House Education & Workforce Committee

Kline Statement on Markup of H.J. Res. 88

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/21/2016 - 9:00am
Today, the committee will consider H. J. Res. 88, a resolution to block a harmful new regulation that will restrict access to affordable retirement advice.

I would like to begin by thanking our colleague, Dr. Roe, for his leadership on this very important issue. Since 2011, he has served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. Throughout his service as chairman, he has helped lead the fight for responsible policies that would strengthen the retirement security of working families.

In fact, Dr. Roe has led our efforts to hold the Department of Labor accountable for its attempt to rewrite the rules governing investment advice. We have spent a lot of time in recent years focusing on this issue because it is vitally important to millions of low- and middle-income families; it is vitally important to our small business owners and the men and women they employ; and it is vitally important to the health and well-being of our nation’s future.

Since this regulatory process began roughly six years ago, we made it clear that we believe there should be greater protections for those investing and planning for retirement. We also made it clear that we would not support a regulatory regime that restricts access to affordable financial advice and makes it harder for working families to save for retirement. Unfortunately, that is precisely what we have today.

Despite the significant concerns of policymakers on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, the department charged ahead with an extreme, partisan regulation. The final rule does include some modest changes that will no doubt appease a few detractors, but make no mistake, the rule is still fundamentally flawed and harmful to those saving for their retirement.

The department’s final rule will still encourage frivolous litigation and drive up costs for those who can least afford it. The rule will still limit the educational information people with IRAs can receive. The rule will still hinder access to certain options individuals have to plan for their retirement. And the rule will still make it harder for small businesses to provide retirement options to their workers.

This has become ObamaCare for retirement planning: Dramatic change imposed on the lives of working Americans that will drive up the cost of retirement advice and force people to lose access to their trusted advisors. Regardless of the rhetoric we hear about the rule and why it’s necessary, it will be low- and middle-income families who are hit the hardest. The wealthiest Americans won’t feel a thing. They will continue to pay high-priced advisors to manage the details of their investments and retirement portfolios just like they did before this rule.

Wealthy Americans can afford to pay for this level of financial assistance, low- and middle-income families, on the other hand, cannot. As is often the case, the very men and women we want to protect will be hurt the most.

The fact that this all could have been avoided makes it even more unfortunate. There is broad, bipartisan agreement we need to strengthen protections for those saving for retirement. Republicans and Democrats even agree financial advisors should be required to serve their clients’ best interests. Again, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Roe, Congress has put forward a responsible, bipartisan alternative that would strengthen protections without hurting middle-class families and small businesses.

This bipartisan consensus should have been the basis for meaningful, responsible reforms. Instead, the administration took the old “my-way-or-the-highway” approach, in spite of the costs and consequences. That is why we are here today. Congress should not accept a flawed, partisan rule when there is a responsible, bipartisan alternative. More importantly, Congress should not stand by and allow a federal regulation to create this much havoc in the lives of the American people.

Since the department began its rulemaking in 2011, this committee has kept an open mind in the hopes that the department would get this right. Ultimately, our response to the final rule is based on a simple question: Will it make it easier or harder for working families to save for retirement? Because the final rule is too expansive, too complex, and too restrictive, there is little doubt that it will be a significant obstacle to the retirement security every family deserves.

I urge my colleagues to support this resolution so we can block a harmful rule, keep working toward a responsible, bipartisan alternative, and protect hardworking men and women saving for retirement.

Roe Statement on Markup of H.J. Res. 88

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/21/2016 - 12:00am
This resolution is our way of honoring a commitment we made more than five years ago. Since the Department of Labor issued their first proposal to expand the definition of “fiduciary” in 2010, we have raised concerns about their approach. Not the intent behind the rule – the approach. We agree that retirement advisors should serve their clients’ best interests. Ensuring they do so is a worthwhile, bipartisan goal. The problem lies in how the department thinks we should do that.

For years, we pointed to the serious consequences of the department’s fiduciary proposal. We warned the rule would make it harder for low- and middle-income families to save for retirement. We explained how it would restrict the ability of individuals to receive some of the most basic financial advice. We cautioned that it would create new hurdles for small businesses wanting to offer their workers retirement options. And we made a commitment—to families, small business owners, and all Americans trying to plan and save for the future—that we would not sit idly by while the administration advanced such a flawed proposal.

In fact, at the very first congressional hearing on the department’s proposed fiduciary rule in 2011, I said that we should never lose sight of the real world impact proposed changes could have on the investments and long-term retirement security of workers and retirees. I also said that we need to challenge any proposal that could make it harder for working families to plan and save for retirement. And that’s exactly what we have done.

Through letters, hearings, and other oversight efforts, we encouraged the department to withdraw its misguided proposal and go back to the drawing board. Eventually, they did—only to release a similarly flawed proposal last year. Since then, we have continued our efforts to draw attention to the consequences of the latest fiduciary proposal and encourage the department to pursue a balanced approach. We even advanced a responsible legislative alternative, which I was proud to introduce. Our bipartisan solution, unlike the department’s proposal, would both require financial advisors to act in the best interests of their clients and ensure low- and middle-income individuals have access to quality, affordable retirement advice.

Unfortunately, this time around, the department chose to ignore many of the serious, bipartisan concerns related to their proposed rule. Instead, they finalized a rule last month that will create consequences working families and job creators cannot afford.

That rule is the reason we’re here today—to make good on a promise we made years ago to do everything we can to ensure all Americans can retire with the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. Reasoning with the department simply hasn’t worked, so it’s time to utilize another tool in the box: the Congressional Review Act. This law allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval to prevent, with the full force of the law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or issuing a substantially similar rule without congressional authorization. The resolution we are considering today is the next step in fulfilling our commitment to deliver the kind of retirement security this country needs.

Walberg Statement: Hearing on “Reviewing Recent Changes to OSHA’s Silica Standards”

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 04/19/2016 - 10:00am
We’re here today because we all agree that hardworking men and women should be able to earn a paycheck without risking a serious injury or being exposed to a deadly disease. And every family deserves the peace of mind that their loved ones are safe on the job.

We also agree that federal policies play a role in meeting that shared goal. This hearing is timely, because next week marks 45 years that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has helped keep America’s workers safe. As part of this committee’s oversight efforts, we were pleased to have Assistant Secretary Michaels join us last October to discuss what more can be done to promote safe and healthy working conditions. 

The question before the committee then and today is whether the workplace rules and regulations coming out of Washington serve the best interests of employees and their employers. Are they practical, responsible, and fair? Are they created with transparency and enforced effectively?

These are important questions, because the strongest health and safety rules will do little to protect America’s workers if the rules are not followed and enforced—or if they’re too confusing and complex to even implement in the first place. I hope we can have a thoughtful discussion today that addresses these points, particularly as they relate to OSHA’s new silica standard.

In March, OSHA issued a final rule that significantly reduces the permissible exposure limit to crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common element found in the Earth’s crust, and a key component of manufactured products and construction materials. But exposure to high concentrations of silica dust can lead to a dangerous, debilitating—and even life-threatening—disease. We have witnessed important progress in recent years, but we know there’s more that can be done to keep workers out of harm’s way.

That is why this committee has pressed OSHA to use the tools at its disposal to enforce existing standards. Unfortunately, the agency has failed to do so.

OSHA itself admits that 30 percent of tested jobsites have not complied with the existing exposure limit for silica. This is an alarmingly high figure. But instead of enforcing the rules already on the books, the department spent significant time and resources crafting an entirely new regulatory regime.

The department’s first priority should have been enforcing existing standards. If OSHA is unable—or unwilling—to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?

Related to enforcement, some have raised concerns about whether the new standards can be responsibly enforced. It has been suggested that silica cannot be accurately measured at the reduced limit prescribed in the new rule, because many labs don’t have the technology necessary to provide reliable results. Will employers—acting in good faith and trying to do the right thing—be held accountable for an enforcement regime that isn’t feasible or practical?

These are important questions about enforcement, but there are also serious questions concerning implementation. Can these new rules be effectively implemented on the ground and under the timeframe prescribed by OSHA? Employers may lack the time and resources necessary to adjust their workplaces to the requirements of the new rule. Others may find new controls simply unworkable.

This is especially true for small businesses. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, this rule will cost workplaces more than $7 billion each year. These costs will be borne by consumers and taxpayers in the form of higher prices for homes, bridges, and roads. And these costs will be borne by workers in the form of fewer jobs. These are significant consequences for a rule that may do little to enhance worker health and safety.

We are fortunate to have a second-generation home builder and owner of a small family business with us who can speak more to this today. They will also speak to the fear of unintended safety consequences stemming from these new rules. In trying to address significant health and safety concerns, we must ensure federal policies do not in any way create new hazards in America’s workplaces.

Hundreds of thousands of workplaces nationwide will be impacted by these new rules. We owe it to our nation’s job creators to provide the clarity and certainty they need to expand, hire, and succeed. And, just as importantly, we owe it to workers and their families to promote smart, responsible regulatory policies that are implemented and enforced in a way that serves their best interests. The workers with us today—and those working on countless jobsites across the country—deserve more than our good intentions, they deserve good policies that lead to good results.

I know that we can work together to protect the health and well-being of the hardworking men and women of this country. I look forward to today’s discussion, and will now yield to Ranking Member Wilson for her opening remarks.

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Proposed Overtime Rule Could Threaten Nonprofit Providers of Disability Services

Education & the Workforce Committee - Fri, 04/15/2016 - 4:30pm
The Department of Labor will soon unveil new changes to federal overtime rules, and people across the country are raising concerns. Leaders at non-profit organizations are among those sounding the alarm on a rule that will raise costs, make it harder for workers to advance, and limit their ability to provide important services in their communities. In fact, at a field hearing in Lansing, Michigan, members of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections heard many of these same concerns. Now, in an op-ed appearing in the MinnPost, Julie Manworren and Jon Pratt of Living Well Disability Services urge the department to pursue a more balanced approach that won’t hurt their workers or the vulnerable people they serve:

The U.S. Department of Labor is preparing to release a rule, likely in the next 90 days, that would more than double the salary threshold at which workers are exempt from overtime requirements. In addition, the salary level would increase or decrease automatically over time. This would qualify an estimated additional 20 million workers nationwide for overtime pay. On the surface it’s hard to see why this proposed rule could be a bad thing.

As longtime advocates for human rights here in Minnesota, we applaud the intention of this rule. We also have serious concerns about its potential impact on already underfunded nonprofit and publicly funded agencies and organizations. Contrary to popular misconception, many nonprofits will not be exempt from this rule, and instead will be held to the same standard as large for-profit corporations. Unlike most businesses, we cannot adjust our pricing in order to cover these new expenses.

While we support raising wages for workers, it is important that the government recognizes the devastating impact that implementing this rule will have on nonprofits like Living Well Disability Services and all Minnesota providers of community-based services for people with disabilities. Living Well Disability Services provides essential services in people’s own home, their family’s home, or in group homes to allow people to live as independently as possible. These services by definition are to be less costly than institutional alternatives and are funded almost entirely by state and federal Medicaid dollars.

This public funding is essential and it creates unique constraints. Unlike many businesses, complying with this rule will not be as simple as adjusting the price of goods sold to cover increased staffing costs. The state establishes the rate that is paid for each unit of Home and Community Based Services and, with the county, determines how many hours of care will be provided. In Minnesota these service reimbursement rates have failed to keep up with inflation and there is no plan to increase funding commensurate with the costs created by this new rule.

If the salary threshold of this rule is implemented as proposed, Living Well Disability Services’ salary expense would increase by approximately 10 percent. This investment in wages would not address our priority to maximize the compensation of our lowest wage workers who provide exceptional direct services. These employees currently struggle to meet their basic needs on the wage supported by the reimbursement rate. In order to comply with the new rule and with no additional reimbursements, providers will be forced to make significant changes that would negatively impact our ability to effectively manage our workforce and provide quality services to the people we serve.

We urge Congress and the Department of Labor to balance the equally important priorities of ensuring adequate compensation for all workers with adequate funding necessary to comply with any revision to the overtime rule. If they do not, the rule will have significant unintended consequences and it will be the most vulnerable populations who may pay the price.

Roe Statement: Hearing on “Innovations in Health Care: Exploring Free-Market Solutions for a Healthy Workforce”

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/14/2016 - 10:00am
This hearing furthers the goals of the Task Force on Health Care Reform, which was established to develop a plan to replace ObamaCare’s one-size-fits-all approach with free-market, patient-centered solutions. We’ve already held a number of meetings to take input from members, policy experts, and stakeholders, and to build consensus around policies that will deliver the results the American people deserve.

Our vision is clear: It’s time to modernize our health care system so we can empower every American with affordable coverage, provide more choice, promote quality care for all patients, and strengthen health care security for retirees. Finally, as we will discuss today, we want to encourage innovation and harness the power of new technologies in order to foster lower prices and better treatment for patients.

As a physician with more than 30 years of experience, I’ve personally seen the need for commonsense reforms to strengthen our health care system, a system that is too costly and bureaucratic. As an elected official, I constantly hear from families who are struggling to access the care they need or keep up with premiums that rise year after year.

Unfortunately, the president’s government takeover of health care is making these problems worse. Health care costs are going up, not down. Americans are seeing higher premiums and a lower quality of care. Families are losing access to the coverage they like and the doctors they trust. Small business owners are being forced to choose between providing costly, government-approved health insurance and hiring new workers, and they’re struggling to navigate a web of burdensome mandates and regulatory requirements.

The American people cannot afford this fundamentally flawed law, and that’s why House Republicans are determined to deliver meaningful reform. We have a responsibility to put our health care system on a better course—one that is patient-centered, not government-driven. As part of that effort, we need to understand the vital importance of employer-sponsored coverage—which insures roughly 155 million Americans—and take a closer look at what’s being done in the private sector to improve care.

Employers have played a critical role in driving health care innovation. Despite unprecedented uncertainty in the health insurance market and drastic changes in employer-sponsored coverage, employers of all sizes are still developing creative strategies to help control costs and meet the changing needs of the workforce.

These strategies include employee wellness programs, which are now an essential tool to help control costs and encourage healthy lifestyles. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2015 that 50 percent of employers offering health benefits also offer wellness programs. That same year, I joined Chairmen Kline and Walberg and introduced legislation that would eliminate regulatory hurdles to implementing these programs, and I look forward to hearing from experts today on how we can make that goal a reality.

Some employers have responded to costly mandates and rigid reporting requirements under current law by putting in place private exchanges. This tool helps rein in costs through competition, and unlike public exchanges, serves individuals and both large and small employers. Accountable Care Organizations are another concept employers have adopted in recent years to improve the health of their employees and make coverage more affordable. ACOs improve the patient experience by coordinating care between doctors and hospitals and focusing on prevention and management of chronic diseases. Employers are also incorporating telemedicine into their health insurance plans, providing patients more access to care at lower costs and greater convenience.

We are here today to examine how innovations in employer-provided coverage are improving health care for workers and their families and how federal policies can support—rather than discourage—free-market solutions. I hope our conversation will bring us one step closer to achieving the responsible reforms the American people desperately need.

Kline Statement on March Jobs Report

Education & the Workforce Committee - Fri, 04/01/2016 - 12:00am

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) issued the following statement after the Department of Labor released unemployment data for March 2016:
 

It’s encouraging that hiring is improving and more Americans are back to work, but we still have a long way to go. Millions of workers are still looking for full-time jobs, and millions more are so discouraged by meager job prospects that they’ve given up on their search for work entirely. Too many working families are being left behind in this anemic economy. Instead of changing course, we are being bombarded with new regulatory schemes that will make it harder for small businesses to thrive and for families to achieve the economic security they deserve. For those individuals and their families, we have to do better. That’s why we will continue to fight against failed policies that are holding our workforce back, and instead, pursue a pro-growth agenda that will lead to the success and opportunity Americans need.
 

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Walberg Statement: Hearing on “The 21st Century Workforce: How Current Rules and Regulations Affect Innovation and Flexibility in Michigan’s Workplaces”

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/29/2016 - 12:00am
It’s good to have the opportunity to learn more about how policies and proposals coming out of Washington are affecting workers and employers both in Michigan and across the country. Discussions like this one are important because they inform the work we do as lawmakers. They help us—as your representatives in our nation’s capital—better understand your concerns, your struggles, and your successes; and they help us ensure your priorities remain our priorities.
 
I don’t have to tell you, that in this economy—which is still struggling to recover—a lot of Americans continue to face significant challenges. Millions of men and women are struggling to find jobs. Millions of others are working part-time jobs when what they really need and want is full-time work. Family incomes across the country remain flat. People are hurting, and as policymakers, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help. One important way we can do that is by taking a close look at the rules and regulations governing our workplaces.
 
For almost 80 years, the Fair Labor Standards Act has been the foundation of our wage and hour standards. The law plays an important role in the lives of millions of working Americans. The problem is that a lot has changed in our workplaces over the 80 years, and federal wage and hour rules have not kept up.
 
Today, the regulations guiding the law’s implementation are rigid, outdated, and simply not working for the 21st century workforce. Millennials are now the majority of the workforce, and they—like most in the workforce—do not want a flawed regulatory structure that constrains flexibility and innovation by creating confusion and uncertainty in today’s workplaces. Unfortunately, the current law raises more questions than it provides answers.
 
That’s why Republicans have long supported improving and updating the rules surrounding federal wage and hour standards—modernizing them to account for advances in technology and to better reflect the innovative, flexible economy we have today. We remain willing and ready to work toward that goal. However, we also remain insistent that we do so responsibly. It’s not enough to simply change the rules. We have to improve them. And we have to do so in a way that does not place additional burdensome requirements on small business owners, does not stifle job creation and wages, and does not limit opportunity and flexibility for workers.
 
Unfortunately, the administration is taking a different approach to updating workplace rules and regulations. In fact, the Department of Labor is in the process of finalizing an overtime rule that is anything but responsible. Instead of making changes to address the complexity of current regulations, the proposal will impose significant burdens on employers, limit workplace flexibility, and make it harder for workers to advance in their careers. The administration’s regulatory proposal will ultimately hurt the very people who need help.
 
There are better ways to update and modernize current rules and regulations, and we owe it to the American people to explore them. That’s the purpose of today’s hearing. We want to hear about your experiences and better understand your concerns. What’s working? What’s not working? What changes need to be made to ensure federal policies support—rather than discourage—the economic growth our nation desperately needs? How can we help you and others in our communities pursue the personal opportunity you’re working to achieve?

 

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Bishop Statement: Hearing on “The 21st Century Workforce: How Current Rules and Regulations Affect Innovation and Flexibility in Michigan’s Workplaces”

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/29/2016 - 12:00am
These discussions really are valuable to us. They help us deliver meaningful solutions to the many challenges facing Americans right now, including those facing our workers and job creators.
 
In fact, when it comes to updating rules and regulations related to workforce protections and wage and hour standards, having the opportunity to hear your perspectives and experiences are particularly important. Because when we’re talking about these issues, it’s not just public policy—it’s personal.
 
It’s personal for the worker who needs the flexibility to care for a loved one. It’s personal for the parent who wants to make it to their child’s school play or little league game. It’s personal for the working mom or dad who is also helping an aging relative. Workplace flexibility is incredibly personal and important to a lot of people.
 
It’s also personal for the low-wage worker trying to seize opportunities to move up the economic ladder. At a committee hearing last year, we heard from one witness, Eric Williams, who worked his way up from a crew member at a fast-food restaurant to become the chief operating officer of a major U.S. corporation. On top of that, he also owns and operates several restaurants of his own. That is the American Dream. It’s also what’s at stake if we miss the mark when it comes to updating regulations related to wage and hour standards.
 
As Chairman Walberg said, the rules and regulations guiding the implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act are too complex, burdensome, and outdated. They no longer provide the kind of protections and opportunities they could—and should—for workers and employers. I think that’s something Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Where we seem to disagree is the best way to update them.
 
During the same hearing in which Eric Williams shared his inspiring success story, he also raised some troubling concerns with the consequences one of the administration’s recent regulatory proposals—the Department of Labor’s overtime rule—will create for workers and small businesses. He explained how the rule will be detrimental to workplace flexibility, how it will negatively impact pay and bonuses, and how it will “severely limit hardworking, talented Americans from realizing their dreams.”
 
Workers and small businesses are not the only ones concerned about the administration’s proposal. Those in higher education worry the rule could have unintended consequences for them as well, leading to higher costs and forcing schools to restrict hours for certain employees. Here in Michigan, we’re very fortunate to have an abundance of incredible universities that serve students from our state and from states across the country. Two of our witnesses are joining us from some of them: the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Under no circumstances should we be making it harder and more costly for students at these universities—or any university—to receive a quality education
 
Americans deserve better than changes that lead these kinds of consequences. That’s why we will continue our efforts to promote and encourage reforms that clarify current rules and regulations, modernize them, and make them better—reforms that won’t stifle innovation, flexibility, and opportunity. These things are essential in allowing our workforce to grow and change to better meet the needs of workers, job creators, and consumers; and they will continue to help us push the limits of what we are able to accomplish.

I look forward to hearing from all of you about how we can best accomplish those goals.

 

Kline Statement: Hearing on “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students”

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/22/2016 - 12:00am

Education research has long played an important role in our nation’s classrooms. States and school districts use research to identify teaching and learning strategies that improve classroom instruction and those that don’t. Education research also provides parents, teachers, school leaders, and policymakers with the information they need to determine if federal programs are delivering real results for students and taxpayers.
 
For more than 40 years, the federal government has partnered with the private sector and state and local leaders to help facilitate this research. The partnership was reaffirmed in 2002 when Congress passed the Education Sciences Reform Act. The law established the Institute of Education Sciences to take the lead on gathering information about educational progress, conducting research on teaching practices, and evaluating the quality of federal programs. The institute has helped provide greater transparency and accountability and has helped implement successful education practices in countless schools.
 
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas for improvement. In fact, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has cited several weaknesses Congress needs to address, including duplicative research and a failure to disseminate key information in a timely manner. Fortunately, because of the work of this committee, we are well on our way to reforming the law. In the spring of 2014, the committee passed – and the House later adopted by voice vote – the bipartisan Strengthening Education through Research Act.
 
The legislation included a number of important reforms, such as streamlining the federal education research system, requiring regular evaluations of research programs, and strengthening the autonomy of federal researchers to ensure they are not subject to political bias and interference. Many of us were disappointed the Senate was unable to push the bill across the finish line in the last Congress. However, we’re pleased the Senate has taken action on nearly identical legislation this Congress, and it’s my hope we can complete this work this year.
 
Now, any effort to improve education research should also strengthen student privacy protections. New technology has made it easier to analyze student information and develop new ways to improve learning, but it has also left parents and students more vulnerable to the misuse of student information. To make matters worse, student privacy protections are woefully outdated.
 
Long before online learning tools and cloud-based computing systems were the norm, Congress passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. The intent of the law was to safeguard student privacy and give parents the peace of mind that their children’s academic records and personal information were safe and secure. But that was 1974, and a lot has changed since then. More student information is being collected and shared than ever before, often without the knowledge of parents and school officials.
 
A proposal introduced by Republicans and Democrats will bring the law into the twenty-first century. Among other reforms, the Student Privacy Protection Act will provide greater clarity and transparency over what information schools can use, collect, and share for educational purposes. The legislation will also strengthen the right of parents to prevent the sharing of their children’s information and enhance communication between parents and school leaders.
 
Both proposals – the Strengthening Education through Research Act and the Student Privacy Protection Act – reflect the hard work of members from both sides of the aisle, particularly the ranking member of the K-12 subcommittee, Congresswoman Fudge, our former colleague from New York, Carolyn McCarthy, and last but certainly not least, Congressman Todd Rokita, the chairman of the K-12 subcommittee, who remains a strong leader on these vital issues.
 
Improving education remains a leading priority for our committee, and it’s my hope we can take additional steps to improve education by enhancing education research and strengthening student privacy protections.

Kline Statement: Hearing on the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 03/16/2016 - 10:00am
It is always a pleasure to discuss with you the policies of the Department of Labor, which impact countless workplaces and millions of workers across the country. As I’ve said before, it’s the responsibility of this committee to ensure those policies are being administered in a way that best protects the interests of workers and employers, and American taxpayers as well.

This is a responsibility we take seriously, especially at a time when many working families and small businesses are still struggling to get by. There is no question the economy has shown signs of modest improvement, and we certainly welcome every new job that’s created. But there’s also no question many Americans feel they are slipping further behind in an economy that isn’t meeting its full potential.

At an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, former President Bill Clinton referred to the president’s recent State of the Union address and said, “Millions … of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted, and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives.” We don’t agree on a lot of things, but President Clinton has rightly summed up the frustration many Americans feel.

Month after month, we exceed low expectations, and that simply isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for the tens of millions of workers still sitting on the sidelines; it’s not good enough for the nearly six million Americans who need full-time jobs but can only find part-time work; and it’s not good enough for those families whose incomes remain flat. We need to do better, and there are opportunities to do better. However, those opportunities will be lost if the department continues to push an extreme regulatory agenda.

For example, we both agree federal overtime rules need to be changed. The committee has held numerous hearings with witnesses who testified that these rules are so convoluted that well-meaning, law-abiding employers often get tied up in red tape and run afoul of the law. The overtime rules are also outdated, denying men and women the ability to balance work with their personal or family needs.

We have said repeatedly we want to partner with the department in a serious effort to streamline and modernize overtime protections. Unfortunately, the department is pursuing an approach that will do nothing to provide employers more clarity and certainty. To make matters worse, the department’s proposal will actually stifle workplace flexibility and make it harder for lower-income Americans to move up the economic ladder. These and other consequences will unfold in communities across the country, in local retail stores, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and community colleges. The very places that can least afford it will be hit the hardest.

In addition to overtime, there is also broad, bipartisan agreement we need to strengthen policies governing retirement advice. Of course, there are also strong, bipartisan concerns with the department’s fiduciary proposal. As Dr. Roe suggested at a hearing last year, if we applied the same regulatory regime on the medical profession, patients would have less access to trusted physicians, and the same will be true for those seeking retirement advice.

Because of the rule, many low- and middle-income families will have less access to affordable retirement advice and fewer small businesses will offer retirement plans. Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Roe and others, there is a bipartisan alternative that would protect access to affordable retirement advice and ensure advisors serve their clients’ best interests. This legislation is a strong foundation to address a shared priority if the department will abandon its flawed, partisan proposal.

Mr. Secretary, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and build bipartisan consensus in these and other important areas. The department’s my-way-or-the-highway approach will not deliver the lasting, positive change working families and job creators need to move this country forward. The only way to do that is for the administration to work with members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans. I would also encourage the department to renew its focus where bipartisan consensus has already delivered results, such as workforce development and multiemployer pensions.

The president noted recently the importance of providing new skills to those searching for work, yet the department has failed to implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in a timely manner. A new report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office confirms the consequences of the department’s inaction, and we hope the implementation process will conclude without further delay. Finally, Mr. Secretary, you played an integral role in our efforts to reform the multiemployer pension system. Your continued leadership is needed to solidify the gains we’ve made and to modernize the system for future generations of workers and retirees.

Our success in these areas demonstrates what’s possible when extreme policies are set aside and we work together in good faith toward a common goal. In the coming months, I hope we seize the opportunities we have in order to make a real difference in the lives of America’s workers and employers.

Kline Statement: Hearing on "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/15/2016 - 12:00am
From welfare and health care to early childhood development and support services for older Americans, the policies your department oversees affect the lives of millions of Americans. Conversations like this one are vitally important as we work to ensure the department is acting in the best interests of taxpayers and those in need. As we examine what programs and policies are working, and which ones are in need of improvement, I hope there are a number of areas where we can find common ground.
 
Of course, there are also areas where we will ultimately agree to disagree, and perhaps the most prominent example is the president’s health care law. As has been the case for nearly six years, this flawed law continues to hurt working families, students, and small businesses. It’s still depressing hours and wages for low-income workers, still making it harder for individuals to receive the care they need, and still driving up health care costs.
 
One Emory University professor recently wrote that his family’s health-insurance premium is now their biggest expense – even greater than their mortgage. Before the health care law went into effect, this man was able to cover his entire family of four for less than $13,000. Now, the cost of insuring just him and his wife is nearly $28,000. That’s right – twice the cost to cover half as many people. In fact, paying more for less is becoming a hallmark of the health care law. 
 
Over the years, Republicans have put forward a number of health care reform ideas, ones that would expand access to affordable care and lead to a more patient-centered health care system. We will continue to do so, because we firmly believe the president’s health care law is fatally flawed and unsustainable, and more importantly, because we believe the American people deserve better.
 
Again, I suspect we will have to agree to disagree, but as I mentioned, there are areas where I am hopeful we can find common ground.
 
Head Start, for example, currently supports nearly one million children at a cost of more than $9 billion annually. It’s an important program for many low-income families. However, concerns persist that it’s not providing children with long-term results.
 
We both agree changes need to be made, but so far, we have different ideas on what reform should look like. The department is in the process of fundamentally transforming Head Start through regulations that will have serious consequences for the vulnerable families this important program serves. We, on the other hand, have outlined a number of key principles that we believe will strengthen the program based on feedback we collected from parents and providers. I look forward to discussing where we might be able to find middle ground and work together so that these children can have the solid foundation they need to succeed in school and in life.
 
I’m also hopeful that we can work together to ensure changes to the Preschool Development Grants Program are implemented as Congress intended. The Every Student Succeeds Act reformed the program to help states streamline and strengthen early learning efforts. To accomplish this goal, Congress moved the program from the Department of Education to HHS, which already oversees the bulk of early learning programs. As you take on this responsibility, Secretary Burwell, please know we intend to stay engaged with the department to ensure a successful transition.
 
Finally, the department is also responsible for helping states to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect, specifically those outlined in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act or CAPTA. As I’m sure you’re aware, this law provides states with resources to improve their child protective services systems – if they make a number of assurances concerning their child welfare policies. It’s come to our attention that some states are making these assurances without putting the necessary policies in place. Yet, not a single state is being denied federal funds.
 
A Reuters’ investigation recently revealed the shocking and deadly consequences of this neglect and cast serious doubts as to whether basic requirements of the law are being met and enforced. In light of this tragic report, we wrote to you to better understand the department’s process in reviewing and approving state plans under CAPTA, and I’d like to continue that discussion today. It’s clear that the current system is failing some of our country’s most vulnerable children and families, and something has to change.
 
As you can see, we have quite a bit to cover today. These and other issues are vitally important to the men and women we serve, and we have a responsibility to ensure they are serving those individuals in the best way possible.

 

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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 02/25/2016 - 10:00am
Replacing No Child Left Behind was a significant achievement that was desperately needed and long overdue. The law represented the largest expansion of federal control over K-12 schools, and it was based on the flawed premise that Washington knows best what students need in the classroom. The federal government imposed rigid rules and punitive actions on states and schools in areas vital to a child’s education, like which teachers to hire and fire, how to gauge school performance, and how to fix underperforming schools.

It didn’t take long before state and local leaders were raising concerns that this top-down approach wouldn’t work. Their concerns were affirmed year after year as we experienced little – if any – improvement in graduation rates, proficiency in reading and math, and the achievement gap separating poor and minority students from their peers. Frustration among parents and teachers went up, while student achievement remained flat. Despite the good intentions behind the law, millions of children were left behind.

To make matters worse, the administration spent years pushing a convoluted waiver scheme, which doubled-down on the false hope that Washington could fix the problems in our schools. States and schools were subjected to even more federal requirements in areas like standards and teacher evaluations. They were forced to choose between onerous requirements prescribed in federal law and onerous requirements prescribed by the secretary of education.

If we learned anything throughout process to replace No Child Left Behind, it’s that the American people are tired of Washington micromanaging their classrooms. They are desperate for a different approach to K-12 education, one that will significantly reduce the federal role and restore state and local control. That is precisely the approach taken by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the new law, authority over accountability, teacher quality, and school improvement is restored to state and local leaders. The law also brings new transparency and accountability to the department’s rulemaking process, ends the era of federally-mandated high-stakes testing, repeals dozens of ineffective programs, and sets the department on the path to becoming smaller, not bigger. Furthermore, due to the administration’s actions in recent years and the public outcry that ensued, the Every Student Succeeds Act includes unprecedented restrictions on the authority of the secretary of education, ending the days when one individual imposed his or her own agenda on our classrooms.   

The Wall Street Journal described the new law as the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.” A letter written by a coalition of organizations representing governors, state lawmakers, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents says, “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] is clear: Education decision-making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.” They also urge the Department of Education to “honor congressional intent,” which brings us to the heart of today’s hearing.

Despite our success replacing No Child Left Behind, the real work to improve K-12 education is just beginning. The focus now shifts to leaders in state capitals and local communities who will use the tools and authority in the new law to build a better education for their children. And if they are going to succeed, they will need a Department of Education that behaves like a partner – not dictator.

I’ve described countless times the shortfalls of No Child Left Behind. While it may seem unnecessary at a hearing on the future of K-12 education, we need to remember where we have been as we look to where we want to go. Congress did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we certainly did not want a Department of Education that would continue to substitute its will for the will of Congress and the American people. Quite the opposite, we wanted new policies that would empower parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders. Congress promised to reduce the federal role and restore local control, and we intend to keep our promise.

That’s why we are here today. We want to learn what actions the department intends to take to implement the law and to help ensure the department acts in a manner that strictly adheres to the letter and intent of the law. Dr. King, this committee stands ready to assist you in that effort. The reforms you are now implementing were the result of bipartisan consensus, and we will remain actively engaged as the department moves forward. There is a lot of work to do, especially in every state and school district across the country. The department must get this right so every child can receive the excellent education they deserve. 
 

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