Rep. Peterson's Newsletter 7/12/2019
This week, Congress considered more than 400 amendments and passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020. It includes a wide range of defense priorities that support our troops, including a 3.1 percent pay increase for our military and an overall spending level consistent with the recommendation of the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford to keep our country safe. The House passed the long overdue “Never Forget the Heros Act” that would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund to help support the ongoing treatment of first responders suffering from illnesses related to their service on that horrible day. I was a cosponsor of this legislation and I was proud to vote to support this important cause. The Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit held a hearing on rural broadband which featured witnesses from Bemidji and Red Wing. I attended the House Veterans’ Affairs Markup hearing where we discussed important legislation on veteran housing. I spoke at the American Farm Bureau Federation Council of Presidents. On Monday, I was awarded the 2019 Hunger Leadership Award for my work on the 2018 Farm Bill.
Serving the 7th
Stopping Bad Robocalls Act
Last week’s newsletter questionnaire highlighted just how sick and tired Minnesotans are of unwanted robocalls. I asked constituents to report how many robocalls they receive and the average response was 13-15 unwanted robocalls each week. 60% of respondents also said either they or someone they know have been a victim of a scammer.
As a result, I have cosponsored H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocall Act, to fix this problem and put Minnesotans back in charge of their phones. This bipartisan bill will implement a nationwide caller authentication system, free for consumers, so they can trust the number they see on their caller ID. The bill grants law enforcement and the Federal Communications Commission the tools they need to go after robocallers.
To learn more, you can view my press release on my website.
Report an unlawful robocall or sign-up for the National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov.
INFRA and BUILD Grant Applications
This week I was happy to support several infrastructure projects important to the 7th District as they compete for federal INFRA and BUILD Grants. I joined Senators Klobuchar and Smith and Rep. Emmer, Rep. Phillips, and Rep. Craig in supporting Highway 212’s four-lane expansion. Senator Klobuchar and Senator Smith also joined me in sending a letter highlighting the BUILD Grant application for Moorhead’s Grade Separation at the Downtown and 11th Street rail crossing. I also wrote recommending funding to replace the Nielsville Bridge connecting Minnesota to Trail County, North Dakota. These infrastructure projects are vital to the continuing economic growth of our rural communities and I will keep working until they are fully funded.
Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act
I heard from constituent supporters of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) who wanted to see action taken to recognize veterans who were exposed to radiation risk during cleanup on Enewetak Atoll from 1977 to 1980. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently recognizes only those veterans who participated during the nuclear testing from 1951 to 1959 as having participated in radiation risk activity. In response to their requests, I signed on to two bipartisan bills seeking to address this issue.
H.R. 1377, the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, provides for the treatment of those veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll as radiation exposed veterans for purposes of the presumption of service-connection of certain disabilities. In addition, I signed on H.R. 1628, the Enewetak Atoll Cleanup Radiation Study Act, which calls for a study on radiation exposure relating to the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. The study proposal was discussed during a Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee hearing this spring when Members received testimony from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the issue.
On Thursday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit held a hearing on the importance of reliable and high-speed broadband. Rural communities depend on broadband to deliver quality education, healthcare services, modern agricultural practices, and consumer access to small businesses. I was glad to see two Minnesotans David Hengel of Bemidji and Neela Mollgaard of Red Wing give testimony on their personal experiences with broadband and its pivotal role in their community’s development.
I was invited to speak to the American Farm Bureau Federation Council of Presidents on Wednesday. Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap introduced me, and I took a few minutes to update the presidents on my work as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. I thanked the Farm Bureau for their assistance in crafting the new Dairy Revenue Protection program and explained how I have structured the Agriculture Committee this Congress to give young Members the chance to develop expertise in different parts of agriculture. I also answered their questions about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, disaster relief, and legislation to strengthen markets for dairy products.
I was given a 2019 Hunger Leadership Award by the Congressional Hunger Center this week for my work on the 2018 Farm Bill. Feeding America is one of the most important issues we face in the Agriculture Committee and it is an honor to share this opportunity with the rest of the 7th District.
On Wednesday afternoon, I had a chance to visit with Dimitrious Smyrnios and Alan Poff of Schwan’s and the leadership of CJ America. We were able to catch up on what’s happening at their Marshall plant, including the successful purchase of a majority share of Schwan’s by CJ America, represented by co-CEO’s Pious Jung and Vincent Lee, along with their capable U.S.-based team.
Chairman Chris Giancarlo’s Farewell
My friend Chris Giancarlo has served on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as a Commissioner since June 2014. After being unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Chris also served as CFTC’s Chairman for the past two years. Chris’s main role at CFTC was to foster transparent, competitive and financially sound markets by avoiding systemic risks associated from fraud and abusive practices related to derivatives, which are complex financial contracts.
In the meeting I had with Chris a few years back, he mentioned that he plays guitar and banjo so I eventually recruited him to play in my band, the Second Amendments. Chris’s term as Chairman will end on July 15th, so my band recently performed at his farewell sendoff at the CFTC. I thank Chris for his years of public service and wish him well in his future endeavors.
House Veteran’s Affair’s Markup Hearing
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) held a Full Committee Markup on Thursday to consider pending legislation. I attended and participated in the discussion on H.R. 2942 which extends a pilot program that works to combat issues women veterans face as they transition from receiving health care services through DoD to the VA; H.R. 2943, which makes fact sheets from the Department of Veterans Affairs available in multiple languages; and H.R. 3504, which makes improvements to the specially adapted housing (SAH) grant program administered by the VA. There were multiple amendments brought up and Members engaged in spirited debate. I highlighted my frustrations with VA practices of declaring recipients mentally defective when having a representative payee or fiduciary handling their finances as it pertains to individuals right to maintain a firearm. It is imperative we address the problems at hand, rather than attempt to address those that don’t exist for political gain.
Renewable Fuels Association Board Meeting
RFA board members, who are agriculture and biofuels producers themselves, visited the Capitol to discuss the Renewable Fuel Standard, state of the farm economy, and problems associated with tariffs. All of these issues are important to our farmer’s pocketbooks and the ability to get through difficult planting seasons like this year.
National Cemetery Administration
On Thursday, I sat down with Under Secretary Randy Reeves as well as senior staff at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). We discussed the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program at NCA that provides funding for state veterans cemeteries, such as the one we are working to get in Redwood County. In addition to managing this grant program for state veterans’ cemeteries, NCA also manages 136 of the 150 national cemeteries that are located across the United States. You might be interested to know that the Army runs the Arlington National Cemetery and Soldiers Home, while 14 national cemeteries are managed by the Department of the Interior. It is very important to me that those who have served our nation are honored throughout their lives and are laid to rest with the respect and appreciation they deserve.
Leaders from Christensen Farms visited with my staff on Wednesday to discuss challenges and opportunities for American pork producers. They discussed strategies to protect against foreign animal diseases like African swine fever and food-and-mouth disease, and the status of trade negotiations. Mexico and Canada purchase roughly 40% of all pork exported from the United States, so it is important that Congress enacts the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to provide value and much needed certainty to hog producers.
Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics visited with my staff aide Rebekah Solem on Friday as part of their Nutrition and Dietetics Advocacy Summit in Washington. The group discussed their legislative priorities on issues important to dieticians. In particular, they thanked me for my co-sponsorship of H.R. 1530, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which will help increase access to qualified care providers including nutrition professionals.
Minnesota Educators in D.C.
This week, several groups of Minnesota educators visited my Washington, D.C. office. The Minnesota Special Education Directors discussed the challenges our Special Education providers face from inconsistent and insufficient funding. The Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) also discussed the hardships our schools face from a shortage of federal funding. These shortages make creative solutions like Sourcewell, a service cooperative created by the Minnesota legislature (who also visited my office this week), an important resource for our school districts. I will continue to support strong funding for our public school systems as we invest in our most important resource – Minnesota’s children.
Soybean Growers Anxious at 1-Year Anniversary of China Tariffs
Saturday, July 6th was the 1-year anniversary of 25% retaliatory tariffs placed on U.S. soybeans by the Chinese government. In an American Soybean Association press release, ASA President Davie Stephens said, “Before the trade war, U.S. soybean farmers saw prices well over $10 per bushel, but now that number has been in the 8-dollar range way too often. Dealing with weather, weeds, pests and normal markets is tough enough for farmers, but being caught in the middle of a trade war for an entire year is a whole different level. Prices are lower and anxiety is definitely higher for those of us trying to keep our farms going.” China is the largest market for American soybean exports and their purchases add significant value to each bushel of American Soybeans. Our growers need this trade dispute resolved soon to preserve Chinese markets that took decades to develop.
To further understand the negative impact trade disputes have had on the Midwest, see articles from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis that show clear declines in exports from the heartland from 2018 to 2019. According to Tu-Uyen Tran of the fedgazette, “Half the states in the Minneapolis Fed’s six-state region managed to continue growing their exports in 2018, the year trade wars with America’s top trade partners began, according to U.S. Department of Commerce statistics. But, in the first four months of 2019, all the states saw exports drop compared with the same months in 2018.” In the same period, exports from all states in the district dropped by more than $1 billion from 2018 to 2019.
EPA’s Proposal for Biodiesel in 2021
Last Friday, the EPA issued a proposed rule under the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2020 and 2021 for biomass-based biodiesel which sets the minimum amount of renewable fuels that must be supplied to the market. Biodiesel remains flat for 2021 at 2020 levels by again setting blending requirements at 2.43 billion gallons. Furthermore, the rule does not address small refinery exemptions nor the gallons lost as a result which adds insult to injury for our soybean farmers. EPA’s rule weakens efforts to create diverse and renewable sources of energy and does nothing but hurt an already struggling farm economy.
Save Our Pensions
This week, Jeff Brooks and Steve Baribeau, co-chairs of Save our Pensions-MN, stopped by my office to discuss the latest developments with the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, a bill I have cosponsored and support. I will keep working with Democrats and Republicans to build support for this legislation that will ensure so large pension plans remain solvent for the members who have paid into them for years.
United Veterans Legislative Council Meeting
Meg Louwagie of my staff attended the UVLC meeting in St. Cloud VA Healthcare Center. Meg reported on the current bill Congress is working on in the Veterans Affairs Committee and was briefed on how the processing of Blue Water cases will proceed. Blue Water claims can be submitted now but will not be processed until January 1st, 2020 as the VA is in the process of training staff and ramping up for the large number of cases to be processed.
Celebration Day at Anheuser-Busch Malting Facility
This week, my staff joined local farmers for a tour of the Anheuser-Busch’s Malting facility in Moorhead. High quality barley is the essential grain in making good beer and this event provided an opportunity to thank the many farmers that raise barley and recognize the younger farmers who are taking over the reins.
Northland Community Technical College Receives Grant
Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) was awarded a $7 million National Science Foundation grant to form the National Center for Autonomous Technologies at the Thief River Falls campus. The grant is the largest in NCTC’s history. This gives NCTC the opportunity to lead the educational development of autonomous technologies. Jonathan Beck a NCTC instructor said "autonomous technologies are maybe one of the most disruptive technologies that we’ll have to deal with in the next decade.”
Willmar Wye Groundbreaking
On Tuesday my staff aides Jacki Anderson and Grant Herfindahl joined the City of Willmar, Kandiyohi County, BNSF and the Minnesota Department of Transportation along with other project partners to break ground on the Willmar Wye. The Willmar Wye is a rail and roadway infrastructure project that will improve safety, increase rail efficiency and create new economic opportunity for the region. I was happy to support this project over the years from the federal Tiger grant applications through the agreements process. Tuesday was an exciting milestone for this multi-million-dollar project and I look forward to seeing its completion.
In the past 7 days, the federal government has spent over $7 billion on paying off the interest on the $22.4 trillion national debt. This is more than what is spent on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Rural Water and Waste Program Loans combined for an entire year. Instead of investing into more programs like these, the American people are forced to pay for Congress’s reckless spending.
As a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, I have continually supported a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would require Congress to get our fiscal house in order. I have also fought for Pay-As-You-Go legislation to ensure legislation doesn’t add to our debt and recently voted against the Democratic budget which would have worsened our fiscal situation.
Last Week’s Questionnaire Results
Last week I asked if you or someone you know have ever fallen victim to a phone scam. Here is how people responded. The average number of robo calls was 13-15 call per week.
Here are some other responses:
This Week in History
On July 13th, 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, it set up the rules of government for the Northwest Territory of the United States, which included present-day Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. Slavery was outlawed, the land was to be surveyed into townships, and each township was to set aside land for a school. In addition, the ordinance stated that "the utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their land and property.