Last weekend the President negotiated a prisoner exchange in which we received the only Prisoner of War in the Afghanistan war from the Taliban in exchange for five of the most senior and notorious Taliban leaders held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Like most Americans, I am always happy to see an American P.O.W. returned safely home; however, I echo many of the same concerns shared by many constituents from across the Panhandle.
In light of additional information we have received, what troubles me is the process by which Sergeant Bergdahl attained that freedom. Primarily, the United States has held to a strict policy for decades to refrain from negotiations with terrorists. The reason for this policy is very clear—doing so would incentivize our enemies to take more American hostages abroad. The President’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban signals to our enemies that there is now value in taking additional American hostages in the future. Furthermore, the President is required to notify Congress no later than 30 days prior to the release of any Guantanamo Bay detainee. Typical of this Administration, the President bypassed Congress, and we were not notified until after this prisoner exchange. Lastly, there are also additional unknowns regarding the circumstances surrounding Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance and subsequent contact with the Taliban, raising the question of whether he was a deserter or a Prisoner of War. These concerns and the blatant disregard of the law warrant the need for additional review, and the Administration owes Congress and the American people answers.
Meeting with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson
I met last week with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson to discuss the way ahead for VA. In order to fix the problems at the VA, it is crucial that VA stop stonewalling and partner with Congress. Step one in this process is for VA to fully comply with the subpoena issued by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. I told Acting Secretary Gibson that if VA doesn’t turn over everything we have asked for in the subpoena by tomorrow then we will petition the federal courts to force VA to comply. I sincerely hope that this isn’t necessary and that VA will start treating Congress as an ally rather than an adversary.
In the District
VA Joint Ambulatory Care Clinic in Pensacola & Fort Walton Beach Community Based Outpatient Clinic
Considering the systemic problems within VA health care that are occurring around the country, facilities within Northwest Florida will not be immune from scrutiny simply because I represent the area before Congress and am the Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. If there are any issues regarding substandard care or access to care that arise in any facility, either at home or around the Nation, I will seek to root out the problem and fix it.
On Monday morning, I conducted a surprise site visit at the VA Joint Ambulatory Care Clinic (JACC) in Pensacola. I met with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Brown and discussed operations at the facility and where improvements should be made, particularly in the area of appointments for patients needing prosthetic devices. I receive largely positive feedback from veterans in the First District of Florida regarding the JACC, and I appreciated Dr. Brown explaining the good work the employees there do for them.
Following my site visit to the JACC, I traveled to the Fort Walton Beach Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) next to Eglin Air Force Base. There, I met with Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mishra, who gave me a detailed explanation on what the facility is doing to better serve our veterans. We spoke about the JACC and CBOC's efforts to hire more staff to build additional teams to provide care for the growing numbers of veterans utilizing the VA healthcare system today. I encourage both facilities to diligently pursue the hiring of new medical staff to maximize access to care for the veterans in our community.
War on Coal
Last week, the EPA and President Obama continued their attack on our Nation’s energy sector and all the American families and businesses that rely on this energy to meet their everyday needs. This latest salvo in the President’s war on coal and American energy came in the form of a new greenhouse gas (GHG) rule that would mandate steep reductions in carbon emissions from existing power plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030. More than 80 percent of our Nation’s energy comes from conventional carbon-emitting fuel, and this new GHG rule is nothing more than another attempt to institute the type of cap-and-trade regulations that have been consistently rejected by Congress and the American people. According to analysis by Bloomberg, these new rules would require carbon cuts of 23 percent in Florida. These cuts would necessarily then lead to increased energy bills for hard working Floridians. Even President Obama admitted during the 2008 campaign that “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” These new GHG rules would have the same effect as cap-and-trade and would likewise lead to higher energy prices.
The House has already passed legislation that would block economically harmful rules like EPA’s new GHG rule, ensure federal agencies to take into account the economic impact of major regulations, and require that all rules with an economic impact of greater than $100 million come before Congress for an up-or-down vote. Despite these measures, the EPA refuses to halt their regulatory onslaught, and that is why I am also supporting two additional measures aimed specifically at this new GHG rule. First, I joined colleagues from across the House in sending a letter to EPA demanding that they rescind this rule immediately. Additionally, I am a cosponsor of legislation that will be introduced this week to nullify the new proposed EPA rule and prevent any such similar rule from going into effect. It is time for the Administration to stop attacking our economy and start supporting the energy resources that allow our Nation to flourish.
This article originally appeared on Santa Rosa Press Gazette: Constituent Voice