Since the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, five committees in the U.S. House of Representatives have opened investigations to get to the bottom of the truth, and it is unquestionable that the American people and especially the families of the fallen heroes deserve to know what happened that tragic day, not only to hold those accountable, but to help prevent future attacks. This is the mission we have been charged with since day one, and it is important that we not lose sight of it.
Last week these 5 committees, two of which I serve on, provided a progress report on our investigations. While this interim report is only the beginning of our investigation into the events of Benghazi, I was extremely disappointed to learn during the course of our investigation that the Administration continuously denied requests for additional security prior to the attacks and then attempted to hide responsibility for those decisions.
The five House committees investigating Benghazi also demanded last week that the Administration immediately release documents to the public relating to a State Department cable, bearing the signature of then Secretary Clinton, acknowledging requests for additional security and yet still ordering the withdrawal of security assets. The House investigation also found that the talking points used by Ambassador Susan Rice to brief the American people in the days after the attack were clearly altered to withhold vital information about the attacks, including the likely connections to al-Qa'ida.
The Administration must turn over all relevant documents for further investigation so that the House can fully determine and hold to account those who are responsible for making decisions that led directly to the loss of four American lives.
Last week, the State Department released a report on the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The results of the report, which has taken the State Department more than four years to complete, concluded that the plan will not adversely affect the environment. Despite the careful observations and analysis from the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to raise objections, and they have asked the State Department to conduct further analysis.
I am in strong support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and I am proud cosponsor of H.R., 3, the Northern Route Approval Act which would effectively approve the Keystone XL Pipeline by waiving the Presidential permit for its creation. This bill is extremely crucial, and the Keystone XL Pipeline project is precisely the kind of job creating energy project that is necessary to create jobs and help our economic recovery. The Keystone XL project is estimated to inject $20 billion of private sector investment into our economy, and it will create approximately 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 additional jobs from increased economic activity. I am extremely disappointed in the President's decision as well as the EPA to hold up American job creation.
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 seemed to be on the minds of many constituents last week was the flight delays caused by FAA's decision to furlough air traffic controllers.
As with all other executive branch agencies, the FAA knew for more than a year that the sequester cuts were coming. Yet, they waited until April 17, four days before the furloughs were set to begin, to inform Congress and the airline industry of their plans to furlough air traffic controllers, leaving airlines and travelers unable to prepare. FAA should be able to manage with a 5 percent cut from sequestration without significantly impacting aviation, but, rather than implement these cuts in an efficient manner, the Administration appears to have deliberately chosen to apply the sequester in a manner that will hurt American travelers.
But, while the Administration was looking to play politics with this issue, Republicans were simply looking to fix it. Rather than take the idea of Washington Democrats to resolve all revenue issues with tax increases, or Senator Harry Reid's idea to replace sequestration cuts with war "savings" that are already scheduled to occur, we were able to find a bipartisan solution to allow FAA to transfer funds from lower priority items to air traffic control operations, thereby solving the problem at no additional cost to the taxpayer. I was glad to support this commonsense measure, which passed both the House and Senate, to protect American travelers from the Administration's political posturing.
April 24 Hearing on Obamacare and the VA
With Obamacare unfortunately still set to go into full effect next year, millions of Americans will be forced to reckon with massive changes in our health care system. Yet, more than three years after this monstrosity of a bill was passed, the Administration still cannot answer basic questions about its impact.
I am particularly concerned that Obamacare could adversely affect several aspects of VA's health care services, including enrollment and utilization, outreach and communications, and staffing and retention. To try and answer these pressing questions, I chaired a hearing last Wednesday in the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs to question VA and Treasury officials on the potential impact of Obamacare on VA and the millions of veterans currently enrolled in VA's health care system
The VA has estimated that, as a result of Obamacare, 66,000 new veterans will enter into the VA health care system. However, at the hearing, VA officials admitted that their efforts to estimate and prepare for Obamacare's impact have been extremely limited, calling into question the validity of their estimates.
Obamacare, and its many confusing provisions, will make health care choices for veterans even more complicated. As Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), one of the key architects of Obamacare, admitted this month, the looming implantation of Obamacare is a "train wreck." VA owes it to our Nation's veterans to explain how they plan to protect veterans from the runaway train that is Obamacare.
Last year, VA officials at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida admitted to videotaping a brain-damaged veteran using a covert smoke detector camera. This hidden camera is the only one of its kind at any VA facility, and this type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous. To think that some VA employees actually thought it was a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector boggles the mind. Perhaps even more alarmingly, when the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs questioned VA officials on the legality of this practice at a prior hearing, department officials contended they had done nothing wrong. Well, I strongly disagree.
I believe that the privacy rights of our nation's veterans must be fully respected by the VA, and that is why I recently introduced H.R. 1490, the Veterans Privacy Act. The Veterans Privacy Act would keep covert, Big Brother tactics out of VA medical centers and protect the sacred trust that should exist between VA and veteran patients by requiring VA to receive consent from patients before installing cameras in treatment rooms.
Last week, the House voted unanimously to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, in recognition of the 50th commemoration of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where these four innocent girls lost their lives. This horrific event, which occurred while these young girls were preparing to attend Sunday School, shook our nation and sparked a surge of momentum in the Civil Rights Movement that helped secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With the 50th anniversary of this tragic event later this year, it is fitting that Congress commemorate the memory of these girls with the Congressional Gold Medal.
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.