I want to take this opportunity to bring you up-to-date on some of the issues and initiatives of importance to the country and the 10th District that have been commanding my attention over the past several months.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON BENGHAZI TERRORIST ATTACK
I have been leading the effort in the House to create a Select Committee to investigate the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama Administration's response. In January, I introduced H. Res. 36 so Congress can fulfill its constitutional responsibility to educate the American people on the circumstances surrounding the attack. To date, it has more than 60 co-sponsors.
The six months since the attack have been marked by continued instances of confusion, unanswered questions and detrimental developments that have brought the Congress no closer to understanding what happened that day, holding those responsible accountable or developing solutions to prevent similar attacks in the future. We only just learned that in addition to the four Americans who were killed in the attack several more were seriously injured and at least one still remains in the hospital.
A Select Committee would combine all investigative efforts into a single, comprehensive review. It would be comprised of the chairmen and ranking members of the committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Government Reform and Oversight, with other members appointed by House leaders based on expertise. The Congress owes it to the families of the victims of this terrorist attack, and the American people, to fully investigate this tragedy.
OUR NATION'S DEBT
I recently spoke to about 100 high school students at an annual forum put on by the Loudoun County Public Schools and the Leesburg Daybreak Rotary Club. It was an impressive group of juniors and seniors. They wanted to know why it always takes a "crisis" for Washington act. They understand a great nation like ours should not be governed that way and want Washington to stop playing politics and get on with managing the affairs of the nation.
I couldn't agree more, and that is why I continue to believe the best framework for getting our nation's house in order are the proposals laid out by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Their 2010 recommendations, which have since been updated, reduce the nation's debt to sustainable levels, reform entitlement programs and the tax code, and call for significant spending reductions throughout the budget.
Like the original Simpson-Bowles plan, the revised road map puts everything on the table and requires compromises from both sides of the aisle. Equally important, it "turns off" sequestration by calling for smart, targeted reforms to reduce spending, rather than the blunt, across-the-board approach that does not factor in the value or need of certain federal spending, like defense or border security.
You also should be pleased to know that as chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee I have cut $12 billion in federal spending in the departments and agencies I oversee since the beginning of the 112th Congress in 2011. While making cuts has not been easy, given the current fiscal climate it is necessary to focus limited resources on the most critical areas -- fighting crime and terrorism, including a new focus on preventing and investigating cyber-attacks, and boosting U.S. competitiveness and job creation by investing in science, exports and manufacturing.
Working to address our region's transportation needs continues to be a top priority. We all spend way too much time sitting in traffic. Here is a quick update on several transportation projects / issues in our region:
Phase 1 of the Dulles Metrorail project is now 90 percent complete. The structures of all five stations -- four in Tysons Corner and one at Wiehle Avenue in Reston -- are finished and the track from East Falls Church to Reston has been laid. The focus now is on the critical systems necessary to operate the line. Construction is expected to be finished in late summer then the project will be transferred from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for final testing prior to setting the opening date, hopefully by the end of the year.
Speaking of MWAA, after a tumultuous two years it appears as though the issues that plagued the board are now behind it. To help ensure past mistakes are not repeated, I have reintroduced a measure to create a permanent Inspector General for MWAA. The House approved the measure last year but the Senate never took up its version of the bill. I also reintroduced a bill to reduce the size of MWAA's board from 17 to nine members and give Virginia a clear majority of the seats. Six of the seats would be appointed by the governor of Virginia: the president, the mayor of DC and the governor of Maryland would each appoint one board member.
I will be speaking at a State Corporation Commission field hearing in Loudoun next month about the ever-increasing tolls on the Greenway. I have long believed the original state law allowing a private corporation to own and operate the Greenway is flawed because it fails to protect the consumer. Loudoun County residents are forced to choose between paying the Greenway tolls -- nearly $5 -- or taking Routes 7, 50 and 28, which are already at capacity, forcing drivers to potentially endure hours of gridlock at rush hour. I remain astounded that Trip II and its Australia-based parent company, Macquiare Ltd., refuse to commission a distance-pricing study. Residents living in Ashburn and Brambleton must pay the full toll to go just one mile. That is not right. Other toll roads across the country have distance pricing. Why doesn't the Greenway? I also support the effort announced earlier this year for the Commonwealth to take over the road.
I was pleased to see that work on the real-time traffic management system aimed at improving traffic flow on I-66 will begin this spring and is expected to be completed by 2015. The system is meant to give drivers more information on accidents, delays and projected travel times. Speed-measuring sensors and traffic cameras would be added to provide more up-to-date information, which drivers would see on electronic message signs. When the new system is complete, it also will include new shoulder and lane control signs. In addition, the timing of ramp meters at entrances to I-66 would be changed depending on the volume of traffic.
The threat of cyberattacks and cyber espionage from countries like China has come to the forefront following recent press reports on cyber espionage that has been targeting U.S. government agencies and our private sector. The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among many other newspapers, have been targeted by Chinese state-sponsored cyberattacks and espionage.
For many years, based on the information learned in my capacity as chairman of the CJS appropriations subcommittee, I have spoken out publicly about the Chinese cyber espionage threat and its impact on our security and economy. I also have seen how it is undermining U.S. efforts to develop competitive advantages through our investment in basic science and cutting-edge technologies, like aerospace. Above all, in this capacity I have a clear picture of the Chinese government's systematic and aggressive efforts to steal our sensitive technology and undermine U.S. competitiveness.
I continue to raise awareness about the potential espionage threat from Chinese telecom firms, like Huawei and ZTE, gaining control of U.S. telecom networks and have included language in my appropriations bills to restrict their access. Last fall, the House Intelligence Committee released a landmark report documenting these concerns. I have also led efforts, in response to information received from whistleblowers, to address security concerns at NASA centers, including a recent case where the FBI arrested a Chinese national working on sensitive technology at NASA-Langley in Hampton, Virginia.
SPEAKING OUT FOR THE VOICELESS
Defending human rights and helping give a voice to the voiceless continues to be a focus during my service in Congress. I am once again honored to serve as the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and believe America has a responsibility to continually affirm that we stand for the defenseless, champion liberty and confront injustice the world over.
The Lantos Commission recently launched an exciting initiative aimed at elevating the plight of individual prisoners of conscience. We are encouraging Members of Congress to adopt political prisoners from around the world and commit to being their advocate by writing letters of support, pressing the regimes that unjustly imprison them to respect basic human rights and urging our own State Department to advocate for their release. Time and again, when previously imprisoned dissidents are freed, they tell of the power of advocacy in securing their freedom and the importance of raising individual cases by name. This tried and true method -- best modeled by President Ronald Reagan during the dark days of the Soviet Union -- serves as our model. I was privileged to "adopt" Gao Zhisheng, an imprisoned Chinese activist, rights lawyer and devout Christian. I am committed to working toward the day when Gao is a free man.
In early February I co-hosted, with Congressman Rob Wittman, a screening of "48M," a moving film that depicts the grim reality of the struggle North Koreans face while crossing the 48 meters of the Yalu River into China in an attempt to escape the totalitarian regime. Following the film, the audience gathered at Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Centerville had the opportunity to hear directly from a North Korean defector family. The North Korean regime is among the most brutal and secretive on the face of the earth. As more and more becomes known about the starvation, labor camps, torture and death that the North Korean people have endured, the West must be compelled to act.
I recently travelled to Lebanon and Egypt where I met with government officials, civil society actors, religious leaders and Syrian refugees. The trip came at a historic and tumultuous time of change in the broader Middle East. I came away deeply troubled by what I heard. In the midst of a brutal civil war in Syria which has claimed nearly 70,000 lives and resulted in a massive refugee crisis, the plight of Syria's Christians and other religious minorities is often overlooked. In speaking with them and Coptic Christians in Egypt, I was alarmed by what amounted to the changing face of the Middle East. In the same way that the once vibrant Jewish communities in countries like Egypt and Iraq are now relics of the past, the Christian communities in these same lands are under assault. Their continued existence and even flourishing in the lands they have inhabited for centuries is imperative to a democratic and pluralistic Middle East. My entire "trip report" can be found on my Web site, www.wolfhouse.gov. The report includes a number of policy recommendations including the continued need for a State Department Special Envoy to advocate for religious minorities in this part of the world (I have introduced bipartisan legislation to this effect, H.R. 301) and the importance of conditioning foreign aid to Egypt based on tangible improvements in key areas related to governance, human rights and religious freedom.
There are a number of other issues that I continue to work on, such as helping local food banks meet an increasing demand, supporting legislation to combat Lyme disease, which affects an estimated 275,000 Americans each year and is endemic to Virginia, and raising awareness about sexual trafficking particularly here in northern Virginia. I also have reintroduced legislation to make George Washington's birthday, February 22, a federal holiday rather than the third February in Monday, which has evolved into President's Day. Our nation's first president deserves better. Mount Vernon, along with a number of leading historians, including David McCullough and Ron Chernow, support the effort. Finally, on Saturday, April 6 the annual 10th District Academy Day will be held at the Loudoun County School Board offices. Representatives from West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy and the Coast Guard Academy will all be on hand to meet area high school students. The program is free and begins at 10 a.m. You can find more information about Academy Day and other issues on my Web page, wolf.house.gov.