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A Minute with Mary


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This was a very busy and productive week on Capitol Hill as Congress wrapped up business before beginning its traditional August district work period.

And I'm very proud to report that the last bill to pass was my Internet freedom legislation. Thursday, on a unanimous vote of 414-0, the U.S. House of Representatives approved House Concurrent Resolution 127. As the United States prepares to take part later this year in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, my legislation provides the American delegation with a clear mandate: Keep the Internet free of any and all government control. It was a huge victory for all of us who believe in Internet freedom.

In many ways, this is a first-of-its-kind referendum on the future of the Internet. For nearly a decade, the United Nations has been angling quietly to become the epicenter of Internet governance. At the WCIT discussions, a new treaty on Internet governance will be debated. Most worrisome to me are efforts by some countries to provide the United Nations with extraordinary new authority over management of the Internet.

These proposed treaty changes, some of which have been going on in secret, could have a devastating impact worldwide on both freedom and economic prosperity. Thursday's big vote sends a clear and unmistakable message: the American people want to keep the Internet free from government control and prevent Russia, China and other nations from succeeding in giving the U.N. unprecedented power over Web content and infrastructure. We cannot let this happen.

Also on Thursday, the House approved H.R. 6233, the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012, by a vote of 223-197. With our nation in the middle of one of its worst droughts in decades, this legislation would provide supplemental funding for drought relief. The $383 million cost of this disaster assistance would be more than offset with reductions in spending for other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. The net effect of the spending and offsets would reduce federal spending over 10 years by $256 million.

Also this week, I introduced legislation along with my good friend and colleague, Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, to help our Olympic athletes. We serve together as Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, and teamed up to offer legislation exempting U.S. Olympic medalists from paying income taxes on honorariums they receive for winning gold, bronze or silver medals. These honorariums range from $10,000 to $25,000. Our legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code and eliminate all taxes on Olympic medals and prize money won by U.S. athletes.

Taxing the Olympic medals of U.S. athletes is like Scrooge putting a tax on Christmas presents. It's just wrong. Our athletes work and sacrifice for years to reach the pinnacle of their sports and to proudly represent the United States of America in the Olympic games. Only the U.S. tax code can turn the "thrill of victory" into the agony of victory. What's next: Taxing our kids soccer trophies? We are strongly urging our colleagues in Congress to join us in this effort to salute our U.S. Olympians. When they're standing on the podium, they should be savoring the moment -- not calculating their taxes. This is just one small way to say thank you to our Olympic medalists for their efforts and achievements.

On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation, also offered by Congressman Butterfield and myself, to reauthorize the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, extending important consumer protections to all Americans. The SAFE WEB Act is a critically important law used by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware.

Even though it serves billions of users worldwide -- with e-commerce in the United States topping $200 billion last year for the first time and up 15 percent so far this year -- the Internet remains a work in progress. Still, in just over 25 years, the Internet has not only changed our lives, it has become "part" of our lives. But today Americans do not believe enough is being done today to protect them from online fraud.

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. By any measure, the U.S. SAFE WEB Act has been a clear success and should be reauthorized before its expiration next year.

About a decade ago, the FTC began to highlight the growing problems it encountered in effectively combating Internet scams and fraud directed at American citizens by foreign operators, often-times involving organized crime rings.

By 2005, an estimated 20 percent of consumer complaints the FTC received involved fraud originating outside of the United States. According to an analysis of those complaints from the Consumer Sentinel Network, Americans suffered annual losses to foreign operators, totaling nearly $220 million.

The FTC subsequently identified severe limitations in its authority to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware relative to that of other U.S. regulators. The biggest roadblock to protecting consumers was the Commission's lack of authority to share information with foreign law enforcement agencies.

First approved by Congress in 2006, the U.S. SAFE WEB Act authorized the FTC to:

* Share information involving cross border fraud with foreign consumer protection agencies;

* Pursue fraud-based legal action by amending the "unfair or deceptive acts or practices" to include acts involving foreign commerce or material misconduct within the United States;

* Seek redress on behalf of foreign consumers victimized by U.S.-based wrong-doers; and finally

* Make criminal referrals for cross-border criminal activity when violations of FTC law also violate U.S. criminal law.

Today, with nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the United States, nearly everyone in America has a stake in making certain that the Federal Trade Commission has the powers it needs to combat cross-border fraud, spam and spyware. Congress needs to reauthorize the U.S. SAFE WEB Act this year. It's good for American consumers. It's good for the future of e-commerce. And it's the right thing to do for our nation and our friends around the world.

In another important development this week, I sent a letter -- along with five other members of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse -- to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling for an expedited review of a recently submitted Citizen's Petition on opioid label changes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the quantity of painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctor's offices was four times larger in 2010 than in 1999. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month. As the sales of these drugs have increased, so too, have the number of deaths from prescription drugs and the rate of substance abuse treatment admissions.

As Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, I believe that if labeling changes were made to opioid analgesics to reflect the uncertainty and lack of evidence surrounding safety and effectiveness of these drugs for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, physicians would think twice before prescribing these highly addictive narcotics for "moderate" pain such as a toothache or sore knee. While those who seek treatment for cancer pain and other diseases that cause "severe" pain would not be affected, the number of individuals prescribed opiate painkillers without evidence of the long-term safety and effectiveness may decrease and limit those susceptible to developing opioid dependence.

Caucus members -- including myself, Reps. Hal Rogers (KY-5), Nick Rahall (WV-3), William Keating (MA-10), Robert Dold (IL-10) and Vern Buchanan (FL-13) -- met with FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg earlier this month and embraced the changes recommended in the Citizen's Petition, which was submitted by more than 30 leading clinicians, researchers and health officials. The proposed changes to opioid analgesic labels include:

* Striking the term "moderate" from the indication for non-cancer pain.

* Adding a maximum daily dose, equivalent to 100 milligrams of morphine for non-cancer pain.

* Adding a maximum duration of 90-days for continuous (daily) use for non-cancer pain.

Prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin, Opana, and Vicodin were originally intended to treat severe pain caused by cancer. But over the years -- based in large part on marketing practices -- many physicians, dentists and other health care providers began prescribing opioid painkillers for moderate-to-severe pain. The FDA-approved indication for nearly all instant-release opioid analgesics is "moderate to severe pain" and for extended-release opioids, the FDA-approved indication is "moderate to severe pain when a continuous, around-the clock analgesic is needed for an extended period of time."

These indications give the false assumption that opioid analgesics are a safe and effective treatment for chronic non-cancer pain, when in fact; an increasing body of medical literature suggests that long-term use of opioids may be neither safe nor effective. This year, more than 15,000 Americans are expected to die from overdoses and abuse of painkillers. More needs to be done to combat this deadly health epidemic.

Again, thanks for all of your phone calls, letters, emails and faxes this past week. As we celebrate Michael Phelps' record 17th Olympic Gold Medal today -- and I crow a bit about USC's #3 ranking in USA Today's preseason college football poll -- let us also remember the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. We were all reminded again this week of their sacrifices with the news of the death of Sgt. Eric E. Williams, 27, of Murrieta, who was killed last week in Afghanistan. A flight medic, Sgt. Williams died just days before returning home. Please remember him and his family in your prayers, as well as all of our fallen heroes. We will never forget their sacrifices.

And on a personal note, this week I lost a good friend, and America lost a great patriot when Laura Froehlich passed away. She did so much for our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, greeting each and every one of them when they returned to March Air Reserve Base near Riverside. Laura was a truly remarkable woman and a hero to me. Please remember her in your prayers, too. God bless you and have a great weekend!

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