our current health care system and help Illinois families, President Trump has used every tool at his disposal to raise costs and set up roadblocks between American families and their health care, all to prove some political point.”


From his first day in office, Trump has orchestrated a deliberate campaign to sabotage the ACA. This effort has occurred in tandem with repeated efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal the ACA, the threat of which has created instability in the individual market where approximately 12 million Americans—including 350,000 Illinoisans—purchase their insurance.


The most recent sabotage actions include last week’s executive order which promotes “bare-bones” plans, that lack coverage of important essential health benefits – such as mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and maternity/newborn care – and the termination of CSR payments, which help working class families afford health insurance in the individual market. Without the CSR payments, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that one million people will lose insurance, insurers will flee the individual market, and premiums will increase 20 percent next year alone.


Despite the President’s ongoing efforts to destroy our health care system, open enrollment for 2018 begins on November 1 and lasts until December 15. Illinoisans in need of individual market plans for next year should plan accordingly. The final page of Durbin’s report includes resources for the open enrollment process.


More than 20 million uninsured Americans have gained health coverage under the ACA – including one million in Illinois – bringing our nation’s uninsured rate below 10 percent for the first time in history. Thanks to the ACA, insurers can no longer deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition, discriminate based on gender or health status, or impose annual or lifetime caps on benefits. Insurers must now cover important health care: maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and hospitalizations. The ACA also expanded Medicaid to cover millions of newly eligible Americans—650,000 in Illinois—and provided enhanced federal funds to help pay for the expansion population.

To read more about the Affordable Care Act at the Ponder news click here.

Companies shipping American jobs abroad to lose tax cuts

Source: Senator Joe Donnely - (D - IN)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- The Senate has agreed with U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly in affirming that companies that ship American jobs to foreign countries shouldn’t get tax breaks. Following a Donnelly speech on the Senate floor calling for support, the Senate unanimously adopted Donnelly’s amendment. A budget resolution is non-binding, but does serve as a blueprint and statement of congressional priorities.

Transcript of Donnelly’s speech in the Senate today:

I rise today in support of the amendment I offered to address the outsourcing of American jobs.

Currently, American companies that ship jobs to foreign countries can still claim massive tax breaks. That’s wrong and we should claw back incentives and prohibit companies from receiving tax breaks for outsourcing jobs.

My End Outsourcing Amendment is common sense for taxpayers—supporting companies that invest in American workers, not those shipping jobs to foreign countries. I urge all of our colleagues to support my amendment.

To read more about Outsourcing at the Ponder news click here

Wildland Fires Act of 2017 Introduced in the House

Source: Senator Mike Crapo - (R - ID)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- In the wake of another historic wildfire season, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have cosponsored bipartisan legislation introduced by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to better prepare for and prevent costly wildfires.

The Wildland Fires Act of 2017 will help further the Federal and State firefighting agencies’ “National Cohesive Fire Strategy”  by authorizing additional funding for at-risk communities and directing Federal agencies to treat their most-at-risk forests to better protect communities and to reestablish natural fire regimes.  

Crapo and Risch, along with other bipartisan Senators, have been pressing leadership to include a long term solution to the problem of fire borrowing in any upcoming disaster aid legislation.  In addition to those ongoing efforts, Crapo and Risch have cosponsored Cantwell’s bill to bolster their efforts in the urgent need to reform how wildfires are prevented and fought moving forward. 

The Wildland Fires Act of 2017: 

• Directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to provide up to $100 million in funding to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires; 

• Establishes a pilot program that directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to treat their top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years (and in doing so install fuel breaks in the wildland-urban interface and, outside of the WUI, conduct prescribed fires); and 

• Authorizes longer-term contracts to provide stability to companies involved in restoration projects on Federal land, and gives a preference for companies that will use forest products to create mass timber, e.g., cross-laminated timber; 

• Authorizes the Federal agencies to re-purpose unused wildfire suppression funds to conduct preparedness projects to get ahead of the problem. 

“Throughout the American west, we have felt firsthand the devastation wildfires have on our habitat, our health and our way of life,” Crapo said.  “Congress must continue to pursue efforts aimed at reducing the risk and severity of wildfires, end the fire borrowing that takes funds from other Forest Service maintenance priorities, and improve the response, prevention and mitigation efforts.” 

“We need to actively manage our forests to reduce the fuel available for fires to burn,” Risch said.  “This bill is a step in the right direction to increase that desperately needed forest management.” 

In addition to Crapo, Risch, and Cantwell, the measure is cosponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

To read more about wildfires at the Ponder news please click here

SPEED Act for more Available Broadband introduced in the Senate

Source: Senator Cathrine Cortez Masto  - (D - NV)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced today the “Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act of 2017” (SPEED Act). The measure would accelerate the deployment of new broadband infrastructure to both rural and urban areas by streamlining the permitting process for telecommunications equipment that is installed in locations that have already been subjected to historical or environmental reviews.

“I am proud to co-sponsor the SPEED Act because it would reduce the barriers to the development of new communications infrastructure in urban and rural communities,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “We live in an age when nearly every routine task necessitates internet access, including completing homework assignments, applying for a job, and searching for a doctor. And specifically for our rural communities, we need improved services to eliminate gaps in public safety, expand access to tele-health services, and enable more small businesses to connect with their customers. More widespread communications infrastructure will enable these benefits for Nevadans, and the rest of the country.”

“This sensible legislation would help fast-track the deployment of next-generation broadband technologies by utilizing existing public right of ways and exempting communications providers from duplicative reviews,” Senator Wicker said. “New advances in telehealth, online education, precision agriculture, and other internet applications demand faster, better broadband connections. It is time for the federal government to recognize the realities of a modern digital economy and accommodate the needs of American consumers.”

Specifically, the SPEED Act would streamline federal permitting processes that impede the quick and efficient deployment of next-generation broadband technologies, including 5G. Currently, new and replacement telecommunications infrastructure is subject to numerous, sometimes duplicative federal approvals, including environmental and historical reviews. These duplicative approvals extend to areas that have already been established as a public right-of-way (ROW), and where telecommunications infrastructure already exists.

The SPEED Act would not preempt the authority of a State or local government to apply and enforce all applicable zoning and other land use regulations on communications providers.

The SPEED Act would expedite the review process for telecommunications infrastructure and accelerate the delivery of essential broadband services by:

<li>Exempting telecommunications infrastructure from environmental and historical reviews by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies in a public ROW if previously installed telecommunications infrastructure has already undergone environmental and historic reviews for the same public ROW. Any provider exempted from these reviews must still comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act;
<li>Exempting the deployment of small cells from environmental and historical reviews only if 1) they are being deployed in a public ROW and are not higher than an existing structure in the public ROW; and 2) they are serving as a replacement for an existing small cell and they are the same or substantially similar to the small cell that is being replaced;
<li>Exempting the deployment of wireless services (e.g. voice, video, or data) from environmental and historical reviews if 1) they are located in an existing public ROW and 2) adhere to tower height and guy wire requirements;
<li>Directing the Government Accountability Office to develop a report analyzing how to increase the efficiency of deploying broadband infrastructure to federal lands; and;
<li>Directing the FCC’s Streamlining Federal Siting Working Group to submit a report to Congress on its preliminary findings and recommendations for accelerating the deployment of high-speed Internet access to federal lands across the United States.

To read more about Broadband at the Ponder news click here


Source: Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) - (R - TN)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- With an estimated 815 million people suffering from hunger and 20 million at risk of starvation worldwide, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday made the following statement at a hearing to examine current policies governing the delivery of food aid through the Food for Peace program and ways to use existing resources more efficiently to reach more people in need.

“We are currently facing a historic humanitarian crisis with over 800 million people worldwide who are in need of food aid.

“The United States continues to be the world leader in providing more than a third of all emergency food aid—over $2 billion annually.

“Sadly, despite our generosity, there are shortfalls from what is needed due to other donor nations not fully meeting the challenge.

“In next year’s Farm Bill deliberations, we have an opportunity to do more without having to spend more money.

“A little over half of our food aid is provided through the Farm Bill, saddling our Food for Peace program with U.S. commodity and cargo preference requirements.

“The Farm Bill requires aid to be sourced almost entirely from U.S. farmers, half of which must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels according to cargo preference rules.

“Because of these utterly ridiculous requirements, only 35 to 40 cents of each dollar is actually used to provide food to people who are starving.

“If we relaxed the commodity preference to match the needs overseas, the overhead costs would drop dramatically. U.S. farmers would still play a vital role in the program, and we would free up over 300 million dollars to be used to feed up to 9.5 million more starving people each year.

“One of the major obstacles to modernizing Food for Peace are those who continue to support and profit from cargo preference rules.

“Representatives of the shipping industry claim that food aid has a significant impact on U.S. maritime jobs and our military sealift capacity to move defense materials overseas.

“I’ve asked our witnesses, we have two panels today, to provide the committee with facts, analysis and sound research to determine whether this is true.

“For example, the industry argues that 40 ships and 2,000 mariners needed for military sealift are at stake should we reduce the amount of food aid we ship from the U.S.

“A simple review of USAID data shows that, in 2016, only five U.S.-flagged ships—out of a fleet of 175—arguably rely on food aid shipments to stay afloat—let me say this: only one of which is even capable of carrying military cargo. One.

“Some have even questioned why we have cargo preference at all since there is little supporting evidence that the requirement effectively secures naval sealift capacity.

“For example, the vast majority of food aid is moved on ships incapable of moving military cargoes, and the ones that can already receive a $5 million a year subsidy.

“According to Navy officials briefing our committee earlier this year, we maintain a Strategic Sealift Officer Reserve program that can meet virtually all of our mariner sealift mobilization requirements.

“We also cannot forget the human toll of commodity and cargo preferences, with millions of people who go hungry each year unnecessarily because of these two ridiculous requirements that Congress places on food aid.

“One of our witnesses, Dr. Barrett of Cornell University, will testify later that research suggests at least 40,000 children die annually who would otherwise be saved if we reformed this system.

“There are few areas in government where we can have more impact on more lives without additional resources than by modernizing the Food for Peace program.

“I urge all my colleagues to listen to today’s testimony [and] work with us to make common sense changes in food aid that are long overdue.

“And let me just say this, I spoke to the Tennessee Farm Bureau, each state has one. The audience was aghast at the fact that here in Washington those people that quote, quote represent them with .1 percent of U.S. ag production going to this. Not 1 percent, .1 percent.

“They were aghast at the fact that Congress has people up here in the name of protecting them. These are good people who care about their communities. They care about people around the world. They were aghast at the fact that Congress had these ridiculous requirements in place and that people are starving because of these ridiculous requirements when their goal is to feed America and to feed the world.”

To read more about hunger at the Ponder news click here

Senator Collins Joins Bipartisan Group of 24 Senators to Cosponsor Legislation to Stabilize Premiums, Increase Access to Insurance

Source: Senator Susan M. Collins - (R - ME)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health Committee, joined a group of 24 senators – 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats led by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) – who support bipartisan legislation to help stabilize premiums and access to insurance in individual health insurance markets.

“This legislation would help stabilize the markets while maintaining protections for people with preexisting conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer,” said Senator Collins. “The bipartisan agreement will prevent premiums from going up by an average of 20 percent, preserve subsidies that help very low-income people afford their out-of-pocket costs, dissuade more insurers from fleeing the market, and provide more flexibility for states to experiment and innovate. I applaud Senators Alexander and Murray for their hard work as well as their ability to set aside their differences to find a bipartisan compromise. It is critical that this legislation be passed quickly so that it can have a positive impact on insurance rates this year and prevent chaos in the market.”

Senators Alexander and Murray said, “We have reached an agreement on bipartisan legislation that will extend cost-sharing reduction payments during 2018 and 2019, protect consumers facing higher premiums this year, and give states meaningful flexibility to create greater choices among health insurance policies in the individual health insurance market.”

“The goal of this bipartisan legislation is to stabilize and then lower the cost of health insurance premiums and ensure that Americans are able to purchase health insurance in the individual health insurance market. This legislation is based upon witness testimony from four bipartisan hearings that the Senate Health Committee held last month.”

In addition to Senator Collins, Senators Alexander and Murray’s bill was cosponsored by Republican Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Democratic Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)

To read more about health insurance at the Ponder News click here


Source: Senator Thad Cochran - (R - MS)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) on Thursday night voted with the Senate to approve the FY2018 Budget Resolution, which includes a mechanism for the Congress to consider the first major tax reform in decades.

“The passage of a budget resolution moves the FY2018 budget and appropriations process forward.  I’m pleased this budget blueprint gives Congress an opportunity to pass comprehensive tax reform.  Tax cuts will strengthen our economy by allowing working Americans to keep more of their money, and by easing hardships that the tax code puts on businesses,” Cochran said.

Cochran, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, continued to push for an overall budget agreement between the Trump administration and Congress in order to facilitate the completion of the FY2018 appropriations process.  The Committee has approved all but four of the annual appropriations bills to date.

“To complete this work, a new budget agreement will be necessary so we can responsibly fund our national defense and other priorities.  I will continue to work toward that end with my colleagues and with the administration,” Cochran said.

The FY2018 budget resolution passed on a 51-49 vote.

To read more about the budget at the Ponder news just click here.

Cassidy On Passage of FY2018 Budget

Source: Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- US Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) released a statement on the Passage of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget in the Senate.


“Pleased the Senate took this key step in moving tax reform forward,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Next step will be working with colleagues on the Finance Committee to produce a bill that gives tax relief to working families and helps accelerate our country's economic growth.”

To read more about the budget at The Ponder News click here

BENES Act Introduced in the Senate

Source: Senator Robert P.Casey, Jr. - (D - PA)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- In an effort to simplify the complex enrollment process for the growing number of Americans aging into Medicare, U.S Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the bipartisan Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act. The BENES Act, which is supported by nearly 70 organizations that represent older Americans, people with disabilities, insurers, and health care providers, would simplify and modernize the Medicare enrollment process by making improvements to the notification system and ensuring the elimination of coverage gaps.

“As more and more Americans age into Medicare, we need to do all we can to simplify and improve the enrollment process. This legislation works to inform more Americans of their options and eliminate coverage gaps,” said Senator Casey. “By working in a bipartisan, commonsense fashion, we can ensure that more people are saving money and receiving the coverage they need when they need it.”

“Currently, seniors who miss the sign-up deadline for Medicare Part B face onerous penalties that persist for the rest of their lives,” said Senator Young. “The BENES Act will make the sign-up process more efficient and friendly to our seniors so they have the financial backstop needed to access quality medical care.”

"Far too many people with Medicare are saddled with a lifetime of higher health care costs and go without needed services due to fragmented and archaic Part B enrollment processes," said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. "The BENES Act will prevent the calls that come into our helpline every day from seniors and people with disabilities caught in a complicated web of Medicare enrollment rules."

The BENES Act Would:

Improve the notification process for individuals by creating a framework for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Social Security Administration (SSA), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to collaborate to alert individuals approaching eligibility about the Medicare enrollment process and how Medicare works with other insurance.

Eliminate coverage gaps during enrollment periods by guaranteeing that Medicare beneficiaries do not experience a break in coverage. Specifically, the legislation would fix gaps in the fifth, sixth and seventh month of an individual’s Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) and in the General Enrollment Period (GEP). This would modernize the system that has not seen changes since its establishment over fifty years ago.

To read more about Medicaid at the Ponder news click here

Senator Carper Leads Charge to Defeat Amendment Stripping Protections from Endangered Species

Source: Senator Thomas R. Carper  - (D - DE)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- During debate on the Senate Republicans’ budget resolution, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, led the charge to defeat a dangerous amendment that sought to remove protections for endangered species. Specifically, the amendment, offered by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) would lay the groundwork to prohibit federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for species found entirely within the borders of a single state.

As of 2017, roughly 77% of listed species, or over 1,000 species, were intrastate species whose ranges did not cross state borders. Denying these intrastate species protections would strip ESA protections from every listed plant or animal on the island of Hawaii, as well as protections for iconic animals like the polar bear and the Florida panther.

The amendment was defeated by a vote of 51-49, with every Democratic senator and three Republican senators voting against it.

Read more about endangered species at the Ponder by clicking here


Source: Senator Shelley Moore Capito - (R-WV)

Washington, D.C. - October 23, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- “Tonight, the Senate passed a reasonable budget resolution, an essential step towards comprehensive tax reform that will grow our nation’s economy, create jobs and put more money in the pockets of middle-class families. Failure to pass this budget resolution would have doomed our efforts to work with President Trump to deliver tax reform for the American people.
“A vote against the resolution is a vote to stop pro-growth tax reform in its tracks, and continue the economic stagnation that became the new normal during the Obama administration. I am also glad the Senate voted to adopt my amendment to make sure hard-working middle-class Americans are a top priority as we begin our work on tax reform.
“Once the Senate and House budget resolutions are reconciled, we will have an opportunity to deliver responsible tax reform legislation that will lead to more jobs and higher wages in West Virginia and across the country. There is still much work to be done to make tax reform a reality for American families and small businesses, but I am very happy to support this step forward, rather than cut off the path to economic prosperity.”
Yesterday, Senator Capito spoke on the Senate floor to encourage her colleagues to pass the budget resolution, paving the way for a tax overhaul and creating a path to greater prosperity. For a video of her full remarks, click here.

To read more about tax reform at the Ponder news Click here.