Commuting to Congress: Episode 8

This week on Commuting to Congress, Congressman John Sarbanes discusses the two appropriations bills that passed in the House last week, a bill that will create a 100th anniversary commemorative coin for the National Parks Service, activities surrounding the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and the Senate hearing where Justice John Paul Stevens spoke about his concerns about how big money is affecting our campaigns and affecting how government works.


Good afternoon this is Congressman Sarbanes, I wanted to give you a brief recap of our events, our work in Washington for the week of April 28th.  We passed two appropriations bills in the House of Representatives. One relating to military construction and Veterans Affairs and the other relating to the legislative branch operations. With respect to military construction, they call it MILCON, and Veterans Affairs the funding for military construction was down from 2014 levels but is still at $6.5 billion, a significant investment. It included funding for the BRAC activities, which is important for Maryland because the Base Realignment and Closure obviously has significant benefits for our state. In particular in the Fort Meade area, which is in my district, that area surrounding Fort Meade is in the 3rd district so I pay close attention to the status of BRAC funding.  Also included within that bill, the military construction and Veterans Affairs bill are the benefits for our veterans. The funding there was almost $65 billion, which is about a billion and a half above the 2014 level. Congress has had significant concerns about particularly the processing of claims, there has been a huge backlog in the VA. So this bill includes language that says that the Department of Defense and the VA have to demonstrate better coordination and interoperability in their medical records systems, in order to expedite the processing of claims that come in from our veterans. So I think it was important to those kinds of strings, those conditions in place to push the agencies to do better in terms of eliminating the backlog.  We also as I said passed a legislative appropriations act, this is the bill that funds the Capital Police, the Congressional Budgets Office, the Architect of the Capital, Library of Congress, Government Printing Office, Government Accountability Office, all these various resources that are critical in terms of allowing operations to continue on a day to day basis on Capital Hill. And also provide important source of information for the public. So those were the appropriations bills that we passed the two that we passed this week.

Then there were a couple of other things this week that I wanted to call attention to.  One was we passed a bill to create a 100th anniversary commemorative coin for the National Park Service. And I’m a big booster of national parks. In particular we are paying close attention this year to the activities and celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 where Fort McHenry, which is a national park, is going to be at the center of that celebration. And on that point I was with the mayor this past week at Fort McHenry announcing the lineup of special events that we are going to be having between now and September 14, which is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore. There is going to be a lot of good things for people to do over the course of the summer, so you should definitely look into that and get information about that and the Star Spangle Banner National Historic Trail which I was proud to be a part of establishing in the run up to the bicentennial celebration.

And then just a final point, this didn’t happen on the House side but over on the Senate side this week there was testimony from Justice John Paul Stevens, about the issue of money in politics. And the hearing was called “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Election and Beyond.” So it’s on the topic of big money affecting our campaigns and affecting the way government works. And Justice Stevens has gone public now that he has retired, with his concerns about where the court is headed. Certainly we agree with him on that and that’s one of reasons we are pursuing the Government By the People Act and the MyVoice Campaign, to empower everyday citizens to say “my voice… does count!” So that was an interesting hearing on the Senate side. The Senate was unable to make much progress on a minimum wage bill, unfortunately, so I’m not sure we are going to get the result there that we have been pushing for. I’d like to see the minimum wage raised at the federal level. The Senate did announce additional sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

So that’s a round up of the events of the last week, and stay tuned for next week’s summary.

Take care.