Legislative Updates from September and October

Statement

By:  John Olver
Date: Oct. 10, 2012
Location: Unknown

On September 4, I signed onto a resolution rejecting the provisions in the House Republican-proposed Farm Bill that would have made ruinous cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP). SNAP is an important part of the nation's safety net, helping low-income households--including families, the elderly and the disabled--keep food on the table. Almost half of those assisted by SNAP are children. I believe that we must pass a farm bill as soon as possible, but not at the expense of crucial programs like SNAP. Instead, I support the Senate version of the Farm Bill, which contains much smaller and more feasible reductions to nutrition programs.

On September 7, I signed onto a letter advocating an increase in the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) in any farm bill. The MILC program provides critical support to our nation's dairy farmers, especially to small and midsize farms like those in New England. A straight farm bill extension would continue the program at levels set in the 2008 Farm Bill, which do not account for recently skyrocketing feed prices. A simple provision to increase the MILC program level is therefore necessary.

On September 7, I also joined with almost 150 of my House colleagues to file an amicus brief in Windsor v. United States, a landmark case challenging the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines the terms "marriage" as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and "spouse" as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife". When President Obama and Attorney General Holder declined to defend DOMA in federal court, Speaker John Boehner hired outside lawyers to do so, at considerable taxpayer expense. The brief I joined makes it clear that there is no legitimate federal interest in denying married same-sex couples the legal security, rights and responsibilities that federal law provides to other legally married couples.

On September 10, I joined 18 of my colleagues in a letter to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget requesting an estimate of the costs a war with Iran would incur. Like the President, I believe that the United States cannot afford to see a nuclear-armed Iran. I also believe that military action against Iran's nuclear program should only be considered as a last resort, once Congress is in full possession of the relevant facts to ensure that we do not see another ill-considered rush to war.

On September 13, I voted against H.R. 6365, the so-called National Security and Job Protection Act. The bill is an attempt to protect defense spending by mandating that the President come up with a plan to avoid automatic defense cuts. It complicates this task, however, by mandating additional cuts and forbidding any increases in revenue. I support a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would raise revenues as well as cut outdated defense programs.

On September 19, I became a cosponsor of H.R. 719, which calls for Congress to award a single Congressional Gold Medal to collectively honor the World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in recognition of their military service and exemplary record during World War II. I have always maintained that all of our nation's veterans deserve to receive recognition and gratitude for their service to our country.

On September 21, I became an original cosponsor of H.R. 6534, which aims to establish a registry of the National Guard and Reserves Members that trained at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. In 2010, the Canadian Government admitted that Agent Orange and Agent Purple were both tested at this base during the Vietnam War. Establishing this registry is an important step towards processing the claims of service members who were potentially exposed, many of whom are Massachusetts natives.

On September 22, the Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through late March. The House passed a similar measure the week before. The measure funds the government at levels agreed upon in last summer's debt deal. Because the federal budget year ends September 30, action was needed to keep the government functioning normally. Such an extension is merely a stop-gap measure, however, and I hope Congress will return to its normal budgeting process--allowing appropriators in Congress to do their work and providing federal programs the guidance and regularity they need to operate effectively.

On September 28, I became a cosponsor of H. Res. 736, which calls for states to use established injectable euthanasia drugs rather than inhumane animal gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals. Euthanizing shelter animals using carbon monoxide or other gases can result in needlessly prolonged suffering and distress. I am glad that this summer Massachusetts became one of eighteen states which outlaw animal gas chambers, and I hope this Resolution encourages other states to follow the Commonwealth's example.

As you may have heard, Speaker Boehner and the House Republican leadership have decided to take a break until after the election. When congress returns, it will have a number of high priority votes to take and deadlines to meet. Unsurprisingly, the most pressing issues will be financial.

The United States faces a "fiscal cliff" at the beginning of 2013 -- a collection of tax increases, automatic spending cuts, and expiring programs that, if not addressed, could push our economy back into a recession. Addressing the fiscal cliff before the end of the year should be Congress's top priority.

The most immediate fiscal impact will come from the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Given the fragility of our economic recovery, I believe that Congress should extend these tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year. Extending the cuts for wealthier families would cost close to $1 trillion over the next 10 years and would do little to help the economy, since wealthy households are more likely to save the extra money rather than spending it.

Automatic spending cuts could also have a profound impact on the economy. The Budget Control Act of 2011 gave Congress until 2013 to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. If Congress fails to do so, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts (also known as sequestration), evenly split between defense and non-defense spending, automatically take effect. Everyone agrees that a thoughtful plan to reduce the deficit would be preferable to these across-the-board cuts, but there are significant disagreements over what that plan should look like. I will continue to push for deficit reduction that includes both revenue increases and defense cuts while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.

Additional items, such as the Farm Bill, reform of the U.S. Postal Service and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, are likely to be dealt with then as well.