House Education & Workforce Committee
Obamacare has been a disaster for working families. For years, workers have struggled to make ends meet and small businesses have struggled to keep their doors open due to the law’s harmful consequences. From increased costs to limited choices, the flawed 2010 health care law has made it more difficult for employers wanting to provide workers with health care coverage.
While Congress is already taking steps to provide relief from the law, it’s also our responsibility to implement positive reforms in its place that will lower health care costs, expand affordable coverage, and promote a healthy workforce. That’s why we are here today. Encouraging innovation in employer-provided health care coverage is an important part of our health care reform efforts. By finding ways to successfully promote a healthy workforce, we can help lower health care costs for working families. Employee wellness programs do just that.
Wellness programs provide employees and their families with various incentives — such as lower health care premiums — for making healthy lifestyle choices. The programs reward activities like exercising or maintaining appropriate cholesterol levels that can drive down costs and promote a healthier and more productive workforce.
Allison Klausner, an employee benefits expert who recently testified before this committee, described employee wellness programs as a “cornerstone of health care reform.” She said, “Not only are these programs important for achieving better health outcomes for employees and their families, they also have the potential to increase employee productivity, improve workforce morale and engagement, and reduce health care spending.”
These plans are not only effective, but they are also popular and widely supported by employers and employees. A recent survey showed more than 60 percent of all employers offer their employees the option of enrolling in a wellness program. And this free-market health care solution has long received bipartisan support from Congress. In fact, one of the only bipartisan provisions in the 2010 health care law allows employers to discount health insurance premiums up to 50 percent, in some circumstances, for employees who voluntarily participate in a wellness program.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has worked to undermine these popular and effective wellness programs. The commission pursued costly litigation against employers and published restrictive rules that created significant regulatory confusion. This is simply not acceptable. If we want to lower health care costs, our policies should encourage — rather than discourage — the adoption of free-market solutions. That’s why I urge support of the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act.
H.R. 1313 reasserts the bipartisan intent of Congress to encourage the development of employee wellness programs. Under H.R. 1313, employers will have the legal certainty they need to reward workers for making health lifestyle decisions. H.R. 1313 also reaffirms existing law that allows employers to provide responsible incentives for participation in employee wellness programs.
By eliminating the red tape surrounding employee wellness plans, Congress can help employers expand access to these popular plans and the benefits they provide for workers. The substitute amendment I am offering makes clear that if a wellness program complies with the non-discrimination standards in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, then the program will also meet the requirements for wellness programs in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The amendment makes a number of technical changes to the introduced bill so it more accurately reflects congressional intent to facilitate these programs.
By empowering employers to adopt employee wellness programs, we can take a positive step toward lowering health care costs and promoting a healthy workforce. I’d like to thank Chairwoman Foxx for her leadership on this important legislation and strongly urge my colleagues to support the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. Through our support of H.R. 1313 and other positive reforms, Congress can provide Americans with a patient-centered health care system that delivers more choices, lower costs, and greater control for working families.
As one small business owner testified back in 2014, “the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable for our company and employees.” In 2015, another small business testifying before the committee explained, “In addition to the challenges of record keeping, reporting, and other compliance issues, the looming unknown cost of insuring future employees has made me apprehensive of continuing to expand my business and hire new employees.”
The sad truth is that small businesses have been hit especially hard by the government takeover of health care. In fact, Obamacare has destroyed an estimated 300,000 small business jobs and forced an estimated 10,000 small businesses to close. Additionally, Obamacare’s costs and mandates have resulted in $19 billion in lost wages for small business employees.
These stories and statistics are bad enough on their own, but it’s also important to understand what they mean for workers’ health care. With more and more small businesses unable to offer coverage, more and more employees have fewer health care options. It’s not that these employers don’t want to provide health insurance for their employees. It’s that in the current environment, they simply can’t afford to do so.
While small businesses and their workers are not the only ones who have taken a hit, they have had a harder time mitigating the damage. For instance, large businesses and labor organizations are able to negotiate on behalf of their employees for high-quality health care at more affordable costs. Small businesses do not have the same bargaining power in the health insurance marketplace and are unable to band together to improve their negotiating position.
Additionally, by offering a self-insured qualified group health plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act — or ERISA — large employers and labor organizations are exempt from a maze of state rules and regulations related to health insurance. Small businesses, on the other hand, don’t have that option, and for an employer whose workers reside in different states, finding the right plan can be incredibly difficult.
That’s why Representative Johnson and I introduced H.R. 1101, the Small Business Health Fairness Act. The bill amends ERISA to allow small businesses to participate in association health plans — also known as AHPs. By banding together through AHPs, smaller employers can increase their bargaining power with insurance providers, putting them on a more level playing field with larger companies and unions. Employers will then be able to purchase high-quality health care coverage at lower costs for their workers. At the same time, the bill includes numerous provisions that will help ensure AHPs are solvent and working families are protected.
Small businesses deserve to be treated the same as large corporations and unions when it comes to providing their employees high-quality health care coverage. This legislation levels the playing field to ensure they are. In the end, it will lower costs for small businesses already facing limited resources, and it will help expand affordable coverage for working families who want to purchase health insurance through their employer. It is exactly the kind of free-market, patient-centered reform we promised the American people and one of many positive, commonsense solutions that will modernize our nation’s health care system.
It’s no secret that the cost of health care is a significant challenge for workers and employers. According to Gallup, health care costs topped the list of financial problems facing working families in 2016. Similarly, small businesses cited the same chief concern in a recent National Federation of Independent Business survey.
Perhaps the one bright spot in today’s uncertain health insurance market is that employers are using innovative strategies to provide affordable health care coverage for workers and their families.
One of the ways employers have eased the burden of rising health care costs is through self-insured policies. This is a very popular approach among employers of all sizes. In fact, in 2016, more than 60 percent of employers offering health care coverage were self-insured.
These plans benefit workers and employers in a variety of ways. With a self-insured policy, employers have the flexibility to design a health care plan tailored to the unique needs of workers and their families. For example, a company with a younger workforce may add additional wellness programs related to prenatal care. At the same time, employees are free from restrictive requirements that force them to purchase specific coverage that they may not want or need.
Workers and employers also have greater control over their health care dollars. Instead of purchasing a plan from an insurance company, self-insured employers pay their employee health care costs directly. This allows them to retain savings in years with lower claims and pass those savings on to their workers.
For these reasons, this cost-effective model is popular among both employers and labor unions. It’s also used by some cities, counties, and school districts. In 2014, the Executive Director of Columbia Power and Water Systems, a municipal utility in my home state of Tennessee, testified before the committee on the effectiveness of their self-insured policy.
Because of the flexibility of their self-insured policy, this local utility provider was able to keep their workers’ deductibles at $200 for an individual and $400 for a family in 2014 – far below what families are paying on collapsing Obamacare exchanges. And eligible retirees and their dependents receive the same benefits as current employees.
The witness testified that their self-insured policy allows them to “retain the best possible workforce, increase productivity, and maintain a high-level of satisfaction with the plan.”
There’s no doubt that these are high-quality plans that serve as a viable option for workers and employers alike. However, because employers take on greater financial risk with these plans, most also purchase what’s known as “stop-loss” insurance.
Stop-loss insurance has never been considered health insurance under federal law. The reason is simple. It’s not health insurance. It does not pay medical claims or perform any of the traditional functions of health insurance. What it does is provide a financial backstop to actual health insurance and protect the benefits of workers and their families.
Always looking to expand the regulatory state, the previous administration threatened to regulate stop-loss as traditional insurance. Doing so would put workers and employers at risk of losing their self-insured policies.
As we know, the last thing workers and employers need right now is to lose access to the health care plan they like because of misguided federal policies. Although we have a new administration that understands we need more affordable health care options, not fewer, Congress must act to prevent a future administration from restricting self-insured plans.
Why? Employers plan years in advance, and they need long-term certainty and stability when it comes to offering affordable health care to their employees. At the same time, working families deserve the peace of mind that they will have continuity of care and won’t be kicked off their plan just like millions of Americans were under Obamacare.
The Self-Insurance Protection Act will provide that peace of mind, certainty, and stability by clarifying once and for all that stop-loss insurance is not health insurance and preventing future bureaucratic overreach. This positive reform will promote more choices and ensure working families can continue to benefit from this popular health care model, not just today, but for years to come.
For years, Americans across the country have demanded meaningful health care reform and relief from soaring costs. Instead, what they got was a fundamentally flawed law that is collapsing as we speak.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently claimed Obamacare has “succeeded in every possible way.” But most families would disagree.
Obamacare premiums are increasing by double — even triple — digits in some states. Millions of families have seen their health care plans canceled. More and more individuals, including many in my home state of North Carolina, are finding they have access to only one insurance provider.
Small businesses and their employees would also beg to differ with claims made by the Democrat Leader. Obamacare has forced an estimated 10,000 small businesses to close their doors, cost $19 billion in lost wages for small business employees, and destroyed 300,000 small business jobs. And since 2008, 36 percent of small businesses with fewer than 10 employees have stopped offering coverage.
These are the predictable consequences of a government takeover of health care that took freedom out of the hands of patients and their doctors; forced individuals to purchase one-size-fits-all health coverage that many do not want or need; and made it harder for small businesses to provide for their employees.
This law has failed the American people, and House Republicans are demanding better. We will deliver on our promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with responsible solutions that are patient-centered, not government-driven. While our colleagues on the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees continue their work on this important effort, this committee will as well by advancing free-market reforms, particularly relating to employer-provided coverage.
Today we are taking the next step in that process by considering three bills that would empower employers to help workers access affordable health care coverage. As we all know, the majority of Americans obtain health insurance through their employer. But providing employer-sponsored insurance is increasingly difficult in the face of regulatory obstacles and onerous mandates.
Still, employers of all sizes are developing creative ways to contain health care costs and promote a healthy workforce. We should do everything we can to foster innovation taking place in the private-sector. Unfortunately, misguided federal policies often do more to limit, rather than support this promising progress.
For example, one of the tools employers have adopted in recent years to provide workers with greater control over their health care dollars is employee wellness programs. There has long been bipartisan support for these popular programs. In fact, one of the only bipartisan provisions of Obamacare allowed employers to discount health insurance premiums for employees who participate in a wellness plan.
However, the Obama administration took steps to undermine those plans by issuing restrictive new rules and pursuing litigation against employers. This regulatory confusion and legal uncertainty can have a chilling effect on the ability of employers to reward workers for healthy lifestyle choices. That’s why I introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. As Chairman Byrne will soon explain in more detail, this bill will provide employers with the certainty they need to offer wellness programs to their employees.
Employers are also facing uncertainty when it comes to self-insured health care plans. With this option, employers have more flexibility to control costs and are able to customize benefits to the unique needs of their workforce.
However, in recent years, Democrats in Washington, D.C. signaled these plans are just one regulation away from being at risk. Rep. Roe’s bill, the Self-Insurance Protection Act, would ensure workers and employers can continue to benefit from this cost-effective health plan model.
Finally, we will consider legislation that will make it easier and more cost-effective for small businesses to offer health care benefits. The Small Business Health Fairness Act will remove legal roadblocks preventing small businesses from banding together through association health plans.
As a result, this bill will put small businesses on a more level playing field with labor unions and larger companies. Representative Sam Johnson has championed this important effort for years, which would lead to lower health care costs for small business employees.
All three of these proposals reflect a few shared principles. Families should have the freedom to choose the health care plan that meets their needs. Americans need more affordable health care options, not fewer. Health care decisions should rest with patients and their doctors — not government bureaucrats. And instead of prescriptive mandates, we should ensure employers have the tools they need to help their employees afford health care.
For years, Americans across the country have struggled under a government takeover of health care. Because of Obamacare, insurance markets are collapsing, health care costs are soaring, and patients’ choices are dwindling. Simply put, the flawed health care law is failing. It is hurting hardworking men and women across the country, and the American people deserve better.
That’s why Republicans promised to deliver the health care solutions Americans desperately need. This week, we are making good on that promise and moving forward with an effort that will provide a better way on health care.
After a thoughtful and collaborative process, members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee recently unveiled a legislative plan that will repeal and replace Obamacare. The plan, the American Health Care Act, includes a number of positive, commonsense reforms that will help create more choices, lower costs, and give control back to individuals and families.
These reforms will create a new and innovative fund giving states the flexibility they need to design programs that fit the needs of their communities. They will responsibly unwind Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in a way that protects patients and strengthens the program for future generations.
The plan will also dismantle Obamacare taxes and mandates — including the individual and employer mandate penalties and taxes on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums, and medical devices. It will expand Health Savings Accounts to empower individuals and families to spend their health care dollars the way they want and need. And it will provide tax credits to those who don’t receive insurance through work or a government program, helping all Americans access high-quality, affordable health care.
At the same time, we on the Education and the Workforce Committee are working to advance additional reforms that will help expand coverage, make health care more affordable, and promote a healthy workforce. One legislative proposal will empower small businesses to band together to negotiate lower health care costs on behalf of their employees. Another will protect the ability of employers to self-insure, providing greater access to affordable, flexible health care plans for their workers. The third will give employers the legal certainty they need to offer employee wellness plans, helping to promote a healthy workforce and — again — lower health care costs.
These three legislative proposals reflect a few shared principles. Families should have the freedom to choose the health care plan that meets their needs. Americans need more affordable health care options, not fewer. Health care decisions should rest with patients and their doctors — not government bureaucrats. And instead of prescriptive mandates, we should ensure employers have the tools they need to help their employees afford health care.
These proposals — along with those in the American Health Care Act — are exactly the kind of free-market, patient-centered reforms Republicans promised, and they reflect the priorities of President Trump and his administration. They are the products of a careful process that took into account the ideas and concerns of men and women from all walks of life, and they will now be considered through an open, transparent process that provides policymakers on both sides of the aisle an opportunity to share their views and offer their ideas.
I encourage everyone — my colleagues in Congress, as well as all Americans — to join in this process. Visit ReadTheBill.GOP. See for yourself the plan we have laid out, and help us move forward with these positive solutions. Together, we can help ensure all Americans have access to the high-quality, affordable health care coverage they deserve.
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The Health Bill You’ve Waited For
Our plan removes taxes and mandates, while offering tax credits to help Americans afford coverage.
By Chairmen Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Greg Walden (R-OR)
‘ObamaCare is collapsing,” President Trump said during his address to Congress last week, “and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.” House Republicans have heard the president’s message loud and clear. On Monday night the congressional committees we lead released the American Health Care Act, which will rescue those hurt by ObamaCare’s failures and lay the groundwork for a patient-centered health-care system.
Our fiscally responsible plan will lower costs for patients and begin returning control from Washington back to the states, so that they can tailor their health-care systems to their unique communities. The bill will improve access to care and restore the free market, increasing innovation, competition and choice.
The legislation provides immediate relief from ObamaCare by eliminating the penalties attached to the individual and employer mandates. Washington will no longer force Americans to purchase expensive, inadequate plans they don’t need and cannot afford.
Our bill also dismantles the ObamaCare taxes that have hurt patients, job creators and health-care providers. It repeals taxes on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, health-insurance premiums and medical devices.
The legislation works to ensure a stable transition away from ObamaCare. It preserves and protects insurance for the more than 150 million Americans who receive employer-sponsored health coverage. It provides ObamaCare enrollees with access to the existing financial support for their plans through the end of 2019. People will also be able to use their ObamaCare subsidy to purchase expanded insurance options—including catastrophic coverage—without being tied to the failing exchanges.
Our plan preserves vital patient protections. Young Americans can continue coverage on their parents’ plans until age 26. People with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied policies. Nobody can be charged more for getting sick—period.
To prevent people from unfairly gaming the system, driving up costs for everyone else, we propose a new protection for patients who maintain continuous coverage in the individual and small-group markets. A similar “continuous coverage” provision already exists for those who get insurance through an employer. Extending this safeguard is a simple but important reform that will give patients an incentive to enroll and stay enrolled. This protection is based solely on enrollment status, ensuring that patients will be treated equally no matter how healthy or sick they are.
Additionally, our legislation establishes a Patient and State Stability Fund to help low-income Americans afford health care and to repair the damage done to state markets by ObamaCare. States that take advantage of this new fund will have broad flexibility to develop innovative programs like Maine’s invisible high-risk pool or Alaska’s state-based reinsurance program. If they choose, states may also use these resources to increase access to preventive services, like getting an annual checkup. This program gives states new tools and flexibility to care for their unique patient populations.
Our legislation strengthens Medicaid, which is a critical lifeline for millions of Americans. But Medicaid’s flaws—it offers patients fewer choices and less access to quality care than private insurance—were worsened by ObamaCare’s expansion of the program. To unwind it responsibly, our legislation would freeze new enrollment in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, while grandfathering in existing enrollees. People currently covered under the expansion would stay in the program if they remain eligible. Over time, as their incomes or eligibilities change, they will naturally cycle off Medicaid and receive other help accessing private insurance.
We also refocus Medicaid’s limited resources to the patients most in need. Our legislation proposes a bipartisan idea known as a “per capita allotment” to determine a fair amount of funding for each state based on the number of enrollees in its Medicaid population.
Following President Trump’s direction, our legislation provides tax credits to help Americans pay for the health-care options they want—not the ones forced on them by Washington. The bill repeals ObamaCare’s flawed subsidies, effective in 2020. After that, individuals and families who don’t receive insurance through work or a government program become eligible for between $2,000 and $14,000 in tax credits a year. These credits, based on age and family size, will give millions of people new flexibility and freedom to buy insurance tailored to their needs. The full credit would be available to Americans with low or middle incomes and would slowly phase out as they climb the pay scale.
Our plan will strengthen and expand health-savings accounts so Americans can save and spend their health-care dollars the way they want and need. We nearly double the amount of money people can contribute into their HSAs—$6,550 for individuals and $13,100 for families. And the bill will broaden HSAs to cover even more expenses, including over-the-counter medications.
The bill is now online for our constituents and colleagues to review, and the committees we lead will consider it later this week. Our open process will give lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the opportunity to weigh these policies, offer amendments and vote on the final product.
After seven years of ObamaCare’s failures, Republicans are committed to lowering costs, expanding choices and putting the American people back in charge of their own health care.
Mr. Brady, a Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Walden, an Oregon Republican, is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
To read online, click here.
America’s workers deserve responsible, commonsense regulatory policies to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.
They deserve a federal government that holds bad actors accountable, and a government that takes proactive steps to help employers improve safety protections and prevent injuries and illnesses before they occur. Just as importantly, they deserve to know federal agencies are following the law.
For years, Republicans have called on OSHA to reject a top-down approach to worker protections and instead collaborate with employers to identify gaps in safety and address the unique challenges facing workplaces.
Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, our concerns usually fell on deaf ears. In fact, one of the administration’s parting gifts to workers and small businesses was a regulatory scheme that reflects not only a backwards, punitive approach to workplace safety — but one that is completely unlawful.
Here’s why. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have long been required to record injuries and illnesses and retain those records for five years. The law explicitly provides a six-month window under which OSHA can issue citations to employers who fail to maintain proper records. This approach helps ensure workplace hazards are addressed in a timely manner.
However, in 2006, OSHA took action against Volks Constructors for recordkeeping errors that occurred well beyond what the law allows. The errors were from nearly five years earlier. That is why a federal appeals court unanimously rejected OSHA’s overreach. The opinion for the court stated: “We do not believe Congress expressly established a statute of limitations only to implicitly encourage the Secretary to ignore it.” Even President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Garland, agreed OSHA’s action was “not reasonable.”
What came next was an outright power grab. OSHA decided to take its unlawful action one step further. This time it would not only ignore the law, but rewrite it. The agency finalized the “Volks” rule, unilaterally extending the statute of limitations from six months to five years.
The agency created significant regulatory confusion for small businesses. Many would likely face unwarranted litigation because of unlawful regulatory policies. Of course, further judicial scrutiny also means hardworking taxpayers will foot the bill when OSHA is forced to defend its lawless power grab once again.
Simply put, OSHA had no authority to do this. We have a Constitution that grants Congress — not federal agencies — the power to write the law. But that’s not the only reason we are here today. We are also here because this rule does nothing to improve workplace safety.
Maintaining injury and illness records is vitally important and can help enhance worker protections. But that is not the goal of this rule. This rule only serves to punish employers. As we’ve said repeatedly, OSHA should instead collaborate with employers to help them understand their legal responsibilities and ensure safety measures are in place to prevent workplace hazards in the future.
Fortunately, Congress has the authority to reject this failed approach to workplace safety and block an abuse of executive power that began under the Obama administration.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution, and I hope we can all work together to encourage a more proactive approach that prevents injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place. I reserve the balance of my time.
I rise today in support of this resolution because it will reverse an unlawful power grab and restore responsible worker health and safety policies.
Article one of the Constitution is clear. It is the members of this body — the legislative branch — who write the law. Why? Because we are closest to the people, and therefore more responsive to the needs and demands of those we serve.
It’s the responsibility of the executive branch to enforce the laws — not write them. Unfortunately, the previous administration failed to abide by this founding principle. President Obama boasted about his days teaching constitutional law, yet his administration tried time and again to unilaterally rewrite the law through executive fiat.
The “Volks” rule is just one example of this unprecedented overreach. Under Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations, employers are required to record injuries and illnesses and retain those records for five years. This information has long been used by safety inspectors and employers to identify gaps in safety and enhance protections for workers.
To ensure hazards are addressed in a timely manner, the law explicitly provides a six-month window under which an employer can be cited for failing to keep proper records. Six months. But never one to let the law stand in the way of its partisan agenda, the Obama administration decided to unfairly target a Louisiana construction company for recordkeeping errors from nearly five years earlier.
That’s right — five years. Not even remotely close to what the law passed by Congress permits. The consequences of this unlawful power grab were predictable. Employers large and small faced significant regulatory confusion and legal uncertainty.
Fortunately, a federal appeals court unanimously struck down this power grab. Even President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court —Judge Merrick Garland — referred to OSHA’s action as “unreasonable.”
And how did the Obama administration respond to this judicial rebuke? It completely ignored the court’s ruling. The agency doubled down on its abuse of power and tried to rewrite the law, extending the threat of penalty from six months to five years.
Again, it is Congress that writes laws — not government agencies. That is precisely why we must support this resolution. By supporting H. J. Res 83, we will provide more certainty for small businesses and uphold the rule of law.
Just as importantly, we must demand a better approach to worker health and safety. To be clear, this rule does nothing — I repeat nothing — to improve the health and safety of America’s workers.
Instead of shaming employers, OSHA should collaborate with employers and develop a proactive approach that will keep workers safe. That’s exactly what Republicans have demanded for years, and we will continue to demand so in the years ahead-- No matter which party has the presidency.
I urge my colleagues to block an unlawful rule by voting in favor of H. J. Res 83. I wish to thank the Chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, Representative Byrne, for his leadership on this important issue. Thank you, and I yield the balance of my time.
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Foxx Statement: Hearing on "Legislative Proposals to Improve Health Care Coverage and Provide Lower Costs for Families"
"It’s in a death spiral.” That’s how Aetna’s chief executive Mark Bertolini recently described the Democrats’ failed health care law. Citing higher premiums and insufficient enrollment among young, healthy individuals, Mr. Bertolini predicted that more insurers will quit Obamacare next year. When they do — as they’ve done year after year — families will find it even harder to access the doctors they want and the affordable coverage they need.
A death spiral. That’s the honest assessment of someone who has looked closely at the facts and who can’t ignore reality. Of course, there are those who are still living in an alternate reality, and they are trying desperately to protect a law that is wreaking havoc on families and small businesses across the country.
Powerful special interest groups are peddling scare tactics and doing all they can to defend the status quo. One prominent organization in particular is promoting a manual that includes tips on how to disrupt town halls. The manual recommends to “grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together” in order to “reinforce the impression of broad consensus.” It even asks activists to boo Republican members of Congress.
All of these desperate tactics are aimed at protecting a failed law that has resulted in nearly 5 million Americans losing the health care they liked and were promised they could keep. A failed law that has left millions of Americans with access to just one insurance provider. A failed law that has caused countless families to lose access to the doctors they trusted. A failed law that has forced health care costs to skyrocket and destroyed hundreds of thousands of small business jobs.
Ultimately, they are fighting to maintain government control; government control over the kind of health insurance you can buy; government control over the kind of health insurance employers can and cannot offer workers; government control over the doctors you can see and the doctors you can’t see; and government control over certain health care benefits that many individuals may not need.
Yet, despite the costs and pain inflicted on so many Americans by Obamacare, the answer for some is still more government control. We believe there is a better way, and that is what the legislative proposals we will discuss today are all about.
We believe patients — not Washington bureaucrats — should be in charge of their health care decisions. We believe employers should have more choices — not fewer — to provide their workers with access to affordable coverage. We believe small businesses should be empowered to negotiate for the best coverage at the best possible price for their employees.
I expect the sponsors and our witnesses will discuss in greater detail the specifics of each legislative proposal, but all three are designed to promote more choices, more flexibility, greater access, and lower costs. That’s exactly what the American people need.
We are at a crossroads right now when it comes to our nation’s health care. When people — through no fault of their own — are experiencing pain and havoc created by the Obamacare death spiral, the only responsible thing to do is provide relief. We simply cannot continue down the unsustainable path we are on and sit back and watch as this fundamentally flawed law collapses under its own weight.
We must change course. That’s why House Republicans are on a rescue mission not only to save families struggling under Obamacare, but also to deliver the meaningful health care reforms the American people have demanded for years. Today, we are taking an important step in this process by examining a number of commonsense solutions that will help more Americans access high quality, affordable health care.
I want to thank my colleagues — HELP Subcommittee Chairman Tim Walberg and Representative Phil Roe — as well as a former member of this committee, Representative Sam Johnson — for their leadership on several of the reforms we will discuss today.
Rokita Statement: Hearing on "Providing More Students a Pathway to Success by Strengthening Career and Technical Education"
For decades, career and technical education has helped individuals compete in the workforce and build fulfilling careers. Today, state and local programs across the country are working to prepare students in high school and at community colleges for jobs in a variety of fields. These programs serve more than 11 million students — helping them receive knowledge, skills, and real-world experience in fields ranging from health care and law enforcement to information technology and manufacturing.
Through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal government provides support to these state and local programs. It’s a worthwhile investment in growing a skilled workforce, preparing students for postsecondary education or the workplace, and helping hardworking individuals — particularly younger individuals — achieve their goals in life.
CTE helped Paul Tse from Maryland go from a struggling high school student to the project manager for a mechanical contract company. Jasmine Morgan from Georgia realized her dream of becoming a sports marketing specialist through her experience with CTE. Alex Wolff embarked on a successful career in electrical engineering after participating in a CTE program in his home state of California.
These are just a few examples of the power CTE has to help students achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. However, changes to federal law need to be made, and that’s what we are here to discuss today — updating career and technical education policies so more students can enjoy success like Paul, Jasmine, and Alex.
The Perkins Act hasn’t been updated in more than a decade. I don’t have to tell you that much has changed in the workplace and our economy since then. Technology has advanced, consumer needs have shifted, and the country has struggled through a slow, tough economic recovery.
By strengthening CTE policies, we have an opportunity to ensure the law reflects the current realities facing students, workers, and employers today. It’s an important opportunity — one that allows us not only to help more Americans seize opportunities in the workforce but to help them excel in the high-skilled jobs that exist today.
In recent years, we’ve heard more and more about the “skills gap” — the idea that there are more job opportunities in this country than there are workers with the knowledge and skills necessary to fill them. You heard me correctly. Even with too many Americans still unemployed, millions of job openings exist. The sad truth is we simply haven’t prepared students for them.
This need for skilled labor exists in a number of critical industries. In manufacturing alone, six out of 10 positions go unfilled because of the skills gap, and 84 percent of manufacturers agree there is a talent shortage. What’s worse is that if current projections continue, more than 6 million jobs will remain unfilled by the year 2020.
Something needs to change, and improving career and technical education is a great way to help bring about that change. Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch.
Last year, Congress came very close to passing a bipartisan bill that would deliver much-needed CTE reforms. Through a bipartisan effort led by Representatives Glenn Thompson and Katherine Clark, this committee unanimously approved legislation to strengthen CTE. Let me pause to repeat that: unanimously approved legislation.
The important reforms in that legislation would empower state and local leaders to respond to changing education and economic needs. They would support innovative learning opportunities for students and help build better community partnerships, including stronger engagement with local employers. They would also improve accountability to ensure CTE programs are delivering real results and hardworking taxpayer dollars are being well spent.
That legislation went on to pass the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 405 to 5. It also enjoyed broad support outside of Congress from groups representing students, schools, employers, and those in the civil rights community.
These commonsense, bipartisan reforms provide us with a strong foundation to continue working to improve the law. Through hearings like this one and the legislative work ahead, we have an opportunity to help fill jobs, empower more individuals to achieve their goals, and provide more students a pathway to success.
I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today and look forward to hearing their stories and experiences about the power of CTE, and what we can do to make it better. I know Mike Rowe has been working for years to elevate CTE, as well as all kinds of “dirty jobs” and the men and women employed in these fields. His efforts have helped shine a light on countless Americans whose hard work and quiet determination help move this great country forward. We appreciate all that you’ve done to support this country’s students and workers, and we look forward to your testimony.
Congress is making important progress rolling back the regulatory onslaught that has been crushing families and small businesses in recent years, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce continues to help lead the way. Most recently, Reps. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Francis Rooney (R-FL) championed resolutions that would close a regulatory loophole created during the waning days of the Obama administration and restore protections retirement savers have enjoyed for decades. As the Wall Street Journal notes in a new editorial, “Now the Senate should move on the resolution to protect savers and taxpayers.”
Repealing Labor's Double Standard
By Editorial Board
Republicans in Congress are doing yeoman’s work rolling back the Obama regulatory agenda rule by rule. One act of prudence worth highlighting is a resolution revoking the Labor Department’s fiduciary exemption for government-managed retirement plans.
Last year Labor finalized two rules granting an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa) “safe harbor” to retirement plans for private workers that are administered by state and local governments. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington have passed laws creating public retirement options, and more than a dozen other states as well as several cities have considered the idea.
Labor’s putative goal was to expand access to retirement-savings accounts. About a quarter of full-time employees who work year-round aren’t enrolled in a private retirement plan, though they do get Social Security. To receive an Erisa waiver, states and cities would have to require employers to auto-enroll their workers in the government plan. Employers would be prohibited from contributing, and employees must be able to opt out.
Yet the rule doesn’t require that the government retirement accounts be portable or that workers be allowed to withdraw their savings at any time. Many states opposed such requirements because they know that locking in worker savings may be necessary to make the plans viable. Otherwise, the plans may not achieve the scale necessary to minimize administrative costs that are capped by state law.
States also wouldn’t be required to act in the best interest of workers or make specified disclosures, though they “must be responsible for the security of payroll deductions and employee savings.” Politicians could funnel worker savings to their politically favored managers or investments. Illinois could buy Chicago’s junk bonds. Look at that 8.5% yield! One disclosure states haven’t made is that the plans carry an implicit government guarantee. Liabilities could swell if politicians guarantee a rate of return.
Taxpayers could also end up funding the plans’ start-up and administrative costs if more workers opt out or choose to contribute less than states project. A Boston College Center for Retirement Research study last year projected that it could take Oregon’s plan 17 years to pay off initial operating losses even if workers contribute 3% of their pay.
Under a 1975 Labor rule, employers who auto-enroll workers in plans are considered fiduciaries. Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez rewrote the rule for state and local governments while tightening fiduciary standards on brokers advising workers who enroll in IRAs. So the former Labor chief used regulation to undercut private competition to the new government plans.
House Republicans passed a resolution earlier this month to kill the new rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows a simple majority in both chambers with the President’s signature to rescind regulations issued within the session’s last 60 working days. As a bonus, similar rules cannot be reissued, so the resolution would thwart such favoritism for government retirement schemes in the future. Now the Senate should move on the resolution to protect savers and taxpayers.
By Christopher Beach
With control of all three branches of government, Republicans are set on unraveling President Obama's education legacy and pushing an unprecedented amount of funding and authority back to states.
Leading this charge is Rep. Virginia Foxx, the newly appointed chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Her mission, as she told RealClearPolitics in an interview for the new episode of the “First 100 Days” podcast series, is to make the federal government “as minimal as possible.”
In fact, the North Carolina Republican has no qualms about abolishing the entire Department of Education. “If the Lord put me in charge, I would do it,” Foxx said. But she admitted, “I do not think it's politically feasible.”
Instead, the GOP is busy chipping away at specific Obama-era regulations related to the nation's new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). And the Trump administration just took an axe to Obama's controversial Title IX transgender restroom rules. Foxx approved of the decision and added that Obama had circumvented the legislative process and tried to “interpret into the law something that was never intended.” (At the time of her interview with RCP, the administration's decision was imminent but had not yet been issued.)
You might describe Foxx as a strict constitutionalist. The seven-term congresswoman is a staunch believer that powers not specifically granted to Congress or the executive branch by the Constitution should be delegated to the states, and that includes decisions involving education. Furthermore, she asserts that the federal government's intervention in education has not been effective.
Foxx pointed to the fact that the U.S. has spent over $3 trillion on Title I funding directed at improving outcomes for low-income students, yet “reading levels have not changed one bit since 1965.” “Something is wrong with this scenario,” she added.
(According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card, reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have ticked up marginally over the past several decades, but scores for 12th-graders have remained stagnant and, in recent years, actually decreased.)
In interviews and in person, the committee chairwoman is not known to hedge or mince words. Her moxie and direct style are partly shaped by her remarkable personal journey from abject poverty to unlikely success. Growing up in Appalachia, her family didn't have electric power or running water until she was 14. At age 12, she took a job as a weaver to help provide for her family. She worked her way through high school as a janitor and became the first member of her family to graduate.
She talks openly about being raised in one of the poorest areas of the country, but stresses that it didn't stop her from succeeding. “That's what this country is about,” Foxx stated. Now, her personal goal is to protect the opportunity for anybody who grew up in similar circumstances to succeed also.
That's one reason she is an avid supporter of school choice. While Foxx did not specifically address how Republicans in Congress will go about it, she voiced support for Trump’s and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ desire to dramatically expand school choice. She also pushed back against critics, saying they’re trying to deny children in failing schools the opportunity at a better education.
After completing high school, Foxx graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later earned both a master’s degree in college teaching and a PhD in education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She worked as a research assistant and English instructor in higher education and later became the president of Mayland Community College.
As you might expect, she's well-versed in the issues of higher education and is a vocal advocate for expanding college opportunities, whether it be through industry certification programs, two-year college or four-year degree programs. In her opinion, the United States needs to elevate the status of people who chose not to get a four-year degree. She stressed that states should develop better career and vocational training programs for students who don't want to go on to college.
To listen to the full interview, click here.
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