Conservatives “Win” in the FY15 Omnibus Bill
by John Culberson on December 16, 2014 at 8:45 AM
Below is a list of funding and language that I helped ensure were included in the FY15 omnibus appropriations bill. These items address important national and conservative priorities.
Limitation of Funds for Changes Based on the President’s Budget Request. For years the President has tried to “reprogram” funding to use our tax dollars as he sees fit in his own budget. But it is not within the power of the presidency to determine the national budget, and I have included a provision that would nullify the president’s budget and force the federal agencies to follow the budget passed by Congress. The language is included in the Financial Services title – the General Government subsection, meaning that it applies government-wide to all agencies and departments. Bill, page 649:
“SEC. 740. None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used to increase, eliminate, or reduce funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the President’s budget request for a fiscal year until such proposed change is subsequently enacted in an appropriation Act, or unless such change is made pursuant to the reprogramming or transfer provisions of this or any other appropriations Act.”
Blocking Implementation of the Obama Administration’s Carbon Tax. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been attempting to tax individuals, businesses, and industry on a faulty measure of carbon contribution called the Social Cost of Carbon. The science behind this tax is faulty and the process by which it is determined is veiled in secrecy – the opposite of transparent. Because this tax has the potential to derail our economy, with no proven value to our environment, I included language that will block its implementation until we know more about how it is decided. House Report page 28 (Energy & Water) and 64 (Interior):
“The Committee understands that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is currently reviewing the process the Administration used to develop estimates to calculate the social cost of carbon. The Committee believes that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs should not allow any regulations to be finalized using the Technical Support Document: Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866, Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon, United States Government, May 2013 until public comments on the document have been evaluated, the GAO report has been submitted and reviewed, and any necessary changes to the technical support document are incorporated.”
Prohibition on “Fast and Furious” Operations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. From 2009-2011 the Phoenix division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms allowed illegal gun sales to Mexican drug cartels to occur, in a botched effort to track the purchasers. This resulted in the distribution of approximately 1,400 weapons into the hands of dangerous criminals. Some of these weapons even caused the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agents. This cannot be allowed to occur again, and I included language that would prevent the federal government from distributing weapons to drug cartels. Bill, page 169-170:
“Section 216 prohibits funds, other than funds for the national instant criminal background check system established under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, from being used to facilitate the transfer of an operable firearm to a known or suspected agent of a drug cartel where law enforcement personnel do not continuously monitor or control such firearm.”
Protect Second Amendment Rights. Our Second Amendment right to bear arms is fundamental to our American way of life. Recently, the Obama Administration has tried to prohibit individuals from importing firearms that have “non-sporting” features, or that are antique or of other value to collectors. I have included language that would allow these firearms to continue to be imported and legally sold in the United States.
Page 212 of bill: “SEC. 533. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to deny, or fail to act on, an application for the importation of any model of shotgun if—(1) all other requirements of law with respect to the proposed importation are met; and (2) no application for the importation of such model of shotgun, in the same configuration, had been denied by the Attorney General prior to January 1, 2011, on the basis that the shotgun was not particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”
Page 202 of bill: “SEC. 518. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States receiving appropriated funds under this Act or any other Act shall obligate or expend in any way such funds to pay administrative expenses or the compensation of any officer or employee of the United States to deny any application submitted pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 2778(b)(1)(B) and qualified pursuant to 27 CFR section 478.112 or .113, for a permit to import United States origin ‘‘curios or relics’’ firearms, parts, or ammunition.”
Reining in the EEOC. This language will overturn a ruling of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that held that Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s actions are not reviewable by courts. By including language in the omnibus ensuring that the EEOC’s actions are reviewable by the courts, we are protecting the rights of small business owners in Texas and across the United States. Pages 81-82 of the House report:
“Conciliation.—The Committee is concerned with the EEOC’s pursuit of litigation absent good faith conciliation efforts. The Committee directs the EEOC to engage in such efforts before undertaking litigation and to report, no later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, on how it ensures that conciliation efforts are pursued in good faith.”
Virginia Class Submarines. With national security threats emerging throughout the world, it is more important than ever to deter our enemies with state of the art military capabilities. Fast attack submarines are critical to maintaining our nation’s deterrent posture and I included $5.8 billion total to invest in adding more of these swift, highly capable vessels to our fleet in the coming years (bill, page 284).
Iron Dome Funding. Israel is one of our nation’s greatest allies, and its continued presence lends stability to an unstable part of the world. It is important for our national security that we support Israel’s efforts to defend itself against those who would destroy it. I worked with my colleagues in the House to include more than $350 million in funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system (bill, page 33).
Interoperable Defense and Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Records. For years Congress has mandated that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs integrate their health records systems, so that servicemen and women who are transitioning into veteran status can continue to get the medical care that they need in the most effective manner. Both departments ignored Congress and failed to work together until, as Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, I started fencing off money from VA and DoD telecommunications budgets. Simply put, they get their money each quarter only if they report their progress in integrating the health record back to Congress. This has been the single most effective tool of the appropriations process, and I assure you I will continue to use the power of the purse to ensure the federal government does its job. Bill, page 295-296:
“Provided further, That of the funds provided under this heading for operation and maintenance, procurement, and research, development, test and evaluation for the Interagency Program Office, the Defense Healthcare Management Systems Modernization (DHMSM) program, and the Defense Medical Information Exchange, not more than 25 percent may be obligated until the Secretary of Defense submits to the Government Accountability Office and the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and such Committees approve, a plan for expenditure that describes: (1) the status of the final request for proposal for DHMSM and how the program office used comments received from industry from draft requests for proposal to refine the final request for proposal; (2) any changes to the deployment timeline, including benchmarks, for full operating capability; (3) any refinements to the cost estimate for full operating capability and the total life cycle cost of the project; (4) an assurance that the acquisition strategy will comply with the acquisition rules, requirements, guidelines, and systems acquisition management practices of the Federal Government; (5) the status of the effort to achieve interoperability between the electronic health record systems of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the scope, cost, schedule, mapping to health data standards, and performance benchmarks of the interoperable record; and the progress toward developing, implementing, and fielding the interoperable electronic health record throughout the two Departments’ medical facilities.”
Volunteer Physician Ambassadors Helping Veterans Bill. I met with Dr. Beth Edeiken-Monroe at MD Anderson this summer and she expressed her frustration that she and many of her colleagues had been turned down when trying to volunteer their time and expertise at local VA hospitals. In this day and age of waiting lists and staffing shortages at VA hospitals, there is no reason that VA should not be accessing this valuable, willing resource that is available in communities nation-wide. I included language that will require the VA to accept the services of volunteer physicians in facilities where veterans are kept waiting for an appointment, or where there is a need for doctors of certain types of specialties. Report language, pages 24-27 establishing a pilot program:
“Physician Ambassadors Helping Veterans Program.--In some communities non-VA physicians have encountered difficulties when seeking to volunteer time at VA medical facilities. Under existing authority, Section 7405(a)(1) of title 38, United States Code, the Secretary may appoint on a without compensation basis such personnel found necessary for the health care of veterans. At medical facilities exhibiting staffing shortages and appointment backlogs due to wait time issues, the Committee urges VA to utilize this existing authority to appoint physicians on a volunteer basis to serve veterans’ health care needs at VA medical facilities. To further understand the benefit to the Department of the utilization of volunteer physicians, the Committee directs the VA to establish a three year pilot program, under the authorities contained in Section 7405(a)(1) of title 38, United States Code, entitled the “Physician Ambassadors Helping Veterans Program.” The Committee directs the Secretary to establish this pilot program in no fewer than two medical facilities in two distinct VISNs. The Committee urges the Secretary to select medical facilities for this pilot program that have a demonstrated need for additional physicians in any practice area or specialty, yet have been unable to expeditiously fill such vacancies and/or continue to exceed VA’s appointment wait time goals in any area of practice. The volunteer coordinator at each medical facility shall develop relationships with local medical associations to educate non-VA physicians in the area about the program. The volunteer coordinator shall be the initial point of contact for physicians seeking to volunteer at the medical facility. Due to the cost and effort exerted to credential and educate physicians for such volunteer opportunities, the Department, as part of this pilot program, shall establish a required number of hours per year “physician ambassadors” must commit to serving at a facility that is cost beneficial to the Department. This metric should be no fewer than 60 hours a year and no more than 100 hours a year, though there is no limit to the total number of hours a physician ambassador may volunteer a year. The medical facility shall enter into an agreement with the physician ambassadors regarding the minimum number of hours required before beginning the credentialing or privilege granting process. The Department is directed to provide a report no later than 90 days after enactment of this Act to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress detailing the current credentialing process for volunteer physicians. This report shall also outline the parameters of the pilot program and the reasons for choosing the participating VISNs and facilities. The Department is also directed to report quarterly, beginning one quarter after enactment of this Act, to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress the number of physician ambassadors participating in the pilot program, the number of hours weekly physician ambassadors volunteer, the process of onboarding physician volunteers, to include the amount of time elapsed from the date a physician contacts the facility expressing interest in volunteering, to the time the volunteer and the medical facility enter into an agreement regarding the minimum number of hours required, to the date of completion of the credentialing process, as well as the appointment wait times and staffing shortages at each facility. This report shall also include a comparison to an equal number of medical facilities not participating in the pilot program to determine if mandating a minimum number of hours required improves volunteer participation and increases the cost benefit to the Department.”
Veterans Drug Treatment Program Oversight. I have been incredibly troubled by recent reports of veterans dying of overdoses while in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient drug treatment programs. There is no excuse for veterans accessing drugs while in treatment. Only conflicting information seems to be available about how these drug treatment programs work, how many veterans actually recover from their addictions, how well they are supervised while in treatment, and how long they typically receive such care. Many of our veterans struggle to reclaim the lives they left behind while serving our nation, and they work very hard to overcome addiction to drugs and medications. We must make every effort to ensure that these drug treatment programs are an available and successful resource for our veterans. Report pages 38-39:
“Due to questions that have been raised by Inspector General Report VAOIG-13-03089-104 the IG is requested to conduct a review of the operations and effectiveness of VA substance abuse inpatient rehabilitation programs and report back to the Committees by August 1, 2015 on the following: the current number of VA inpatient rehabilitation programs; the annual number of veterans who participate and their average length of treatment; the average length of time for VA treatment compared to that of non-VA residential treatment programs; the rate of recidivism for both types of programs; the process used to refer patients to VA inpatient treatment; the degree of supervision of patients in VA programs and how often drug tests are performed; and how well mental health and substance abuse treatment are integrated for veterans with co-morbidities.”
340B Drug Discount Program. Many safety net hospitals face challenges when enrolling a new hospital site in the 340B discount program which was established by Congress in 1992 specifically to lower the cost of outpatient drugs for public or non-profit high-Medicaid hospitals and other safety-net providers serving large numbers of uninsured patients and other vulnerable populations. I included language in the bill that will make it easier for safety net hospitals to access the discounted drugs from large pharmaceutical companies that they need to treat their patients. House report, pages 11-12:
“340B Drug Program.-HRSA is required to make 340B ceiling prices available to covered entities through a secure Web site. Funding was provided in fiscal year 2014 to implement such requirements, including the creation of a Web site. HRSA is directed to provide a briefing to update the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on implementation by March 3, 2015. There are concerns that HRSA has been unable to demonstrate that the 340B program benefits the most vulnerable patients. In order to best serve the public need, the program should examine its ability to ensure patients' access to 340B savings for outpatient drugs. HRSA is directed to work with covered entities to better understand the way these entities support direct patient benefits from 340B discounted sales.”
Increase in Funding for NIH. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the world’s largest funder of medical research, supporting nearly 50,000 competitively awarded research grants to more than 300,000 researchers at 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state across the country. Promising discoveries made by these researchers are then handed off to private industry for further development. NIH funding has a proven track record of supporting the basic discoveries that lead to the development preventive tools, such as childhood vaccines, advanced diagnostics like cutting edge genetic testing, and innovative, more targeted, and more effective ways to treat complex diseases. I worked with my colleagues to increase funding for the NIH by $150 million to a total of $30 billion in funding.
Compassionate Use of FDA Trial Medicines for Those Who Are Terminally Ill. When individuals are terminally ill, in some cases the FDA is allowed to give them experimental medications that are not yet fully approved for use in the general public. This “compassionate use” of medications can sometimes save or extend lives. However, there have been troubling instances in which people seeking compassionate use treatments have been denied access, so I included language to make the FDA provide us with data about the number of compassionate use requests and the number of denials. Once we have it, we can take this information and use it to make sure that the FDA is helping those most in need. Page 63 of the House report:
“Compassionate Use.—The Committee is concerned with a lack of useful data regarding the number of Expanded Access (sometimes called compassionate use) requests made on behalf of patients that are denied by sponsors of investigational products. In order to obtain an accurate understanding of the scope of this problem, the Committee requests that GAO conduct a review of how FDA is working with all stakeholders to accelerate the approval of innovative, safe, and effective medicines and how FDA takes into account safety and efficacy data from Expanded Access programs.”
Artificial Pancreas. I included language in the Agriculture title of the bill that will ensure the FDA continues to develop an artificial pancreas that could help those suffering from Type 1 Diabetes. Page 60 of the House report:
“Artificial Pancreas.— The Committee commends the FDA for taking critical steps in advancing artificial pancreas systems, including its recent approval of the threshold suspend system. The Committee encourages the FDA to continue collaboration with key stakeholders to ensure that artificial pancreas systems are further developed, tested, and approved, ensuring timely access to safe and effective systems for patients with type I Diabetes.”
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Research Funding. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the leading genetic killer of children. It affects about one out of every 3,500 boys born in the United States; it has a 100 percent fatality rate and there is no cure. Progressive deterioration in muscle strength leads to death in the late teens or early twenties. There is important research being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Defense (DOD) that could help us find treatments and one day a cure for Duchenne. I worked with my colleagues to include $6 million in funding for the CDC and $3.2 million in funding the DOD to help fight Duchenne (the DOD funding is in the report on page 99C and the CDC funding is in the report on page 25).
Exploration of Life in Our Solar System. Since the dawn of time, a fundamental question – are we alone in the universe? – has preoccupied and enthralled mankind. Now we have the opportunity to try to answer that question for once and for all, by exploring Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. This distant moon is covered with more water than is available on earth and there is a high chance that if we send a probe to explore it, we may discover life. Such a discovery could fundamentally alter how we see our universe and ourselves. This mission is one of my top science priorities, and I have included $100 million in funding to make sure that the planning for this mission moves forward. Page 68 and 69 of House report:
“…not less than $100,000,000 is for a Europa Clipper or comparable mission that meets the scientific objectives laid out in the most recent Planetary Science decadal survey and can be launched in 2021. This funding shall support the completion of science definition, the selection of a mission concept, the release of an instrument AO and other necessary pre-formulation and formulation activities for the Europa Mission."
Planetary Science Funding. It is important that we again take on the great adventure of leaving low earth orbit to explore and learn about our larger universe. I have included $1.45 billion for planetary sciences which includes probes that are sent to far-off worlds, $2 billion to develop a program called the Space Launch System, which will build the rockets to send us to the far reaches of our solar system, and $1.19 to help us build the Orion capsule that will carry brave men and women to Mars in the coming decades. The bill includes:
- Planetary Science Funding - Report chart 30a, description page 31: $1.4 billion.
- Space Launch System Funding – Page 176 of bill: “Provided further, That not less than $2,051,300,000 shall be for the Space Launch System, which shall have a lift capability not less than 130 metric tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously: Provided further, That of the funds made available for the Space Launch System, $1,700,000,000 shall be for launch vehicle development and $351,300,000 shall be for exploration ground systems”
- Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Funding – Report page 32: “$1,194,000,000 for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The agreement also includes bill language requiring NASA to submit budget requirements for SLS and Orion that conform to their current or upcoming Key Decision Point C agreements, and also budget profiles and funding requirements that relate to associated management agreements that assume earlier dates for completion.”
Richmond Avenue and Post Oak Light Rail Prohibition. In response to overwhelming opposition from my constituents to Houston METRO’s proposal to build at-grade rail lines on Richmond Avenue and Post Oak Blvd through Houston’s Galleria, I included language that prohibits Houston METRO from building these proposed light rail lines that are unaffordable, unnecessary, unwanted, and in the case of Richmond, unapproved by voters. Bill, pages 1464-1465:
“SEC. 166. None of the funds in this or any other Act may be available to advance in any way a new light or heavy rail project towards a full funding grant agreement as defined by 49 U.S.C. 5309 for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas if the proposed capital project is constructed on or planned to be constructed on Richmond Avenue west of South Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond Avenue in Houston, Texas.”