Community members were able to ask questions and share their concerns with a local representative.
Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton was one of the speakers for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce Congressional Series.
She spoke about legislation and various topics, including the Rural Crescent and the NRA, at the chamber’s headquarters in Manassas on September 4.
Wexton represents District 10, which includes Manassas and Manassas Park.
Here is a video of the discussion.
This is the video transcription:
Well, I’m delighted to be here with you this morning. I’m so pleased to see such a great turnout. I have been serving in Congress now for eight months. It’s hard to believe that I’m now one third of the way through my first term. These two-year terms really are for the birds. I had a four-year term in the Senate, and that was much more humane. But it’s been a wild adventure thus far.
Now, you may recall that we came in in the middle of a shutdown, and even though it was a partial shutdown, it really had a devastating impact on so many constituents and businesses in my district, because I represent Dulles Airport; I represent the FAA in Leesburg, and so many businesses who liaise with DHS and other agencies that were shut down. So it was really rough. We voted in the House of Representatives 13 times to reopen all or part of the government, and it really wasn’t until the FAA and the air traffic controllers reached their breaking point that the shutdown ended. But once it ended, we were off to the races, and we started passing really positive, proactive legislation in the House of Representatives.
Personally, I serve on two committees. I serve on Financial Services and Science, Space, and Technology, which are great committees for me and for the district. I have authored and passed two bills out of the House of Representatives, one of which cracks down on financial crime. That is a bill that I’m very proud of, and I cosponsored it with Denver Riggleman, who was another fellow freshman from Virginia, a Republican from the fifth district who serves with me on Financial Services. And another bill which expands federal research on opioid addiction, and it will help us fill some of those research gaps. Both of those passed the House of Representatives with broad bipartisan support. We have a lot of interest in the Senate on the opioid bill. I expect that there will be a bill coming through the Senate, hopefully in the next few months, and that we’ll be able to get that actually passed.
I have introduced a number of other bills that are of interest to my constituents. One which would help protect consumers from the effects of shutdowns with Financial Services; another one that would help empower law enforcement for transfer of firearms and weapons under the National Firearms Act. This is something that came to my awareness after the Virginia Beach shooting, about the transfer of silencers and other dangerous weapons under that act, that law enforcement used to be involved in that process, and they have been taken out. So I wanted to put them back in, and that bill, I hope, will be moving in the not too distant future.
And another bill I’m particularly proud of, which is for the personal needs allowance for Medicaid recipients in nursing homes. This is kind of a niche interest, but when we have seniors and other people living in nursing homes, they receive only $30 a month for their personal needs, and that means things like a cell phone if they’re going to talk to their family or text with their grandchildren; it means sometimes things like personal hygiene items, clothing. It means things like adult diapers sometimes, in some of these facilities. And that does not allow them any money to do anything. It hasn’t been raised since, I think, 1992… ’89. But in today’s dollars, $30 is actually worth $14 today. So my bill doubles it. There’s a lot of interest among the folks in the nursing homes. We’ll see if we are able to get any traction on that bill.
I’ve also authored a number of amendments which have made it into legislation that has passed, things like improving the way that the FCC collects data in order to determine where we have access to rural broadband and where we don’t… because one of the things that we discovered in trying to get rural broadband out to universal… making that a reality, universal broadband… is that we don’t know what we don’t know, because the way that the FCC has been collecting data is by census tract, and if one home or one business in the entire census tract is served by high speed internet, then it counts as the whole area having access. So they can definitely drill down and get more granular in the way that they collect data. They have not yet done so, but I have an amendment that directs them to do so forthwith. That was very well received, as well.
Another amendment that I have, was attached to the NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, which is something that is a Must Pass, which always has a lot of good things for the region in it. But it deals with helping to speed the process by which people are able to transition from a security clearance, TS/SCI clearance in the military intelligence sector, into the private or civil intelligence sector. That’s something that I hear again and again, and maybe some of you are affected by it in your businesses, where there’s this delay in getting security clearances, and when people are transitioning from the military into one of… for example, the three-letter agencies in the federal government, or into one of those contractor positions that requires the TS/SCI… They are having to reinvent the wheel and start all over again, so there’s got to be a way to speed that along, and I have an amendment which helps study that process and figure out ways to speed it along.
We have passed a number of bills which are beneficial to business and small business, out of the House of Representatives. I will tell you that one of the main things when we go back… We go back next week, and as you guys are probably aware, our fiscal year ends on September 30th, and so not shutting down the government again is going to be a top priority. In the House of Representatives, we have passed 11 out of the 13 appropriations bills that we would need to fully found the government for the next year. The Senate has passed exactly zero. So I am optimistic and expect that we will pass those remaining two out of the House of Representatives in the next few weeks, and I hope that the Senate will also move along, but it’s looking like we’re going to have probably a CR for the short term, and hopefully we’ll be able to get those bills passed, the appropriations process done and completed before we recess again in December.
Another bill that passed out of the House that may be of interest to this group is the Secure Act. It provides incentives for retirement planning among businesses. It provides extra tax incentives for businesses who set up retirement plans as an initial matter for small businesses. And it also allows multi-employer pensions, which had not been the case. It allows it across business groups or business types. So it just broadens who can pool together in multi-employer pensions. That has been very well received. That bill, also, there is a Senate version, which we expect will be moving, so I’m hoping that we will be able to pass that out of both houses. The appropriations bill that passed out of the House had about a billion dollars for the SBA and increased the funding for the Office of Entrepreneurial Development and Women’s Business Centers. Hopefully we will see that go through.
One of the things I’m proud of that I have done is that I have, along with Representative David Rouzer from North Carolina, who is a Republican from the Wilmington area, who has a lot of other things on his mind this morning… but we have launched the Bipartisan Congressional Agritourism Caucus. This is something that I’m very proud of. My district includes parts of Fairfax, Prince William, all of Loudon, Clark, and Frederick Counties. And one of the things that we’ve seen in that suburban to rural component is that preserving the rural character of, in this case, western Loudon, parts of Prince William, Clark, and Frederick, is really important to a lot of people. And we’ve had great success in my home county of Loudon with the agritourism sector in doing things like farm markets and you-picks, and of course the wineries and things like that that our region is known for.
But what I found in the rural part of the district is that a lot of the commercial agricultural producers have really been hurt by rock bottom wholesale commodity prices, and that a number of them have had to diversify by creating that retail component: building farm stands and having things like opening up their farms to festivals a couple times a year and things like that.
It’s turned out to be a wonderful, symbiotic relationship with the areas around them, because as the areas develop and we have more of the suburban encroachment, a lot of people in the suburbs are young families; they want to take their kids out and show them where the produce grows and see the animals and things like that, but it also provides the growers a retail component where they can charge a better price and a premium for that fresh produce and that experience, and it’s really been a great way for folks to be able to resist the urge to have to sell their property out to develop… to allow them to continue to work the land. I have so many people who have lived on their pieces of property for generations and want the next generation and want their children to be able to continue to work on the land. So that is something that I’m very proud of.
I have spent the August recess… It has not been a recess for me. I have traveled all around the district and have visited over 70 businesses and nonprofits and places throughout the district, including not just the agritourism tours and things like that, but a lot of the manufacturing businesses that I have in the district. It’s encouraging to see that we still make things in this country, despite what you may hear. [inaudible 00:11:45] is a perfect example, and I’m sure you guys are very familiar with their big expansion, and they’re going to be one of the top producers of the processors in the world. Even in the western part of my district, HP Hood has a dairy processing plant which services the entire east of the Rockies and parts of Canada. Capri Sun makes juice pouches and drink mixes and things, which, same thing: go all over the place. So it’s been wonderful to get to know my district better.
When we return from recess, as I pointed out at the beginning, appropriations passed are going to be the most important order of business. We also need to start talking more about USMCA, because that is the NAFTA 2.0, another important thing that’s going to be coming down the pipe. And finally, gun violence prevention. This is something that’s so important to me; it’s one of the reasons that I ran for office in the first place, and the time has finally come to do something about it.
We passed, back in February, universal background checks and closing the Charleston loophole out of the House of Representatives. It has sat in the Senate since that time. I do hope that the Senate will take it up, but we will continue moving forward on other bills; things like extreme risk protective orders and some other things, in the House of Representatives when we return after recess.
That’s a lot about what I’ve been up to, but I would love to hear what’s on your mind and answer any questions that you may have… or at least, do my best to do so.
This is just a curiosity question. You mentioned about the $30 for people in nursing homes… I wasn’t aware of that, but is that in addition to Medicaid, or is that part of Medicaid…?
When somebody goes on Medicaid in a nursing home facility, they have to basically divest themselves of their assets, and all their income goes into paying for the placement, and they’re only allowed to keep $30 from their monthly income.
Oh, I see. That was just a curiosity question.
Now my real question is this: I would like to think that some of the people who are on the Republican side who are… according to news reports, anyway… are kind of the stumbling block when it comes to doing something about gun control. These have got to be good people… Not all of them, but most of them have got to be good people. So what is the real reason why we can’t move forward on that?
Well, I think the main person who is preventing anything from happening is Mitch McConnell.
That’s just one person, though.
Yeah, but I think it’s the power of the NRA. The NRA didn’t used to be the way that it is today. The NRA, when I was growing up, was about things like hunter safety and things like that. And now, it’s morphed into this organization which no longer represents the responsible gun owners; it represents the gun manufacturers, and their interest has become about selling as many guns to as many people in as many places as possible. There is such…
The rhetoric gets so heated about it, and any time you try to talk about any sort of reasonable restrictions it becomes, “Oh, you’re just a gun grabber, and you want to take all of our guns away,” which is not the truth. Which is not a fact. But if you look at the polling, and you look at how regular people feel about it, support for universal background check is anywhere from 89 to the mid-90 percents.
Across both parties. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And most gun owners are responsible gun owners and believe that it’s important that there be some kind of restrictions on it. Same thing. To drive a car, you have to take a course; you have to get a license; you have to do all this sort of stuff. You don’t have to do that to own a firearm. And there are these glaring gaps in the system, even with the background checks that we do have.
Some states have much more strict laws than others, but when you have a patchwork of regulations and rules across all 50 states, there’s always going to be gaps that people can take advantage of, and they do. We saw that with the most recent mass shooting down in Texas, the he had gotten rejected from a firearm dealer and so went and bought it at a private sale, which is perfectly legal, and unfortunate. The same thing with gun shows.
I think for years, the people on the “more guns” side, the NRA crowd, voted on this issue and this issue alone. And now we’re seeing more people vote on the gun violence prevention side, and turn that into an issue where they really ask about it, and they actually vote based on it. What I’ve seen, just in my short time involved in elected office and representative office… I spoke at a group under the Every Town umbrella. They had a gathering called Gun Sense University in Washington, DC. It was a group of Every Town/Moms Demand Action/Students Demand Action volunteers from across the country. They started having this gathering about seven years ago, and there were maybe 100 people who came to it. 90, 100 people who came to it. This year, they had almost 2,000 people who came from across the country, to come.
And it’s not just about advocating for legislation; it’s also things like, when your kids go over to play at somebody’s house, you need to have those conversations with the parents, and say, “Do you have guns in the house? How do you store them? Are they loaded? Are they locked up?” Those kind of things that parents don’t… used to always think about. But now you really have to, and you should. I know I’ve had some of those challenging conversations myself with other parents, and things like that.
So it’s definitely… The momentum is there, and I saw it in my election. Moms Demand and a lot of other advocates who were gun violence prevention advocates who were instrumental in my election. I hope… We just need to make sure to keep the pressure on, because I refuse to accept this fear and these mass shootings as the new normal. I’m just not going to accept it.
Good morning, Congresswoman.
It’s a pleasure to see you this morning, and thank you for the great work that you’re doing for us. I have a twofold question. One of the things that, when you were running… and I know you meet a lot of people, but we had a conversation about the elderly and protecting the elderly, and to see the progression that you’ve made in your seat to protect those that are in nursing homes… But there is also, I would ask if you would look into the piece about those living in assisted living, because that’s a portion that, there’s a protectiveness that’s needed there as well, in terms of the funding, in terms of quality of life. So I put that at your feet as well.
But the other piece is the rural crescent. You mentioned about the work that you’re doing in the rural crescent, and I would ask, are there any… What you’ve learned in the rural crescent and how we can help the farmers and how we can build homes in that area. What’s next steps in terms of blending that together, in terms of making sure that children are learning from an educational perspective, but the quality of life with families are there, and we’re protecting the farmers at a broader sense in those counties?
That’s going to take federal, state, and local partnerships.
And a lot of it’s going to come down to smart development decisions by the board of supervisors about when they… and in Loudon, we’re redoing our comp plan right now, and that’s been an issue about preserving the rural parts of the county. A lot of it’s going to come down to where we decide to put water and sewer, because that drives development more than just about anything.
So at the federal level, what I’m hoping we can do is talk about best practices when it comes to what has worked in the agritourism and in the agricultural realm, but also about the grants and things like that that might be able to help. At the state level, some of it could be with the extension service and the cooperatives and pushing down resources that way. I think it’s going to take all hands on deck, and it needs to start from having the mindset and the value that these are things that we do want to preserve, and we don’t want to just turn everything into suburban sprawl with one house per… or six houses per acre, or whatever it may be.
For us in Loudon, I know a lot of that is going to be leveraging the transit that we’re going to have from the Silver Line coming in and development, greater density in the eastern part where we have access to that transit. Here in Prince William, a lot of that can also be the case around VRE and things like that, where you have those kinds of patterns and that kind of development. But I know 66 is really the sprawling part that you guys have to deal with. But I think starting from that value, and doing what we can to encourage it.
One of the things that you mentioned earlier was regarding rural broadband access, and you mentioned we don’t know what we don’t know.
Ideally speaking, how would you like to see that moving forward? I know that as an electric cooperative, you always had an interest in starting to help rural areas, rural communities. In your view, what would you like to see happening? How would you actually like to see that moving forward? So often we hear people talking about, you want to make change, you want to build access to this, but there are always so many steps that go into creating that access that make sure people are able to get those resources.
So I think for the rural broadband, using the electrical access model is a good way to start, because we did have success with that model for groups like Novak, who do the underserved areas in that last mile that are able to do so. So I think first we need to know what we don’t know about who’s not served.
Second, what I’ve seen just from my brief time in elected office is that there’s such a rush to have 5G come in that there has been a lot of erosion of local control over the processes for permission for whatever kinds of cell towers or whatever the boxes are that they need for 5G, and the placement of those and where they’re going to go and what the fees and stuff are that are associated with it… that there was just… at least one of the things that I saw was a handing over of… limiting the rights of localities to put strings on those kinds of deployments of 5G technology. Where I would have preferred to see some kind of incentive for an exchange for that, to have an incentive for the telecom companies to build out the 4G or 3G to the places that don’t have it, to make sure that they have access.
Because that is something that sometimes is an issue for some of these agritourism places, and for agricultural producers general, because the big combines and stuff in the farmland in the bread basket of the country, they are autonomous, and they run based on satellite imagery and don’t necessarily have a person there driving it all the time. They’re driven by computers. In some of the rural parts of my district, when they try to do the FourSquare at the farm market, they have to get service or they have to go to one little corner and hold up the iPad in order to get it to work. So this is an issue, but I think first of all we need to know what we don’t know, and then second of all we need to go with the models that we know have worked in the past, and get the buy-in from the telecom companies.
Congresswoman, [inaudible]. I’m a political news and a chamber member. Over the July 4th holiday, the Virginia Sheriff’s Association told us there were zero beds for mental health patients who were ordered a temporary detention order. There was no place for these deputies to take mental patients to be seen and be treated for temporarily. We’re told that many officers and police departments across the state, and sheriff’s organizations across the state, spend an entire shift… maybe then some… someone comes in and has to relive that officer or deputy to sit with the temporary detained patient. What are you doing to give more assistant to these police departments and sheriff’s agencies across the state dealing with this mental health crisis?
Excellent question. This is something that has been a continuing issue, and I… Just so you know, my background, one of the things that I did before I went in to elected office was, I served as an attorney… both an attorney and a special justice at mental commitment hearings. Both before and after Virginia Tech, by the way. So I got to see a lot of the changes that were taking place there. But the lack of inpatient beds is a huge issue, and that’s one of the reasons that Creigh Deeds and the general assembly started the commission for the Division of Mental Health Services in the 21st century… which was supposed to be, by the way, a three-year project, and it has gone on now for I think six years. It doesn’t seem to have… I think it’s becoming a permanent committee.
Getting the list of available beds, making the state hospitals the beds of last resort has been helpful, but it still is an issue, and I understand that in Prince William it’s a little bit even worse. In some counties, they have drop off centers where they’re able to, if the person is not a severe danger to themselves or others, where they’re able to have a drop off 24 hours. In Frederick County, I believe that they do that. I know that in Loudon, we have one. But resources are key, and mental health… Having parity for mental health treatment along with physical health treatment is something that the ACA requires, and something where with Medicaid expansion, hopefully we will get better treatment on the front end.
But that’s part of the problem, is that we do not have a proactive system, and when we wait until things get to a crisis stage, we end up in a situation where we don’t have the resources to adequately care for people. So getting more beds is important. It’s challenging when the private hospitals are able to turn away people that they don’t feel they can adequately care for, or don’t want to, and then the state beds become the beds of last resort, and people end up there for too long. So we need more services on the front end; we need more preventative services; we need to be able to see these problems before they blow up and become an acute need. It’s definitely something that we’re taking seriously at the federal level and trying to send some resources down that way, but this is another one where it’s requiring a federal, state, and local approach.
Thank you for being here today. As you’re aware of, all chambers… at least our chamber and the state chamber… When everything is in session, we are looking at what bills are being passed versus what bills we are passionate about and we would like to have pass. I noticed that for Virginia state Chamber of Commerce that… Back up. Then we grade our delegates to see how they’re doing, and you have gotten a D from the state chamber.
Okay. Do you have any particular bills that were of concern?
Yeah. I don’t have any in particular, but I’m just kind of wondering how you got the grade of a D on things that you’re probably very aware needed to be passed, or that we wanted to have pass.
Well, I don’t always agree with everything that the chamber wants to do. I believe we need to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. I think that anybody who works full time should be able to survive on what they’re being paid, so that’s a big area where we have had some differences on opinion. If you have any particular bills that I voted differently from the chamber, I’m happy to explain my vote on every single one, but… I just can say that the chamber and I don’t always see eye to eye on every single issue.
On the topic of election security, we’ve had a lot of publicity to that, some distracting and some focused. The federal role… because a lot of that is going to fall to local counties and state, but what do you see the federal role in enhancing the security of the election process?
We have passed election security legislation now in the House of Representatives, and our way of dealing with it was to offer incentives to states to implement paper backups and things like that, and to offer grants and things in order for them to make those transitions away from the electronic voting machines, which are so susceptible. We did that in Virginia, and it has turned out to be a really good thing. We have only paper backups, and we have ended up having to use those not just for election security, but for recounts, which we have had to have a whole bunch of in Virginia, and it’s really made a difference.
But this is something where Mitch McConnell has said he thinks it’s all a hoax and overblown and everything, and we know that there have been multiple incursions into state voter files, and here in Virginia, we were one of the states that they tried to get to. I was told it was like they came and kind of jiggled the doorknob and saw that it was locked and then went away… but they don’t go away and stay away. If they can’t get in the front door, they’ll come around to a window or the back door. So we know that a lot of actors are out there trying to wreak havoc with our electoral systems, and it’s not just the fact of their being able to do so or their incursion into these records; it’s calling into question the legitimacy of elections, is part of the goal. So I think a simple thing that can be done is paper backups for every ballot, but a lot of states are not going to be taking us up on that.
Can I follow up?
So, the balloting process is a pretty tactical local issue. What does the federal government do at a more strategic, broader level that counties and states can’t do? I’m thinking about the social media and the whole nexus of people that want to upset the democratic process.
Yeah. And there are many different aspects to it-
That’s a lot more strategic than paper ballots.
… when you get down to the actual casting a ballot thing, but before you get to that, there’s the social media companies, and there’s the troll farms and the cyber this that and the other thing. It is something that the FBI and all of these three-letter agencies take very seriously, and they’re always working and doing cyber stuff. They have people who are embedded and work with Twitter and Facebook and all these companies, and they all inform one another about what’s happening.
We have been looking at legislation and things like that. There are some thing that we can do at the federal level: make sure that there are adequate disclosures about attempts to influence people when there’s advertising on social media platforms, that they have the adequate disclosures and disclaimers and things like that, because I had one launched against me which has gotten some news coverage because it was just some random shadowy individual or group that nobody knew who they were or what their agenda was or where their money came from… and there was no disclosure of any such thing. So that’s something that we can do.
But one thing I have discovered is, at the federal level, if we try to get too in the weeds, we don’t always keep up with what is happening on the ground. We’re trying to do things at the 30,000 foot level, but I think some of the easier things we could do would be things like disclosures and have the same requirements for online advertising that we have for mailers that go out, or signs that go up, TV advertising and radio advertising. And we haven’t kept up with the times on that, but that’s something where some people in Congress are very against doing it.
Jennifer, on the heels of your answer to Dave, where you mentioned the social media companies, the whole issue of obtaining personal data, seeling it without the authorization to sell that information… I’m just curious if you have a position as to whether those companies should be regulated or not.
So, I think… This is one of the things that we’re looking at, because the use of big data is so pervasive and something that you don’t even know all the data that they’re gathering on us at every moment. I mean, our cell phones, while we’re sleeping, are sending stuff up into the cloud about us. One of the things that we’re looking at is ways that we can put limitations on it, whether it be an opt in or opt out kind of situation.
I’m on the Financial Services committee, and what we’re finding is that credit reporting bureaus and the [inaudible 00:37:10] agencies, they are using alternative data, too, in order to… or, they’re exploring looking at alternative data in order to come up with credit worthiness, and potentially looking at things even like mining your social media to see who your friends are, and basing your credit score based on with whom you associate, even online… which is crazy. But there’s no end to the various kinds of data points that they want to put into algorithms to be able to determine ways to extract money from people.
One of the things that we’re looking… The European model is much, much stricter and has much more consumer focus about having to opt in, rather than opt out. That’s one of the things that we’re looking at, but these companies are pretty powerful. One of the first… Amazon, their first location in Virginia is the Herndon office for Amazon Web Services, I guess it is. When they came, I was going to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and they were hosting some lunch there, and their lobbyist was like, “You really should come to this lunch.” So I was like, “Okay, I’ll go.” So I went, and the lunch was basically about, “Don’t worry, Alexa really isn’t listening to you, and you don’t have to regulate us.” So of course I’m like, “That means Alexa’s listening to us.”
Of course, Alexa is listening to you, as is Google Home and all those other things are. I think that for things like that, what we’re seeing is a state by state approach, and I know that they don’t want that. California also has gone a lot further than any other states when it comes to online privacy and stuff like that. California is a big player, so if they set the floor at a higher level, then that’s going to bring everybody else along. But I do think that this is something that is better dealt with at the federal level; I just don’t know whether we’re going to have the functionality and the level of understanding and ability to do it. So, stay tuned, is the short answer.
Along those same lines is identity theft, and my husband is a victim of identity theft. We had money taken out of our bank account from one bank to another. The banks handled it, of course. We never found out what the result was, but a week later we got a notice in the mail saying that our address was to be changed and if this wasn’t accurate, go to the post office. So we went to the post office, we contacted the sheriff’s department in Loudon County, because I lived in your district… and our mail comes out of Fairfax County, so guess what? The sheriff did not have jurisdiction over the mail in Fairfax County.
So the problem is, as a victim, you never find out what’s happened. Is it international? Is it local? Who is trying to steal your identity? And so I think that is a huge problem for the people who live in fear, not knowing where this is happening.
And that’s an interesting point that you bring up, because… Okay, so first of all, the jurisdictional issue is real and something that needs to be dealt with, and maybe we can talk about that, because that may be something that we can deal with within Virginia, or maybe federally.
But I also represent Visa. Visa has a big data center and cyber outfit in Loudon County, in Ashburn. One of the things that they were saying is an issue for them is that when there are breaches, both for Visa and for the banks, when there are breaches… and it’s usually the retailers that have these breaches… They have to replace the cards and do all this, and notify the people that there was a breach and that their credit card number may have been compromised and things like that, and people obviously want to know where? Where did it happen? What’s the store where this happened? And they’re prohibited from telling you.
That’s very interesting, because people want to know, and so at the highest level among the banks and the credit card processors and things like that, they have very sophisticated cyber security operations, and they’re always looking, and they’re always liaising with various three-letter agencies and the treasury department… but for a lot of the retailers, that’s where the encroachment happens, and then they’re protected from disclosure about it. So sometimes they’ll come out and tell the public voluntarily as a PR thing, but they’re not required to do that, and that’s interesting.
Yeah. It’s scary.
So you’re on the consumer section and financial institution subcommittee, and some of the issues you all are going to be looking at this fall are dealing with shareholder stock buybacks at corporations, and then also Facebook and their, “Hey, we’re going to come out with cryptocurrency.”
You’ve been looking at the Financial Services agenda!
We’re in banking, so-
Bunch of bankers sitting in this corner.
… interested on your thoughts behind looking at buybacks, and you have publicly held companies in this room that… number one responsibility is return money to shareholders. And secondly, cryptocurrency… What’s on the radar for you guys? We’re regulated out the wazoo. Do you guys have any idea… Are there concerns there? Are you looking at that, getting your arms around that? How do you do that?
And then on a totally different topic is Medicaid for All, and the concept can sound really good, but the day to day application for small business owners and how they implement that and the cost when it rolls down… [inaudible]
For the cryptocurrency, yeah, there are huge concerns. And this is something… We’ve already had one hearing on it. So for those of you who aren’t aware, Facebook, because they don’t have their fingers in enough things, they want to start their own currency, because they’re going to become a sovereign nation now, I guess. But that’s really scary to a lot of us, and very concerning, and I know that this is something that, on both sides of the aisle, we’re very concerned about it. There will be a lot of hearings, there will be a lot of discussion, and it is something that there’s no way they would be able to do anything without the federal government regulators being involved.
With regard to stock buybacks, that’s something that we’re looking at because a lot of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was billed as putting more resources into investing and growing business, hiring, making capital investments, things like that. And what we’ve found is that, more than anything else, it’s resulted in companies buying back their own stock shares. And when you have executives who are compensated primarily in stock, they have a vested interested in puffing up the stock price. So that’s something that is worth looking into.
I don’t know what kind of legislation might be coming down the pipe, but I think as far as a study is concerned and looking at the issue more closely and seeing where those correlations are actually causation and what the impacts of that are, is something that is certainly within the purview of Financial Services Committee. So I think we’ll be doing that in the near future, and you saw that on our agenda. And also, what impact that might have on consumers.
As far as the Medicare for All… I guess Medicare for All is what people are talking about. That is not something that I support. I know that… I mean, a lot of people have private insurance that they’re very happy with. I do support, however, an option, a buy-in option, which is like the Medicare X, which I know Senator Caine and some other folks have been talking about, having a buy-in option for, especially and rolling it out in those markets where there are either no, or only one, provider on the exchange… because I do think that having that increased choice and that increased competition will also lead to prices coming down.
But we do need, also, more transparency, I think, too. Because that’s a lot of the problem that we have: it’s so opaque. And when you get a referral to go and get a sonogram that’s X place, you don’t know how much that’s going to cost, and nobody comparison shops or anything like that. So some of it is, I think, more transparency.
Just as an aside, what we’re actually working on in the House of Representatives is a little bit more, I think, likely to result in actual legislation, and hopefully results in something that would pass both houses of congress, is surprise medical bills. Surprise medical billing. I’m sure you guys have seen… You’ve probably been getting pop up ads and stuff like that about this, but what we’re seeing is when people go into the hospital, either for emergency room services, or even for procedures in a hospital setting that have been approved by insurance companies, they ultimately end up with a bill at the end of it that they weren’t expecting. So because what will happen is, you’ll go in and you’ll get a knee replacement or something like that, and it’s approved by your insurance company, you think you’re all set to go, but it turns out that the anesthesiologist was out of network. And it’s usually one provider out of many is out of network. So you get a huge bill for it.
Well, New York has already dealt with this problem. There’s competing ways, competing legislation or proposals to deal with it. One just says what they’ll get is whatever is the benchmark reimbursement for that procedure, per the insurance companies in the region, whatever the relevant geographic region is. So that’s one that has come through Ways and Means.
The other, which I think is a better way of dealing with it: rather than letting the insurance companies decide what they’re going to page, is to have kind of an arbitration process, which is something that they’re already doing in New York state, which takes the patient out of it. It puts the provider and the insurance company into an arbitration process where they each… It’s not a three judge panel or anything like that; it’s just one arbitrator who, they each put in what they would accept, whatever their best offer is, and then the arbitrator comes up with a binding decision. They’re doing it in New York, and everybody loves it, and it’s good for consumers, and even the insurance companies like it, and the providers like it. So we’re looking at maybe doing something like that at the federal level.
Those are the things that we’re actually working on day to day. That and reducing… We’ve already passed legislation to shore up the individual markets to help reduce the prices of prescription drugs, to speed the time for generics to come to market… because has anybody heard of pay for delay? That the drug companies pay the generic producers not to produce… not to make a generic available? Which, of course, seems like it should be some sort of unfair trade practice, right? And price fixing. But apparently it’s not. So we have passed legislation that would make it illegal to do that. Those are the things that we’re actually working on.
I know that a lot of people in the presidential are talking about Medicare for All and everything like that, but that’s not what we’re working on in the House of Representatives right now. We’re trying to get actual tangible results that can pass and help people.
From a workforce perspective, over 2019 as the unemployment rate was dropping, the media continued to cover the untapped workforce of people with significant disabilities, and there are tens of thousands of people with significant disabilities who want to participate in the workforce but are unable to. And with one in 56 children being diagnosed with autism, can you speak more to what you’re doing to help individuals with significant disabilities participate in the workforce?
Sure. One of the things I’ve been very happy to do is visit groups like Northwest Works in Winchester and Echo in Loudon County. The ability one providers and working with some of the businesses who employ people with significant disabilities. Those groups are invaluable, and there are different kinds of disabilities and different spectrum for people’s ability to work, whether it be out in the workplace or in a work center where they perform work. I think that that is something that is going to become a bigger need as more people with autism age out of the educational services that they are able to get, but it’s something that we have been working on.
We have some good groups here in the 10th district who have been working on this for years and have really good relationships with businesses in their geographic area and good transportation networks and things like that. So I am not as familiar with what we have in Prince William, but I know that that is something that is a big deal and something that is really important to me.
Our company name is [inaudible].
Oh, okay. [inaudible], of course. Of course.
Yeah, I think you’re familiar with us.
Yeah. But it’s a big issue that we see every day, so we appreciate the work you’re doing.
Yeah, and as more and more kids age out, we’re seeing that more and more. So that’s why it’s important to keep the ability one and those kinds of programs going, for sure.
There’s a question in the back.
Yes. Oh, yeah. Where? Okay.
While you’re on the workforce issue… I represent the head of Construction Contractors Association. We have a number of our employers who employ a number of Salvadorians that have a TPS issue, and that’s got a January 5th deadline. Is there any movement there, and is there any movement toward a far, overreaching immigration bill?
For the TPS, that is something that I hope and expect that we can hopefully get something, as far as temporary… at least an extension of that expiration. Just as an aside, I went and visited a… I have a military officer retirement community in my district called Falcon’s Landing, and I went and visited them, and their number one issue that they want to talk about wasn’t about military pensions; it wasn’t about the VA; it was about the 17 people who work in their facility who have TPS and that they’re really, really worried about them losing it. So this is something… For what it’s worth, it would mean a lot if the business community lobbied both sides of the aisle, because you guys have a lot of cred that maybe some of the heartstrings caucus doesn’t. That would go a long way to help, especially with unemployment as low as it is in the construction industry especially… especially as we’re looking to maybe do something on infrastructure…
Yeah, we hope. But to fill those jobs would be a real challenge, because… just look around, and you can see that there’s a lot of construction stuff going on. I mean, you go down to Navy Yard, there’s like eight high rises going up there and all kinds of workers, and there’s more work than there are people to fill the jobs. If the business community could lobby as well, that would be-
We have been.
Keep it up, and make sure that… and hopefully we can do something. As far as a greater, bigger immigration, I don’t see that happening, because the rhetoric is just too heated in order to do anything. We did pass, just so you know, those protections for Dreamers and TPS recipients out of the House of Representatives. It’s one of the many bills that is sitting in the Senate with no action. But even to do an extension before we go away for the December recess, I think would be very helpful, if we could get that done and maybe get the President to discreetly sign it, quietly, such that it didn’t get a lot of publicity.
We are out of time.
Perfect timing. I want to thank Congresswoman Wexton for coming today and joining us. Thank you so much.
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