Following a busy week in Washington, here is an update on a few important issues and priorities facing our region and state.
House Votes Yes on Key Investments in Eastern Connecticut
On Wednesday, I helped pass a package of appropriations bills to fund a number of critical federal agencies in 2020, including the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Defense. I am proud to have fought for a wide range of important provisions for our region. These include increased funding for special education programs, Title I education grants to towns and cities, and magnet school assistance programs, as well as increased funding for childhood and K-12 education, and for expansions in student aid. Our bill also provided strong support to apprenticeships, workforce training, and other pathways to quality careers – all critical investments as our region focuses on expanding our manufacturing sector.
As Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, I worked to ensure that the bill also included strong support for important defense manufacturing programs for our region and state. I am particularly proud that the bill we approved on Wednesday provides funding to ramp up construction on Virginia-class submarines, and to start work on a third Virginia-class submarine – the first time the House-passed defense funding bill supports an increase beyond the two-per-year rate. The bill also provides strong support for other programs critical to our state’s shipbuilding and aerospace manufacturing sectors, like the Columbia-class submarine, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the CH-53K Marine Corps helicopter, and others.
We’re still working through the FY2020 appropriations process here in the House, and Wednesday’s passage of this first round of spending bills was an encouraging sign that our bipartisan work on the House Armed Services Committee and the Seapower Subcommittee is paying off.
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Congressman Courtney presided over the House during debate on amendments on this week’s omnibus spending bill
Proposing a Reliable and Cost-Effective Standard for Pyrrhotite Testing
This week, I offered an amendment to dedicate $4 million in federal funding to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) towards research on the effects of the mineral pyrrhotite on concrete aggregate. As we have worked to respond to the crumbling foundations crisis on the local, state and federal levels, one key gap in addressing the problem has been the lack of reliable standards for evaluating the quantity of pyrrhotite in concrete that causes degradation. There are efforts underway today by the University of Connecticut and others to explore this missing element – but it is clear to me that more can and should be done to help homeowners and communities understand what amount of pyrrhotite creates cracking in concrete foundations.
That is why I offered my amendment. NIST is the leading federal authority on cement and concrete standards, and my amendment will help bring the agency’s expertise towards developing the best practices for testing for the presence of pyrrhotite in concrete that’s being used in residential, commercial and municipal structures. I was encouraged that the House voted unanimously to adopt my amendment on Wednesday night, and look forward to final passage next week of the underlying legislation.
This week also saw progress in another important part of responding to the crisis on the federal level. Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a package of ‘tax extenders’ that includes an extension of the federal mortgage debt forgiveness policy I have championed in the House. This provision would ensure that homeowners who receive “income” from mortgage modifications, short sales, and foreclosures are not subjected to federal taxation. For some homeowners facing crumbling foundations, these tools are an important way for them to address the financial impact they face. While this policy expired at the end of 2017, I have pushed for action to extend it, and the movement in committee this week is a good step that I hope the full House will follow up on soon.
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Congressman Courtney visited Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland in March to assess the signs of the school’s crumbling foundations
Honoring A 75-Year-Long Commitment To Our Service Members
On June 6th we honored the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, and tomorrow marks another important anniversary: 75 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill was the federal government’s way to honor the sacrifice of all those who served and provide them with an opportunity to build a future for themselves and their families with education benefits and stipends following the war.
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The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which I helped pass in my first term in Congress, is a measure meant to honor the service of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the same way that FDR’s G.I. Bill did for World War II veterans. A powerful component of our bill was the ability service members with more than 16 years of service to transfer their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to eligible dependents. Last summer, however, the Department of Defense announced that they’d be cancelling this popular provision for some of our longest-tenured service members. This ill-advised move is set to take place on July 12 – just a few short weeks away – and I’m working to prevent it.
Last week, the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment I authored to prevent the Secretary of Defense from moving forward with this misguided plan. Restricting our most-seasoned veterans’ ability to transfer their benefits was pitched as a cost-saving measure—but in reality, such a change will cost our Armed Services dearly in morale, and in recruiting and retainment efforts. This week, I spoke more about my amendment on the House floor as we approach the 75th Anniversary of FDR’s signing of the G.I. Bill. Watch HERE.
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A Productive 6 Months
Last Friday, I joined the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut for discussions on efforts to grow our region’s economy, and to talk about some of the work we’ve done here in the House since the new majority came to Congress in January. The last six months have seen us advance key legislation in the House that people have been waiting years for. In May we passed the bipartisan SECURE Act by an overwhelming margin of 417-3, the bill that boosts retirement savings and reverses unfair taxes on Gold Star families. We also voted unanimously to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in May (the Senate followed suit in June) and the bill now awaits the President’s signature. In February, the House voted address glaring gaps in the background check process to prevent gun violence when we passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. We’ve also passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which takes steps to end gender-based wage discrimination; the For the People Act, a package of sweeping reforms to remove dark money from politics and impose new, higher standards of ethics on elected officials; the Save the Internet Act, which restores bipartisan net neutrality protections; and more.
We’ve had a busy and productive first six months—despite opening with the longest government shutdown in history—and we’ve got more work ahead. The Day highlighted just some of our progress in an article last week: read the full article here.
Joe Courtney, member of Congress