Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Senator Mark Warner Hampton Roads Virginia Quarterly Regional Newsletter

English: Mark Warner, member of the United Sta...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A week ago, I traveled 1,200 miles over five days to meet with Virginians from every region of the Commonwealth. Over the course of 30 events, town halls and roundtables in 18 different communities, I was encouraged to hear genuine optimism from a lot of people about more signs of a genuine economic recovery. Folks also noticed that, for the first time in a while, Congress now appears to be moving forward together to begin addressing some of our nation’s challenges. 

I wanted to update you about my recent work in Congress to strengthen the economy and create jobs here in Hampton Roads. As always, I would welcome your thoughts, comments and concerns. 

Thanks again for the honor of representing you in Congress. 

Mark R. Warner

Working to Restore Military Retirement Benefits 

I have been working with colleagues in the Senate to repeal and replace the proposed cut to military pensions that was included in the Bipartisan Budget Act, which recently passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate. The recent spending bill repealed those cuts for disabled military retirees who were medically retired, but other military men and women were understandably concerned about this mid-career change in pension policy. Our service men and women deserve much better than seeing their pensions arbitrarily cut by lawmakers in Washington. Senators did not have an opportunity to vote on amendments to the budget agreement first approved by the House, so I immediately introduced legislation to replace the COLA cut for military retirees by closing a loophole that some companies use to avoid paying taxes. The proposed cut to military pensions is not scheduled to take effect until 2015, so I can assure you there will be plenty of time and many opportunities to reverse these pension cuts that unfairly single out Virginia military families. 

Virginia Chosen to Lead Drone Research & Testing 

After months of working with the Federal Aviation Administration, I was proud to announce the selection of a Virginia partnership to spearhead a research effort to help map the future of drones in commercial airspace. Following the grant announcement, I organized a roundtable in Norfolk with partners from NASA-Langley, NASA-Wallops, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy, private drone companies and Virginia Tech to discuss possible economic benefits for manufacturing in Virginia. It’s my hope that this partnership will also be able to help sort out the legitimate public concerns about privacy and air safety as we move toward a safe and responsible integration of unmanned aircraft. 

Fighting for Virginia’s Volunteer Emergency Responders 

Beginning last fall, I started hearing from many volunteer fire and rescue departments in Virginia who had concerns about some confusing language in The Affordable Care Act. The Treasury Department was not being especially helpful in clarifying whether or not volunteer first responders, who typically have health coverage through their full-time employers, would be required to be counted as full-time employees by their volunteer departments. Such a mandate could have required volunteer departments to significantly cut their membership ranks, and that certainly was not the intent of Congress. I wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury last month, asking him to settle this confusion once and for all, and I am pleased the IRS now has made it clear that volunteer first responders do not count in ACA’s requirement that employers with 50 or more workers must provide health coverage or face penalties. I’ve said all along that there will be issues like these that arise with health care reform, and we should work in a bipartisan way to fix them. In this instance, I am pleased we were able to protect those who protect us. 

Better Protections for Consumers 

At nearly $700 billion in sales each year, prepaid cards are one of the fastest growing parts of the financial industry. However, issuers of prepaid cards currently are not required to provide the same level of consumer protections offered by most other gift cards and credit cards. I introduced legislation earlier this month to change this, so that technology doesn’t outpace smart consumer protections. Additionally, following the recent Target data breach affecting at least 70 million customers, as well as data breaches at other high-profile U.S. companies, I will chair a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee next week to examine whether companies and financial service providers are taking all actions necessary to safeguard consumer data. I’ll also look at whether stronger industry-wide cybersecurity standards are needed. 

Returning to Normal Order in Congress 

Congress recently passed a bipartisan spending bill that will ease the harshest effects of last year's automatic sequester cuts. This legislation is an important step toward normal order in the Senate, and the first appropriations bill passed since 2009. It included almost $487 billion indefense spending to advance our nation’s security and military readiness, and to provide support for our troops and their families, and fully funded ship-repair and shipbuilding accounts. A list of additional Virginia priorities that were funded through the appropriations bill is available here. 

This two-year budget agreement should help Virginia families, employers and community leaders move forward with more predictability and confidence. While I’m pleased that, at least in the near term, we will not be lurching from crisis to crisis, I believe we still need to have a comprehensive and thorough conversation about our nation’s deficit and debt.
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