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Congressman Capuano's
E-UPDATE
An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano
7th Congressional District of Massachusetts


9,194 subscribers

May 15, 2015

Amtrak

I am deeply saddened by the precious lives lost as a result of the Amtrak train derailment on the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who mourn. Many passengers suffered injuries and I wish them a speedy recovery.

As the Ranking Member on the Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, I traveled to the crash site Wednesday evening, along with Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jeff Denham. In addition to expressing our condolences and thanking first responders, we thought it was important to connect with investigators and understand more fully some of the challenges they are facing.

Questions have already been raised about speed, track conditions and the effectiveness of existing safety measures. At this writing, we do not yet have a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. The investigation is underway although far from complete. The House was already in the midst of a debate about future funding for Amtrak and I expect those discussions to continue with some urgency.

Trade

Congress is expected to soon consider several trade agreements and I wanted to take some time this week to share my general thoughts on these upcoming votes. Trade agreements between the United States and other counties, or a group of countries, are negotiated by the President and Executive Branch officials. Like all treaties with foreign nations and the laws that implement them, these agreements are subject to Congressional approval. Historically, Congress has had the authority to agree, reject, or amend any proposed trade agreements submitted for ratification. If Congress amended the agreements, the President was then required to re-negotiate them in order to incorporate the changes.

In the recent past, however, Presidents have requested Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), more commonly known as “Fast Track”. TPA significantly limits the voice of the legislative branch. A vote on granting the President TPA is expected soon in the House. TPA limits Congressional action on a trade agreement to a simple up or down vote. By approving TPA, Congress agrees to give up its right to amend the agreement, and we are being asked to do so before any agreement is even finalized.

Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, was first approved for deals negotiated between 1975 and 1980. It was extended from 1981 to 1988; and then again for trade agreements between 1989 and 1994. Fast Track was later re-adopted for deals negotiated between 2002 and 2011.

Once again, Congress is expected to consider TPA or Fast Track. I think it is unwise for any Member of Congress to surrender our constitutional responsibilities without knowing exactly why this step is necessary and what specifically Congress is agreeing to. I voted against Fast Track Authorization in 2002 and I fully expect to vote no again this year.

The reason TPA is being considered is because the Obama Administration is currently negotiating two trade deals. Details are very limited but here is a brief overview of them:

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

  • This is a trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. It is notable that China, Taiwan and South Korea are NOT part of this agreement.
  • The agreement is not yet finalized.
  • The President has declared the draft agreement CLASSIFIED. This means that Members of Congress, unaccompanied by staff, are allowed to read it under very specific conditions. It must be reviewed only in a secure location and we cannot make a copy. If we take notes, they must be surrendered before leaving the secure location. The draft agreement cannot be discussed with anyone for any reason, with the exception of other Members of Congress.

In my early professional life, I was a tax lawyer and considered myself a tax law expert. Even then, I always tried to discuss tax issues with other professionals. I thought these discussions were important for many reasons. I wanted to hear the perspective of others and make sure I wasn’t missing some aspect of an issue. This process always helped me to more fully understand the issue at hand.

I am not a trade expert. In order to learn as much as I can about these issues, it’s important for me to discuss them with as many knowledgeable individuals as possible: business and labor leaders, human rights and environmental activists, economists and historians, as wide a variety of practitioners as possible. To render this sort of research illegal because all of the details are classified makes no sense to me. I am instead forced to discuss the deals in broad strokes and generalities and, remember, the deal isn’t even finalized yet so no one can really speak with authority about what it will ultimately look like.

Given these circumstances, it is highly unlikely I will get to a point where I feel my understanding of the complicated issues involved in TPP is adequate to cast a responsible vote on the treaty. When I am unsure about any issue, I walk a careful path and tend to listen much more closely to people I usually agree with, people who see the world as I do and share my principles. Therefore, since I am legally prohibited from discussing any details of the TPP now available to Members of Congress, AND because the agreement is not yet in final form, I will likely vote NO on TPP. If the Administration makes the full text of the deal public and it seems reasonable to me and to others whose judgment I respect, I may reconsider. At this writing, however, no such document is available.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

The second trade deal expected to be considered under TPA or Fast Track Authority is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This trade agreement is being negotiated between the United States and the 28-member European Union. All of the restrictions in place for TPP are in place for TTIP. That agreement is not finalized yet either. But unlike with TPP, there is no draft or outline of TTIP available to Members of Congress. Once a draft is ready for review, it will probably be classified and subject to the same restrictive rules as TPP.

Our Constitution gives Congress serious foreign policy responsibilities, including the ratification of treaties. I have long been troubled by the unwillingness of administrations, both Republican and Democratic, to recognize this constitutional requirement and the wisdom of involving Congress in foreign policy.

you are interested in learning more about these trade issues, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has prepared a thorough review: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43491.pdf

Clean Water Act

On Tuesday the House considered H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act. This legislation prevents the Administration from updating rules making it easier to assess which bodies of water are subject to the Clean Water Act. The Administration has been finalizing a rule and H.R. 1732 would require them to stop working on it, even though it is almost complete. This is nothing more than an effort to weaken the Clean Water Act. The Administration has already stated that H.R. 1732 will be vetoed. I voted NO. H.R. passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

237

0

0

7

DEMOCRAT

24

155

0

9

TOTAL

261

155

0

16

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

8

0

1

Women’s Health

This week the House considered H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This legislation prohibits abortions after 20 weeks. The legislation does not go far enough to protect the health of the mother. Many serious medical conditions can develop after 20 weeks, including heart conditions and some types of cancer. H.R. 36 does not contain an exemption if a woman’s doctor determines continuing the pregnancy will result in serious medical consequences for her. H.R. 36 also requires adult rape victims to either seek counseling or report the rape to authorities before obtaining an abortion. Documentation must be provided that this requirement was fulfilled, which would be placed in their medical file. Victims of incest and minors who are raped must comply with similar restrictions. H.R. 36 is nothing more than an attempt to undermine Roe v. Wade. The Administration has previously indicated that H.R. 36 would be vetoed. I voted NO. H.R. 36 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

238

4

0

1

DEMOCRAT

4

180

0

4

TOTAL

242

184

0

5

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Patriot Act

On Wednesday the House considered H.R. 2048, the USA Freedom Act. In part, this legislation reauthorizes Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in June. This is the section of the law that allows for the collection of “any tangible thing”. It has been the basis for bulk collection of phone records and other metadata. I have voted against the Patriot Act every time it has come before the House due to my concerns over individual liberties and privacy. H.R. 2048 represents an important step in the right direction, but only, in my opinion, if one accepts the premise that keeping the Patriot Act in place is good for America. I do applaud the authors of this legislation because it limits the collection of data under section 215. I hope it is a first step in re-asserting the right to privacy for all Americans. However, since I deeply fear that H.R. 2048 is offered as the LAST change to the Patriot Act, I could not support it. I will continue doing all I can to restore our right to privacy from both government and corporate intrusion. I voted NO. H.R. 2048 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

196

47

0

1

DEMOCRAT

142

41

0

5

TOTAL

338

88

0

6

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

5

4

0

0

Defense Authorization

Today the House considered H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. H.R. 1735 authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and related programs. This funding comes in higher than allocated under sequestration, although domestic funding is still subject to that limit. Although this legislation does contain some provisions that I do support, such as those strengthening the military’s response to sexual assault and pay raises for military personnel, there was too much in H.R. 1735 that I do not support. I am concerned that defense spending continues to be exempt from sequestration. I continue to be concerned about the unequal treatment of defense and nondefense spending. If the sequestration caps are lifted for defense, then non defense spending should get the same consideration. I voted NO. H.R. 1735 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

228

8

0

8

DEMOCRAT

41

143

0

4

TOTAL

269

151

0

12

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Iran

Yesterday the House considered H.R. 1191, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. This legislation requires the President to present any agreement reached on Iran’s nuclear program to Congress within 5 days of its completion. It also prevents the Administration from lessening in any way the current sanctions on Iran for a specified period of time, giving Congress an opportunity to review the agreement. I voted YES. H.R. 1191 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

223

19

0

2

DEMOCRAT

177

6

0

5

TOTAL

400

25

0

7

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

9

0

0

0

What’s Up Next

Votes are scheduled for Monday May 18th. The House is expected to continue consideration of FY 2016 appropriations bills as well as legislation on the Highway Trust Fund.

Mike


Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Ethics
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

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