The State of the 5th Congressional District in 2016
We are fortunate people. We are fortunate because we stand out in a way that no other people in America stand out; we are from Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District. The people who live in El Paso, Teller, Park, Chaffee, and Fremont Counties are a diverse mixture of hard-working individuals who contribute to society in so many ways. From our men and women in uniform, to the people who work hard in the non-profit sector, to those who selflessly volunteer in their community or place of worship, we have the highest caliber of people in the United States of America.
These peerless individuals ensure that the State of the Fifth Congressional District is strong. However, we are facing some challenges from the Federal Government in Washington DC that I am working hard to address, namely the malfeasance at the VA, the shrinking Defense Budget in the face of a dangerous world, and a regulatory climate that inhibits more robust economic growth.
[ VA MALFEASANCE ]
The current malfeasance in the VA is shameful. Each and every person who honorably serves this nation deserves to be cared for in a timely and honest manner. There should be a rock-solid bond of trust between the veteran and their caregiver. Unfortunately, the VA does not seem to recognize or care that this trust has been damaged almost beyond repair.
When veterans die or take their own lives because they are kept on falsified waiting lists that prevent them from receiving timely access to care, the instantaneous response from VA leadership should be to fire any and all employees who enabled this tragedy to take place. Instead, fewer than five employees were fired nationwide in the wake of recent scandals. Congress stepped forward to provide VA leadership with more funding to increase staffing, more authority to fire failing employees, and the ability to provide veterans access to private sector care if and when the VA healthcare network became overwhelmed. VA leadership has categorically refused to fully embrace each of these solutions put forward and supported by myself and my colleagues on the VA Committee.
This problem is not something in the abstract happening far away from us—it is also taking place even at our new VA Clinic here in Colorado Springs. The VA Inspector General released a report which found that 64% of the cases reviewed at the Colorado Springs VA Clinic were experiencing wait times in excess of 30 days and that the VA staff were falsifying records to make excessive wait times disappear from the record.
This report makes me furious. I am sick and tired of not getting the outcome that taxpayers are paying for. I have personally confronted the VA Secretary and the Deputy Secretary about this report, and this Friday I will join Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet, and Mayor Suthers for a briefing at the clinic from VA leadership. We will hold hearings on this matter to continue to probe what happened and why, and how to fix it as well as how to ensure we hold the VA accountable. I believe that the time has come for more and more private sector healthcare options to be given to our brave veterans.
It is morally imperative that President Obama rein in his out-of-control VA Department. They are failing our veterans. Caring for veterans is vitally important to me. It’s why I have four veterans on my staff and why the overwhelming majority of my casework and my constituent outreach involve assisting and communicating with veterans. I will not relent until our veterans are receiving the care they have earned from the VA.
[ COLORADO SPRINGS’ ROLE IN STRONG NATIONAL DEFENSE ]
Shifting to those who are still serving in uniform and going into harm’s way, we must remember that our military has now been at war for 15 years. Over the past six years, it has suffered from budget cuts totaling over a trillion dollars, thanks partly to a President with other priorities and partly to mindless sequestration that indiscriminately treats every dollar of federal spending equally—whether for defense or for pork. As a result, our military faces a crisis: Our Air Force is the smallest and oldest it’s ever been, the Navy has 260 ships—the smallest since World War II—and the Army and Marine Corps risk dropping below 450,000 and 190,000 soldiers and Marines, respectively—the absolute bare minimum levels our commanders say we need to fulfill our missions.
Given these unwise cuts, combined with an utter vacuum of American leadership and resolve, it’s no coincidence that the last few years have seen radical Jihadism metastasize across the Middle East and North Africa, a revisionist Russia exert its will in Ukraine and Syria, China aggressively bully and coerce its neighbors, and Iran and North Korea continue to develop their nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, accompanied of course by increasingly reckless saber-rattling.
The world is truly desperate for American leadership, and rebuilding our military is absolutely vital to our being able to lead, to “speak softly and carry a big stick”, as Teddy Roosevelt said. Our Defense Department has had to make false choices among bad options for too long. That’s why I’m working through my seat as a senior Member of the Armed Services Committee to restore at least $15 billion of funding for defense this year—money that Obama thinks we can save by cutting troops, military readiness, and investments in critical future defense technology. The President himself signed this higher defense spending into law in the budget deal we just agreed to three months ago.
I will also continue to work on defense reform, ensuring that each and every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely and well. But we must wake up and realize that defense is not the driver of our debt, especially over the long-term. We must give our fighting men and women the resources they need to deter, fight, and win wars. Likewise, we must ensure we keep pay and benefits competitive so that we can continue to recruit and retain our best and brightest.
The good news is that as we rebuild our military, Colorado Springs will continue to have an increasingly vital role to play. As the Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said when I brought him to visit the District 18 months ago, this District is the future of defense. Missions like space, ballistic missile defense, and cyber are increasingly important to the modern battlefield, especially as our need grows to keep up with ever-accelerating threats. Through my Armed Services Committee work, and my Co-Chairing the Space Power Caucus, the Direct Energy Caucus, and the Missile Defense Caucus, I will continue to advocate for important District priorities.
For America to continue to be the greatest nation in the world, we must keep business and commerce strong. They create livelihoods for hundreds of millions of Americans. However, there are times when the federal government overburdens the private sector with taxes that are too high or regulations that are too onerous. That’s where I come in as your Representative.
The Republican Majority in Congress is committed to empowering the American people to make their own economic decisions, and we’re doing what we can to remove obstacles hindering the pursuit of their dreams.
The best thing that I can do for the Fifth Congressional District in Congress is to support, with my votes, a low-tax and low-regulation climate that allows business to thrive. I’ve done exactly that by supporting the following pieces of recent legislation just in the past few months.
In December, I supported H.R. 2029, a bill that made a variety of tax reduction and relief provisions permanent. Among them were the Research and Development Tax Credit, and a two year moratorium on the Medical Device Tax. This legislation prevented an end-of-year tax increase on millions of Americans and allowed businesses to plan on firmer financial footing.
I also supported the REINS Act, which curbs unnecessary major regulations from unaccountable agencies. The REINS Act requires agencies to submit major regulations to Congress for approval defined as regulations with an impact of $100 million or more per year on the economy.
Another bill that I was pleased to support was H.R. 1155, the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act. This bill establishes a Retrospective Regulatory Review Commission to review existing federal regulations to identify and recommend to Congress regulations that should be repealed to reduce unnecessary regulatory costs to the U.S. economy.
I also voted in favor of the PATH Act’s permanent tax extenders that protect Americans from tax increases, create jobs in our local communities, and make the process of doing your taxes easier. This legislation also reins in many IRS large tax credit programs, eliminates government fraud and abuse, and offers tax relief for American families and businesses.
This month, I voted to support H.R. 1675, a bill designed to reduce the regulatory burdens being placed on small businesses. This legislation encourages employee ownership, ensures fair access to investment research, simplifies the processes surrounding mergers, acquisitions, and disclosures, and streamlines excessive and costly regulations review.
It is simply incredible to contemplate the prosperity and happiness that have been enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Americans due to our economic system. The jobs and the opportunities created have empowered people to own homes, raise families, contribute to their favorite charities, and participate as active members of their community. I will continue to be a strong advocate for policies that empower the individual citizen to pursue and achieve their dreams with the minimum amount of onerous government interference.
Our Congressional District is full of success stories and positive prospects on the horizon. In Chaffee County, there is a burgeoning unmanned aerial vehicle economy, a business incubator, and exciting residential and commercial development in the South Main area.
In Park County, I am working hard to connect with rural veterans to inform them of the availability of private sector healthcare resources. I also want to commend Sheriff Fred Wegener for the commendable job his team is doing in dealing with a difficult law enforcement situation created by marijuana legalization in neighboring counties.
In Teller County, I am grateful to the County Commissioners and their collaborative partners who are working on a far-reaching technology study designed to assess ways to improve broadband internet and cellular service in the Ute Pass region. The outcomes of this study could have a profound impact on that area’s economy in the years ahead.
In Fremont County, the newly built attractions at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park have had a tremendously important economic impact to the local and regional economies, and I am so glad to see the Park continue better than ever!
Here in El Paso County, the incoming economic impact of new jobs at Sierra Completions, the future opportunities and attention offered by the Catalyst Campus, the upcoming National Cyber Intelligence Center, and the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Schriever, the dedicated focus being placed on important local infrastructure needs, the upcoming completion of the Southern Delivery System, which secures our water future, the Olympic Museum and efforts to tether Colorado Springs to the respected Olympic brand, expanded guest and community amenities at the Broadmoor, and the renovation of the Antlers, represent a handful of the many positive developments happening locally. I want to thank each and every person involved not only in these projects, but in any community-minded organization or effort that I was not able to mention here today.
As I look out in this room, I am absolutely confident that we are blessed in the Pikes Peak region with the best and the brightest people who will continue to dedicate themselves to the long-term health and growth of our community.
I pledge to you that I will continue to do everything I can to minimize the interference you receive from Washington DC, and that I will work hard to encourage and support your efforts. In partnering with one another, I know that we will continue to keep the State of the Fifth Congressional District strong for many years to come. This District is strong, and America is strong. That’s why I know that peace and freedom, prosperity and opportunity, are in our future and our children’s future.
Thank you, God Bless America, and I would be happy to take your questions.