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Home   /   Capitol Connection   /   Capitol Connection 12/20/2005

 
House Passes Border Security Act

Without question, one of the most serious problems facing the United States is the rising tide of illegal immigration. H.R. 4437, the Border Security Act, is but the first step in overhauling our nation's immigration policies and implementing genuine, comprehensive reform. While I realize that not all immigration issues were addressed in the bill, such as birthright citizenship, the legislation will produce real results in reducing the numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. HR 4437 passed the House on December 16, 2005 -- with my strong support -- by a vote of 239 to 182. Highlights of the legislation include the following:

  • an employment eligibility verification system in which employers will check the Social Security numbers and alien identification numbers (provided by employees) against Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records, to weed out fraudulent numbers and ensure that their employees are not working in the U.S. illegally
  • violent felons and those seeking asylum with aggravated felony convictions would be barred from receiving green cards
  • local sheriffs in the 29 counties along the southern border would be empowered to enforce the immigration laws and transfer illegal aliens to federal custody
  • multiple DUI offenses would be a deportable offense for all aliens
  • ends the practice of “catch and release” by requiring mandatory detention for all illegal immigrants apprehended while crossing illegally

This legislation is a valuable and effective tool in our nation's struggle to secure and contain our borders. I was proud to support the bill and I hope that the Senate will consider and pass the legislation when it returns from its Christmas District Work Period.



PATRIOT Act Concerns

Last week the House passed a reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. I was forced to vote against this reauthorization, however, because the bill failed to balance our nation’s security with protection of our precious Constitutional freedoms. I am particularly troubled that a provision which allows the government to keep track of a person’s medical records, library checkout and bookstore sales records was retained in the legislation. This provision does little to prevent terrorism, but seriously infringes upon our rights and privacies. In June of this year, I supported an amendment that would have prevented these types of intrusive record seizures; it passed by a clear bipartisan majority of the House, and therefore should have been included in the final reauthorization bill.

I was pleased that the bill contained the most stringent crackdown on methamphetamine production and use ever passed by Congress. The House should have been given an opportunity to vote on this legislation as a stand-alone bill – adding it to a bad PATRIOT Act bill was not enough to earn my vote. I am well-aware of the threat that meth production poses to our region: this year alone, I secured $250,000 for an anti-meth initiative in Rutherford County and $300,000 for the Drug-Free Clay County program to expand into surrounding counties. While I wholeheartedly support our nation’s law enforcement agencies in their fight against terror, I will continue to fight just as strongly to ensure that the privacy and Constitutional rights of all in Western North Carolina are protected.



House passes Defense Appropriations Conference Report

In an early morning session on Monday, the House passed the FY06 Defense Appropriations conference report. I voted in favor of this $453 billion bill, which included $50.0 billion in emergency funding for continuing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an additional $29 billion in funding for victims of Hurricane Katrina and $3.8 billion for avian flu preparedness. The following provisions were included:

Defense

  • Troop support -- fully funds the 3.1% military pay raise, effective January 1, 2006; provides an increase of $71 million for family advocacy, childcare programs, and assistance to military families; $35 million is provided for Impact Aid
  • Personnel protection items -- an additional $1.2 billion is provided for personnel force protection items and gear for troops in the field, such as body armor
  • Preparing to bring our troops home -- up to $500 million is provided to more quickly train and equip the military and security forces of Iraq and Afghanistan to take over their own defense needs; up to $500 million is provided to stabilize those nations through addressing emergency civilian needs

Ban on Torture of Prisoners or Detainees

This provision, first proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. government custody, anywhere in the world. It also will require that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners in Defense Department facilities.

Katrina Disaster Assistance

The bill provides a total of $29 billion for disaster assistance to hurricane-damaged areas, $10.4 billion more than the President’s request.

  • Infrastructure Repairs -- $2.9 billion was provided to continue storm and flood repairs, begin reconstruction of levees and other infrastructure, and accelerate studies of necessary future flood protection for the Gulf Coast
  • Social Services -- $550 million for child care, mental health and other social services to devastated individuals and communities; $645 million for impacted schools who took in students from the Gulf Coast; and, $750 million for repairs of those schools damaged or destroyed by the hurricanes
  • Economic Recovery -- $441 million in disaster loans through the Small Business Administration; $11.5 billion to spur economic development in affected communities; $2.75 billion for repair of damaged roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure

Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness

The bill also provides $3.8 billion to prepare the U.S. against the avian flu now affecting Southeast Asia. These funds will expand the domestic production and stockpiling capacity of influenza vaccine to preserve lives in the event of an outbreak of pandemic influenza.



Medicare Reimbursement Cuts Prevented

Under current law, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is required to adjust the payment rate for physicians beginning on January 1, 2006, which will lower their reimbursement rate by 4.4%. Currently 38% of physicians in the country say they will be forced to fully or partially scale back the number of Medicare patients they treat if this reduction takes effect, putting as many as 16 million Medicare recipients at risk of losing access to physician care.

On December 19, 2005, I voted to block the scheduled reimbursement reduction as part of the conference report for S.1932, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which passed the House by a vote 212 to 206. This legislation will allow doctors to continue to be reimbursed by Medicare at the same rate as they have been in 2005, and provide Congress more time to establish a formula that recognizes the true cost of physician services in Medicare. Most importantly, this will ensure Medicare recipients have continued access to health care because doctors will not be forced to turn away patients.