News of the horrific and senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado cast a pall over Capitol Hill today. It's just so terribly heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and friends. Please remember them in your prayers.
This week, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for 2013 dominated debate, with the House approving it on a bipartisan vote. In total, the bill would provide $519.2 billion in regular funding for the Department of Defense, including $88.5 billion related to the Global War on Terror, and $128.5 billion to provide for 1,401,560 active-duty troops and 843,400 reserves. This funding level is $2.6 billion below last year, due to the reduction in troop totals, but does include a 1.7% pay raise for the military.
Also this week, as part of the federal government's efforts to fight online fraud, I introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 6131) to reauthorize the U.S. SAFE WEB Act of 2006. Working with me is my friend and colleague, Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).
Passed unanimously by the House and signed into law by President Bush, the U.S. SAFE WEB Act -- set to expire next year -- has become an extremely effective tool used by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware.
Today, with nearly 1.5 billion credit cards now in use in the United States -- and e-commerce topping more than $200 billion a year -- nearly everyone in America has a stake in making certain the FTC has the powers it needs to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware. Frankly, I'm very concerned that e-commerce will cease to grow and flourish if consumers lose faith in their ability to be protected from online predators, jeopardizing future innovation as well as our nation's fragile economic recovery. Over a recent 3-year period, more than a quarter of a million Americans filed complaints about cross-border fraud.
The U.S. SAFE WEB amends the FTC Act, authorizing the Commission to:
* Pursue and combat fraud involving international activity that harms U.S. consumers;
* Share information involving cross border fraud with foreign consumer protection agencies, subject to important safeguards;
* Seek redress on behalf of foreign as well as U.S. consumers victimized by U.S.-based wrong-doers; and finally
* Make referrals to the U.S. Attorney General for criminal prosecution when the FTC obtains evidence of conduct that violates U.S. criminal law.
As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, I have worked closely with Congressman Butterfield over the past year and a half on a number of initiatives to better protect American consumers. I plan to bring up our bill for consideration as early as next week.
This was also a busy week on the prescription drug abuse front. On Wednesday, I testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control at the invitation of my friend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. I warned Senators that the problem of prescription drug abuse is getting worse, and a comprehensive national strategy for combating it is critically needed.
As Americans, we rally around efforts to fight breast cancer, childhood diseases and other serious health threats. But for far too long, there have only been hushed whispers about prescription drug abuse -- now the fastest growing drug problem in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So as the death toll from prescription drug overdoses continues to rise sharply, it's time to move this story from the obituary page to the front page where it belongs.
It's also time to realize that we can't simply wish this problem away. Not with more than 20,000 people a year dying from it. Not when the number of babies born addicted to the class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers has tripled in the past decade. Not when nearly one out of four high school seniors has used prescription painkillers. This is nothing less than a national tragedy. If 20,000 people died each year from food poisoning, Americans would demand immediate action. We need to better coordinate the efforts of local, state and national agencies, and reduce the supply of highly addictive opioid painkillers. By doing this, I am convinced that we can eventually save thousands of lives, and spare millions of American families from the devastating heartache of addiction.
That's pretty much the same message I delivered on Thursday when I met with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg and several other top agency officials. As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, I am working closely with Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky and other caucus members to get the FDA more engaged on the issue of prescription drug abuse. I told Dr. Hamburg that the FDA needs to do a better job of monitoring and limiting access to popular pain killers such as OxyContin and Opana. Originally, OxyContin was intended to be prescribed only for severe pain as a way to help patients dealing with late-stage cancer and other severe illnesses. Today, however, more and more people across America are being prescribed these drugs for less severe reasons -- clinically known as moderate pain -- greatly expanding the availability and potential for abuse of these powerfully-addictive narcotics. I strongly believe opioid painkillers should only be used for severe pain, not for moderate pain like a sore knee or toothache.
Sadly, the FDA is like a lot of other Washington bureaucracies, which spend years doing studies while thousands of people die or suffer. That's prompted me to introduce the bipartisan Stop the Tampering of Prescription Pills (STOPP) Act, HR 6160, with Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA), a former prosecutor.
Simply put, the STOPP Act throws up a stop sign for people trying to adulterate a prescription medicine's time-release or immediate-release mechanisms. Today, people try to get high by crushing pills into powder, chewing them, dissolving them in water, or by injecting them. What we hope to do is make opioid painkillers tamper resistant. Technologies exist today to make it much more difficult to abuse these medicines. Both Purdue and Pfizer have developed tamper-resistant products, and several other companies are working on similar versions. The STOPP Act is guided by a simple principal: If a drug presently on the market has a tamper-resistant feature, then all other drugs with similar chemical properties must eventually have that feature as well. Companies that refuse will be told by the FDA to reformulate or withdraw their drug from the market for safety reasons. It becomes a "use it or lose it' proposition.
Finally, here's a quick update on the proposed $80 million Whitewater bike path for Coachella Valley. This week, I sent a letter to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), urging the agency to release all applications for air mitigation funds from Competitive Power Ventures' natural gas-fired Sentinel electric power plant in Desert Hot Springs. A special report by the Desert Sun shows the benefits of the proposed bike path are vastly overstated. Let's slow down, do some new calculations and consider the merits of the other proposals. There are a lot of competing needs which should be seriously considered -- especially in a tough economy -- before a final decision is made. Right now, this process continues to be clouded in secrecy, and that's simply not acceptable, nor fair.
Again, thanks so much for all of your phone calls, letters, e-mails and faxes this past week, they help to guide me as your elected Representative. Have a great weekend!