August 3, 2018
This week we learned that the Trump Administration is planning another tax cut on top of the $1.5 TRILLION tax cut he gave the richest Americans last year. Now, Trump is floating a $100 BILLION regulatory maneuver that would further reduce their taxes, a proposed change in the capital gains tax. This is money paid when investments are sold at a profit and it is already taxed at a much lower rate than the income tax most working people pay. The administration’s proposal bypasses Congress completely and is therefore a legally questionable approach. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to “lay and collect Taxes”. Where is the President’s plan to help Americans dealing with higher health care and housing costs, struggling to afford college and put healthy food on the table? This is an outrageous and irresponsible drain on the federal budget. There is just no end to their efforts to redistribute wealth to those who need it the least.
I am greatly concerned about a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program, “Quiet Skies” recently detailed in the Boston Globe. Many questions have been raised about a program under which thousands of innocent Americans were put under surveillance for the flimsiest of reasons. This surveillance appears to have continued after a passenger exited the terminal to the airport curb, which also allowed air marshals to record who picked up innocent Americans at the airport.
I wrote the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General demanding he conduct an audit of the “Quiet Skies” program, evaluating its compliance with the law, impact on personal privacy and overall effectiveness.
I am asking the IG to specifically answer the following questions:
- Was any analysis done of the program’s privacy impacts and compliance with privacy laws? Was any attempt made to minimize those privacy impacts? If so, how is that being accomplished?
- To what extent were legal implications considered in setting up a surveillance program targeting individuals not actually on any watch list or suspected of illegal activity?
- Does the Quiet Skies program have an established list of goals and metrics it aims to achieve?
- Is the Transportation Security Administration evaluating whether those goals are being met?
- Has the program proven effective under the Transportation Security Administration’s own metrics or when evaluated against other programs?
- Did the Transportation Security Administration evaluate the program in comparison to other uses of their limited funding and decide that this was the best use of funds?
The TSA plays an important airport safety role but the “Quiet Skies” program raises some concerning questions about privacy and legality.
I met this week with J Street to talk about the importance of a sustained peace process to seek a two state solution to the tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. J Street, which defines itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace”, is also deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s reckless approach to Iran. They recognize that Iran must not become a nuclear power. Diplomacy and concerted multi-lateral action, not bellicose tweets, would be a wiser approach, and one more likely to be effective. Conflicts between our two countries could escalate quickly. We also talked about efforts to halt the Netanyahu government’s demolition of Palestinian villages in the West Bank, which J Street fears will make creation of a viable Palestinian state unlikely if not impossible. J Street asked me to continue insisting that our Constitution gives to Congress and Congress alone the authority to declare war or commit United States troops to combat operations. We had a thoughtful and productive exchange, and I appreciate their time and their commitment to negotiation and diplomacy.
American Jewish Committee
I also met with members of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) this week. They impressed me with their concern for immigrants and refugees. They sought my help to preserve Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which the Trump administration is systematically revoking. TPS is a legal status given to immigrants from countries ravaged by civil conflict or natural disaster and to which it may still be too dangerous to return. Many of these persons have lived in the United States for years, putting down roots, contributing to their communities and raising families, many of which include U.S. citizen children. Once more, the Trump administration has no hesitation in ripping families apart. I assured them I would do all in my power to help. They also suggested the United States work with the Organization of American States (OAS) to address the root causes of migration from South and Central America, poverty, crime, and lack of good governance. They asked my support for some pending bills, H. R. 1221, the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Act of 2017, to support people-to-people peace initiatives, and H. R. 1911, to create a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism world-wide. I am already a member of the House Anti-Semitism Task Force and have been concerned, as the AJC has been, by the deeply troubling resurgence of this hateful prejudice in many places, including Western democracies, even our own. We all recall with horror the neo-Nazi outrages in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer and President Trump’s shameful equivocation in their aftermath. It was encouraging to meet with such good citizens, and I am grateful for their commitment to the rights of all persons.
Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.
- According to July 2018 media reports, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior will no longer require energy companies drilling for oil to repair any damage they do to public lands during this process. Until now, companies seeking to drill on land owned by the federal government were required to provide compensation for any destruction caused by their activities. This administration has shown repeatedly that they are more interested in prioritizing business interests over environmental concerns.
- In July 2018 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced that they filed a Freedom of Information request with the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting all communication with White House officials regarding plans for the FBI headquarters. Last year, the White House abruptly cancelled plans to move the headquarters despite the fact that the process was already fairly far along. The current plan is to renovate the existing headquarters, which is located near the Trump hotel in D.C. Questions have been raised about Trump’s motive for cancelling the FBI move, including speculation that he did it to avoid another hotel being built on the site of the existing headquarters, creating more competition for his hotel. Now Trump is apparently taking an active interest in what the renovated FBI headquarters will look like since it is so close to his own property. The GSA has also raised concerns that simply renovating the building won’t adequately account for security requirements. CREW’s documents request should shed light on the behind the scenes maneuvering over the FBI headquarters.
- According to a July 2018 New York Times report, the need for affordable housing is escalating with far too many people devoting too much of their monthly income to rent. Affordable housing construction is not keeping up with the need and rents are rising. While the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HDU) defines cost-burdened families as those who spend more than 30% of their income on housing, the Times reports that millions of households today are paying over 70% of their income just on housing leaving next to nothing for life’s other necessities, let alone planning for retirement or their children’s futures. The Trump administration’s answer to addressing this crisis? Shrinking the HUD budget which already doesn’t cover 4 out of the 5 households whose incomes would qualify them for HUD’s programs, and raising rents on the lowest income tenants currently receiving federal assistance. This is not a solution or a plan to address the growing affordability crisis – it is making life measurably worse for too many low income families.
What’s Up Next
The House is currently in a District Work period. The next House votes will occur on Tuesday September 4th.