What You Are Writing About
Each year, I hear from thousands of Idahoans who write, e-mail, fax and call my offices to let me know how they feel about issues facing our country today. On average, I receive approximately 1,000 letters and e-mails a week. In recent years, an increasing number of that correspondence has come via electronic means. Even with such a volume of correspondence, I try to respond to each Idahoan as promptly as possible. In an effort to be even more responsive and to fully utilize the technology available through the Internet, this web page features the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my response on each from the previous week. You may also wish to review information in the Issues Section or details from my Legislative Record, which lists bills I have sponsored and co-sponsored.
Here are the top issues Idahoans have recently written me about:
Mistreatment of Veterans
Clean Water Act (CWA) Jurisdiction
Immigration Reform and Border Security
Dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration
Many Idahoans have contacted me regarding ongoing investigations of the mistreatment of veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities. I share your concerns and welcome the opportunity to respond.
As you may know, in April 2014, media reports indicated many veterans died while waiting for care in the Phoenix, Arizona, VA Health Care System. The stories claim officials at the Phoenix VA Medical Center kept an “off-the-books list to conceal long wait lines.” Other, subsequent, reports suggest the practice occurred elsewhere in the VA system. These reports are deeply concerning and must be examined fully; Congressional oversight committees and the VA’s independent Office of the Inspector General (OIG) are investigating the matter. I look forward to reviewing the findings of the investigations. In the meantime, the Administration must be more forthcoming and hold those responsible accountable for any mismanagement.
Prior to his resignation, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered an audit of veteran access to care across all VA medical centers. VA accountability is of the utmost importance: we must be sure that our veterans’ service providers provide the best care possible to our veterans. Several of my Senate colleagues share my view, and on February 11, 2014, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act (S. 2013).�� I am a co-sponsor of S. 2013. This measure would allow the VA to remove any employee of the VA from a Senior Executive Service position upon determining the individual’s performance warrants removal. The individual would then be able to be completely removed from the civil service or demoted to a position the VA deems appropriate. This measure became part of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act (S. 2450).
S. 2450 was introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and John McCain (R-Arizona) on June 9, 2014.�� I co-sponsored this measure, which allows veterans to seek private treatment outside the VA if they face excessive wait times.�� This measure also allows veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility to seek private treatment closer to home; this provision is particularly important to Idaho’s rural veterans.�� The legislation passed the Senate as a part of H.R. 3230 on June 11, 2014.����
I strongly support those men and women who have risked their lives to protect our nation in the past and who continue to do so today. Additionally, I remain dedicated to efforts to provide affordable and quality health care to such individuals during their retirement years; this commitment needs to be upheld. If you are in need of specific assistance in dealing with the VA or other federal programs, you may wish to contact my staff for further information:
Ms. Samantha Marshall
202 Falls Avenue
Twin Falls, ID 83301
Phone: (208) 734-2515
Our nation is indebted to these individuals, and we must keep our commitments to these brave men and women. Please rest assured that I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to address the needs of our nation’s veterans.
As you know, on March 25, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released a proposed policy change to greatly expand the jurisdiction of waters regulated under the CWA.�� This change would extend the regulatory reach of federal agencies beyond navigable waters to intermittent wetlands and other bodies of water.�� The EPA and the Corps state that the effort intends to provide greater clarification of which water bodies are subject to federal regulation under the CWA.�� However, this proposal will only create more questions than answers.�� By expanding the scope and reach of the CWA, the regulatory change will create greater uncertainty and litigation and increase the role of the federal government in the lives of Americans across the country.�� On April 9, 2014, I joined several of my colleagues on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in writing to President Obama, expressing our serious concerns and outlining the severe consequences of this proposal.��
While I share your commitment to protecting water quality and our natural wetlands, I have concerns with efforts to expand the reach of the CWA.�� The initiating agencies have explicitly stated that updated jurisdictional guidance efforts will likely increase the number and kinds of water bodies subject to federal regulation. By expanding the reach of the federal government, this proposed action threatens to undermine states’ primacy in regulating wetlands and other bodies of water not intended to be included in the CWA. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have consistently supported efforts to preserve the CWA’s original intent and balance the proper involvement of state, federal, local and private parties to work together for effective and environmentally-sound water quality management policies.
Ensuring clean and safe water for all Americans is one of my priorities. While we may disagree on the best course of action on this issue, we can all agree on the need to preserve, protect and enhance our natural environment for ourselves and future generations. Be assured, I will continue to ensure Idaho’s views and interests are represented at the national level as I press for effective and responsible enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and will continue to work to maintain Idaho’s water sovereignty.
The Ebola virus is a highly contagious illness which causes severe hemorrhagic fever in humans, as well as other primates. Ebola is not spread through the air ��� medical experts indicate patients have to come into contact with the virus through exposure to bodily fluids of another infected person, or through items that have been contaminated with the virus in order to become infected. Once infected, patients may initially exhibit flu-like symptoms before their condition worsens over the course of several days. Due to the lack of cure or effective treatment for Ebola, the mortality rate ranges from 50 to 90 percent.
West Africa is currently facing the worst Ebola virus outbreak in history. In several countries, thousands of individuals, including U.S. relief workers, have reportedly been exposed to the dangerous Ebola virus. The disease is extremely dangerous and warrants a vigorous response to contain its spread and safe lives.
As you may know, on September 24, 2014, a man who had recently arrived in Dallas, Texas, after flying from Liberia began exhibiting symptoms of the Ebola virus. After seeking care for fever and abdominal pain, he was placed in isolation at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas following doctors’ concerns that he potentially may have the virus. On September 30, doctors reported that the patient had tested positive for Ebola. Health officials are reaching out to anyone he may have been in contact with before being admitted, in an effort to contain the potential spread of the disease.
Any potential risk to Americans is worrisome and deserves forceful attention. All sectors of the United States government, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others, should take the crucial steps necessary to initiate safeguards to prevent the possible spread to other areas. Doctors note that protections are in place at entry points across our country, with employees trained to spot early signs of Ebola, including fever, sore throat, and muscle weakness. CDC quarantine teams have been initiated to respond to any new cases. The American people expect public health officials to lead a vigorous defense of our citizenry from exposure to Ebola or any other dangerous pandemic.
I understand your concern about the potential spread of this contagious and dangerous disease. We are fortunate to live in a country with high standards of sanitation and care in our hospitals, which greatly limit the potential for contamination and spread of disease. Nonetheless, health experts must take this problem extremely seriously and act in the appropriate manner to protect people from exposure.
Further information about the history and symptoms of the Ebola virus can be found on the World Health Organization’s website, www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/. In the meantime, I will continue to stay informed on the situation as it continues to unfold. Please rest assured that I will keep your concerns in mind any time that Congress considers issues pertaining to public-spread diseases, outbreaks, and general health issues.
Rarely does an issue invoke more interest from so many Idahoans and people across the nation than the issue of immigration reform and border security.
As you may know, on April 16, 2013, several of my colleagues in the Senate introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). After the measure was reviewed and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full Senate considered the measure. On June 27, 2013, despite my dissent, the Senate passed S. 744 in a 68-32 vote. The legislation will now head to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
During the course of the Senate’s consideration of S. 744, Members introduced many amendments to the measure reflecting a wide range of topics and issues. I reviewed the lengthy measure and its proposed amendments to ensure it was consistent with my long-held principles on immigration. I have consistently maintained that there is a real need for a rational immigration policy that is built on several important principles:
��� First, the United States must commit the resources necessary to have the strongest border enforcement realistically possible. Preservation of the integrity of our borders is essential to both a sensible guest worker program as well as our national security. When we have a stable and manageable guest worker and immigration system, we will be able to ensure that those who come to our country, whether they seek to come as a temporary worker or to obtain permanent residency, do so in compliance with our rule of law. This must be in place prior to granting legalized status.
��� Second, our immigration system must not grant amnesty to those who enter our country illegally or illegally overstay their visas. No person who breaks the law should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct. This is unfair both to American citizens and to those who have gone through legal channels for immigration to the U.S.
��� Third, immigrants must not automatically be afforded the same means-tested, federal benefits available to U.S. citizens. Federal public benefit programs exist as a manifestation of the American aspiration to take care of our own less fortunate. In today’s fiscal climate, the solvency of these programs is ill-fated at best, making it nothing less than irresponsible to exacerbate these programs’ financial constraints by extending eligibility to individuals who are not U.S. citizens.
��� Fourth, our guest worker programs must assure that American citizens have the first right to access available jobs. There is significant debate about whether American citizens are losing U.S. jobs to workers from other countries. However, this debate can be resolved by assuring that any jobs made available in a guest worker program are first available to U.S. workers. Manageable ways to assure this have already been identified.
��� Fifth, an efficient and workable guest worker program must be developed that will provide employers with a reliable, verifiable and legal system to identify guest workers who are legally in the country.
Ultimately, the final version of S. 744 did not reflect my long held principles and did not provide sufficient reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike. As one example, the changes in the border security measures contained in S. 744 were nowhere near acceptable and amendments that may have addressed some of my concerns were consistently denied votes. In the end, I had to vote against final passage.
Nonetheless, I remain committed to the enactment of sound immigration policy. I understand the urgency expressed by many to enact a federal response to address our nation’s immigration and border security needs. However, realizing the significant impact of legislation of this magnitude, I will continue to press for a solid solution that will secure our nation’s borders, not provide incentives for further illegal immigration through rewarding illegal entry, provide Americans with the first right to access available jobs, and enable an efficient and workable guest worker program.
Please rest assured that I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and all Idahoans to find sensible solutions to the challenges we face with regard to immigration.
A fundamental cornerstone of our Constitution is the inherent checks and balances between the branches of government. Each acts as a check on the others to ensure no single individual or institution can accumulate undue powers. Actions that seek to challenge this balance undermine the founding principles of our federal system.
The congressional oversight process serves to hold executive officials accountable for the implementation of delegated authority. Given the evolving role and scope of the federal government in recent decades, the importance of Congress’ review function looms large in checking and monitoring the delegated authority granted to federal agencies.
The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 strengthens legislative oversight by enhancing committees’ ability to hold agencies accountable for the implementation of their performance goals and outcomes; to carefully evaluate the budget requests of various agencies, and to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication among federal agencies that implement policy areas.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996 enables Congress to review and disapprove agency rules and regulations. Under the CRA, agencies must submit major rules to Congress and Government Accountability Office before they can take effect. The law provides for expedited procedures for any joint resolution of disapproval. The President can veto the joint resolution of disapproval; however, as with all legislation, Congress can override the President’s veto with a two-thirds vote from each chamber. Congress also has the ability to constrain the executive branch by passing statutes that repeal rules, including appropriations measures that limit funding for the development, implementation, or enforcement of certain rules or types of rules.
The role of the executive branch, whose activities have wide impact, underscores the critical importance of holding administrative entities accountable for their actions and decisions. Congress has a responsibility to continue strong oversight to ensure that our branches of government exercise their powers in a manner consistent with the Constitution. Government transparency and accountability are important aspects of a healthy and vibrant democracy, and I support initiatives to reassert public and congressional oversight of government programs and initiatives that have an effect on the American people.
The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive Branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected. The ultimate check on the conduct of elected officials is the public. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a system of government in which the people would be given the power to regularly review and pass judgment on elected representatives through the ballot box.��
I understand your concerns with many of the policies and conduct of the Obama Administration, particularly its handling of the Fast-and-Furious scandal and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.�� As a result of such actions, many Idahoans have contacted to me to express their support for the impeachment of the President.��
As you may know, impeachment is the process by which charges can be brought by the legislative branch against certain officials serving in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government for misdeeds in office.�� Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States specifies that "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."���� The U.S. House of Representatives has the responsibility for bringing the charges against the official, otherwise known as impeachment.�� Once the House has determined enough evidence exists for impeachment, the Senate has the role of trying the impeached official.������
The mechanism for impeachment and conviction is a critical and powerful part of the process of checks and balances envisioned by the Founding Fathers and should not be taken lightly or used for purely political purposes.�� The seriousness of the impeachment process is reflected in the fact that only two presidents in the history of the United States have been impeached, President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1998.��
Although government officials should be held accountable for any malfeasance, any effort for impeachment of President Obama would require a high threshold to be met.�� Should any such proceeding be proposed by the House of Representatives, it is my sincere hope that it is based on a thorough and legal investigation and not for partisan purposes.�� Please be assured that, in reviewing the issue, I will maintain my commitment to upholding the Constitution.�� The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected.