Today, November 16th, is the 33rd anniversary of the Congressional Award Act which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. To date, the Congressional Award Act has led Americans to perform 3.5 million hours of public service nationwide. Today we thank the supporters, both past and present, for making a positive difference in the lives of our nation's young people and others in need. As we recognize this anniversary, we're reminded of how important it is to motivate, challenge and honor America's youth.
This week Congress reconvened to pass significant legislation, H.R. 6156, which repeals the current outdated trade regime with the Russian Federation and Moldova in favor of a trade arrangement that will greatly benefit California's agricultural export market. With the new Permanent Normal Trade Relations in place, estimates show that U.S. exports to Russia will double within five years to $20 billion, and will greatly boost job creation. I also voted for H.R. 2606, the New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act, to increase America's energy independence by constructing a natural gas pipeline in the northeastern United States. I will continue to support an all-of-the-above energy policy to fuel our nation's economy, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
On Thursday, I met with Hong Kong's Commissioner to the U.S. to discuss international trade. I was pleased to learn that Hong Kong is the third largest importer of California wine with an expanding market for these products. Increased trade in this sector will continue to expand job creation within the Valley. I also was able to gain valuable insight into their high speed rail project and find out specifically what worked and what hasn't worked for them. I am eager to increase free and fair trade, which will increase the presence and competitiveness of U.S. products overseas.
I was honored to speak at an American Legion and Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) "Veterans' Initiative" event in Washington, D.C. We discussed ideas on how to meet veterans' employment challenges. I appreciate all the support I have received from you and veterans groups for my bill, the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act, which was signed into law earlier this year. The Veterans Skills to Jobs Act streamlines licensing and credentialing of qualified, job-seeking service members and veterans. I want to salute The American Legion for their aggressive stand on this front and for hosting regular meetings between industry leaders, the Department of Defense and Congress on how to align military training with appropriate credentials.
As we get closer to the looming "fiscal cliff" deadline, I continue working diligently with my colleagues to avoid the pitfalls of sequestration -- the scheduled series of massive cuts to the Department of Defense budget and other critical departments beginning January 2, 2013. If Congress fails to pass a solution to prevent sequester, we could see over 350,000 Department of Defense uniformed and civilian personnel positions eliminated. This would not only devastate the ability of our military to conduct operations but would do irreparable damage to the defense industrial base. We must work together to find a solution to prevent these devastating across-the-board cuts.
The holiday season is right around the corner, and we would love your help in spreading a message of hope to our community's children. Our Modesto office is currently accepting toy donations on behalf of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. Please see my website for more information, and thank you in advance for any contribution you can make.
I hope that you took time this past Veterans Day to thank a veteran for their sacrifice, and also take a moment to remember our fallen service members and the extraordinary sacrifice they have made for our great country. You can view my op-ed regarding Veterans Day here.
Finally, I hope that your Thanksgiving will be filled with family and friends, and that you take time to reflect on the important people and events you were grateful for this year. It is important to remember the honorable and celebrated nature of America and the principles of our founding.
Listening to what citizens have to say, and sharing with them what I'm doing both in Washington and in the district is an honor and a privilege. Please continue to let me know your thoughts and concerns about issues facing our community, and also feel free to forward my weekly newsletter to your friends, family and neighbors.