Despite being embroiled in a massive scandal and facing budgetary cuts as a result of sequestration, recent news reports indicate that the IRS has agreed to pay $70 million in employee bonuses. The IRS has confirmed targeting of conservative groups and, as investigations underway in the House have already revealed, the IRS' malfeasance is not limited to a group of individuals in one IRS field office. We have seen that there is systemic abuse of power by IRS bureaucrats in Washington aimed at individuals and organizations for their political and religious affiliations.
The IRS was expressly directed by the Administration to halt all bonuses as a result of sequestration; however, instead of following this directive, the IRS struck a deal with the National Treasury Employees Union to grant bonuses of up to $3,500 to thousands of employees. The IRS did not disclose these planned payments to Congress or the public, and they only came to light days before the bonuses were scheduled to be disbursed.
As the agency responsible for collecting tax revenue, the IRS, above all, should be fully committed to fiscal responsibility. Yet, when thousands of DoD employees, including many in Northwest Florida, are feeling the brunt of sequestration, thousands of IRS employees will be rewarded with generous bonuses. The IRS has claimed that their bonus payments are required under their collective bargaining agreement with the union; however, as Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who revealed the details of the IRS bonuses, has correctly pointed out, this very agreement allows for the re-appropriation of bonuses in the event of budget shortfalls. I believe it is highly irresponsible for IRS employees to be receiving bonuses given the fiscal climate in Washington and the seriousness of the targeting scandal, and I will work with my colleagues to fully investigate this serious issue.
But the IRS isn't the only federal agency that has a bonus problem. Failing VA executives have been collecting huge bonuses for years. A shocking fact that becomes all the more serious when framed in the context of a string of patient deaths linked to mismanagement and the department's inability to break the disability compensation claims backlog, which has more than 550,000 veterans in limbo regarding the status of their claims. That's why I've introduced legislation that would ban VA executive bonuses for five years. Until we have complete confidence that VA is holding executives accountable -- rather than rewarding them -- for their mistakes, no one should get a performance bonus. Period.
Weekly Standard-Concerned Veterans for America Defend & Reform Breakfast Series Last Thursday, June 20, I was fortunate to join former VA Secretary Anthony Principi; Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC); as well as Weekly Standard Editor, Bill Kristol; Darin Selnick of Concerned Veterans for America; Peter Gaytan of the American Legion; Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; Mark Flatten of the Washington Examiner; and Stewart Hickey of AMVETS at the Weekly Standard-Concerned Veterans for America Defend & Reform Breakfast Series kick-off.
For those who were unable to tune in and watch the live streaming feed of the event, please click on the photo below to watch my remarks.
Congressman Miller at the Weekly Standard-Concerned Veterans for America Defend & Reform Breakfast Series
H.R. 1490, Veterans' Privacy Act
Last Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a legislative hearing on H.R. 1490, Veterans' Privacy Act; H.R. 1792, Infectious Disease Reporting Act; and H.R. 1804, Foreign Travel Accountability Act. As the Sponsor of H.R. 1490, I was pleased to attend and discuss the Veterans' Privacy Act. Intended to protect the privacy rights of veterans who receive medical care from VA hospitals, the Veterans' Privacy Act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe regulations to ensure that any visual recording made of a patient during the course of care by VA is carried out only with the full and informed consent of that patient or, in appropriate cases, their representative. A waiver would only apply if upon determination by a physician or psychologist that the recording is medically necessary, if pursuant to a court order, or if the recording would occur in a public setting where a person would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a waiting room or hallway. It is imperative that we protect the privacy of patients while receiving medical care, and it must be among our top oversight priorities within the VA.
Every week, I receive thousands of letters and phone calls from constituents all across Florida's First Congressional District. Without the input of hardworking Northwest Floridians, it would be nearly impossible for me to do my job. One topic that was on the minds of many constituents last week was the NSA and the recent leaks of classified information.
Last Tuesday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held an oversight hearing on the NSA and the disclosure of classified NSA programs. As a member of the Committee, I had the opportunity to question the panel which included NSA Director General Keith Alexander, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence General Counsel Robert Litt. Open hearings, like the one conducted last week, are important to update the public on the work being done at the NSA and other intelligence agencies. To watch the full hearing, including my questions to General Alexander and the panel, click on the picture below.
Another concern on the minds of many of constituents is the Obama Administration's recent announcement not to appeal the April decision by the U.S. District Court in New York that would allow minors open access to the Plan B drug, commonly referred to as "the day after pill."
Eastern New York District Court Judge Edward Korman upheld unrestricted access to the Plan B drug, making it available to women of all ages. The Court's decision ultimately means that girls of all ages will be able to purchase this controversial and powerful drug without the consent of a parent or advice of a physician. What is even more troubling is that the Obama Administration has chosen to put politics before the safety of our Nation's young women.
As a parent and grandparent, I have serious concerns with the Administration's decision as it clearly ignores the safety of our children and disregards parental rights. I am joining several of my colleagues in urging President Obama to appeal this ruling.
H.R. 1947, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013
Last week, the House considered H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013, commonly referred to as the farm bill. The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year piece of authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs that is typically renewed every five years. During floor debate on the 2013 farm bill, the House considered 103 amendments to various portions of the bill.
As with so many areas of our federal budget, the cost of the farm bill has skyrocketed over the recent years, and the legislation which was brought to the floor would have cost taxpayers an astounding $939 billion over the next 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office. Approximately 79 percent, or $744 billion, of this cost would have come through the nutrition title which includes numerous food programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
In addition to the rapid growth of the SNAP program, the farm bill also included many questionable agriculture related programs, including an $8.9 billion increase in crop insurance funding, and numerous policies that overly involve the federal government in the free enterprise system and lead to market distortions that are then passed on to consumers and businesses. The bill did not garner the support needed to pass and failed by a vote of 195-234.
While I clearly understand the importance that farming and agriculture has in both Northwest Florida and our Nation, as well as the need to provide assistance to help the truly disadvantaged in our country get back on their feet during times of hardship, I could not in good conscience support a bill that would cost 56 percent more than the last farm bill which was passed in 2008. Congress has an obligation to the American people to be a responsible fiduciary of the taxpayer, and we should focus our efforts on enacting serious reforms to our agricultural and nutrition programs to restore fiscal accountability to the farm bill.
H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
Last week, the House passed a vital piece of legislation that protects the life of the unborn as well as the life of the mother. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit aborting an unborn baby after twenty weeks gestation, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is at risk. H.R. 1797 is based on scientific evidence that as early as 20 weeks post fertilization, an unborn child can feel pain. I was glad to see the House pass this measure with bipartisan support on June 18, 2013 by a vote of 228-196.
The issue is not a Republican issue, and it is not a Democrat issue. It is a human issue. I believe that life is sacred and that the life of an unborn child begins at conception. While the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate, it feel it is a topic that deserves a public debate and a vote.
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Tour Campaign
Last week, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association hosted more than 1,000 high school students from around the country as part of its Washington, D.C., 2013 Youth Tour campaign. More than thirty students, sponsored by Cooperatives within the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, participated on the tour. I was pleased to meet with students from the First Congressional District to discuss some of the legislative issues that are currently being addressed in Congress and enjoyed learning what issues the students in our community find compelling.
Congressman Miller with High School Students from
Florida's First Congressional District
In the District
On June 10, Northwest Florida lost one of its own, and hundreds paid their respects this weekend as an American Patriot was laid to rest. Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Lamar Thomas, Jr., of Pensacola, was serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. A man who was so deeply devoted to God and country, SSG Thomas will be remembered as a dedicated soldier, a great friend to so many of his fellow soldiers and members of the community, and a loving husband and father. Please find a tribute memorialized within the Congressional Record to honor SSG Thomas' life and service by clicking here.
As we mourn the loss SSG Thomas and his selfless service to our country, let us keep the Thomas family in our thoughts and prayers and remember that America is the great country it is today because of the sacrifices of all of our Nation's warriors, both past and present. May God bless the men and women of our Armed Forces, their families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
As always, I welcome your comments. To share your thoughts on legislation, votes or issues, please visit http://jeffmiller.house.gov/ to send an e-mail or call any of my offices.