Washington, D.C. – Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) delivered the following remarks during tonight's Rule Debate on H.R. 5118, H.R. 6929, and H.R. 3771.
As Prepared For Delivery:
Today’s rule provides for consideration of three bills representing largely partisan priorities.
The first bill, H.R. 5118, attempts to address the wildfires raging across the country. 2022 is shaping up to be the most destructive wildfire year on record. To date, five million acres in the United States have been ravaged by forest fires. More concerningly, risk projections compiled by the United States Forest Service have assessed that large swaths of the country will remain under threat from wildfires for the remainder of the year.
Forest fires are responsible for the destruction of lives and property, the degradation of our air and water quality, and the destruction of vibrant natural ecosystems and wildlife. They are also responsible for billions of dollars in damages to states and individuals.
Perhaps the most distressing component of the proliferation and intensity of forest fires is that many forest fires are entirely preventable. A major contributor is decades of poor forest management that have exacerbated forest fires. Environmental activists and their allies have made routine forest management all but impossible.
Their campaign of legal obstructionism has directly contributed to the current wildfire and forest health crisis.
It is perplexing to see organizations dedicated to the protection of natural habitats engaging in an obstruction that has made safeguarding our habitats all the more difficult.
Unfortunately, H.R. 5118 is a package of 48 bills from several different committees, only 9 of which received a markup. For example, this bill includes provisions related to the electric grid, environmental justice, and health effects of wildfire smoke – all things that are not immediately necessary to fight wildfires.
The United States Forest Service has demonstrated that there are scientific and environmentally sound solutions to mitigate the damage of forest fires.
If we allow the United States Forest Service to do their jobs, we can create healthier, more resilient natural habitats that all Americans can enjoy and benefit from.
Second, H.R. 6929, the Susan Muffley Act, is a $1 billion taxpayer bailout of privately-run pension plans absorbed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) after Delphi (DEL-fy), a spinoff of General Motors, went bankrupt. The benefits guaranteed by the PBGC under the plan insurance termination program are subject to statutory maximums. When the PBGC became the trustee, participants in the Delphi pension Salaried Employee Plan (SEP), approximately 20,000 employees, were subject to the statutory benefit limitations.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s maximum benefit guarantee for a pension that was terminated in 2009 is $4,500 per month, or $54,000 per year, for retirees who begin receiving pensions at age 65. Of the 20,000 Salaried Plan participants, 72 percent were not affected by the benefit guarantee limit.
Prior to the 2009 bankruptcy of General Motors and Delphi, General Motors made an agreement to top up potential benefit losses for certain Delphi unionized employees represented by the United Auto Workers. General Motors honored that agreement, and those unionized employees were not subject to the same benefit losses caused by the statutory limits.
This bill would create a terrible precedent in the single-employer pension system by allowing a taxpayer funded increase for one of over 5,000 terminated single-employer PBGC trusteed plans. It would also create an expectation for Congress to do the same with current and future terminated plans.
This bill has had no committee hearings, no markups, and no input from Republicans. Instead of working on appropriations, the Majority has decided to use this last week in July to allow some of their members a win before the August recess.
Last, H.R. 3771, the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2022, takes an important public health issue and makes it partisan.
Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans have repeatedly expressed concerns with the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act throughout the entire legislative process. This bill did not receive a single Republican vote in committee.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. Republicans don’t disagree with the need to undertake the research proposed in H.R. 3771. In fact, the Energy and Commerce Committee has a history of supporting research on heart disease for at risk populations, including South Asian communities. Unfortunately, this bill will not help address the burden of cardiovascular health issues in America.
This bill requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make grants promoting awareness of heart disease in disproportionately affected communities. This duplicative authorization will deepen the CDC’s already problematic mission creep. There are 24 programs currently at CDC, all of which are funded in the FY2023 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. Some have expired and date back to FY1998. The CDC should be focusing on addressing emerging diseases instead of authorizing duplicative programs.
The CDC has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not have the capacity to deal with its current responsibilities. I believe this clear lack of mission and focus on infectious diseases has significantly contributed to CDC’s failure to address COVID-19 and monkeypox.
Furthermore, the CDC doesn’t even want this authorization. When providing technical feedback on the bill, the CDC expressed concerns that the authorized grants would be duplicative. The agency also expressed concerns that it would not be able to provide the data required by the bill.
I am uncertain what effect, if any, this bill will have on communities disproportionately impacted by poor cardiovascular outcomes when the partisan government funding bill released by House Appropriators will already be providing nearly $4 billion to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
By creating an authorization of $1 million to establish an internet clearinghouse on evidence-based heart health research and treatment options for South Asian communities, this bill merely serves as an earmark. As Members of Congress, it is our job to examine government programs to determine whether they are effective and producing positive outcomes.
The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act should not move forward. This bill is unnecessary and will never see the light of day in the Senate.
Inclosing, I oppose the bills in this rule because they were crafted outside of regular order and without significant Republican input. I had hoped that we could have produced legislation that would mitigate and contain the scourge of forest fires that continue to plague our nation. This bill does not provide for responsible forest management solutions that have been demonstrated to be effective, and for that reason, I oppose H.R. 5118.
Additionally, Congress should not be authorizing taxpayer dollars to bail out privately run pension plans above the statutory maximum. It is unfortunate that Delphi overpromised and underdelivered for its employees.
But allowing a taxpayer-funded increase for a terminated single-employer pension would set a terrible precedent for the over 5,000 similar pensions managed by the pension benefit guaranty corporation.
Finally, addressing cardiovascular disease is a nonpartisan public health issue; however, Congress should be conducting oversight of the CDC, not authorizing duplicative programs. Our goal should be to reduce duplication and be more intentional with funding to achieve positive outcomes.