Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on the government funding bill becoming law, averting another shutdown. The legislation fully funds the government through September 30th and includes numerous provisions the Senators championed to benefit Virginia, including a salary boost for federal workers and more funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.

“We’re relieved hundreds of thousands of federal employees won’t have to go without pay again because of President Trump’s determination to shut the government down, but these hardworking public servants are sick of us lurching from crisis-to-crisis every couple weeks,” said the Senators. “While we’re glad this bipartisan package includes many key Virginia priorities, it’s inexcusable that it does not include back pay for federal contractors, who are still hurting from the last shutdown. We hope Congress will finally pass legislation to address this issue.” 

On the President’s national emergency declaration for border wall funding, the Senators said, “We made significant investments in border security done the right way, and there’s no good reason President Trump should do a political power grab for more. When national security leaders brief us on the big security threats against our nation, they are not asking us for a wall. The President is just saying this is an emergency so he can get his vanity project, and it’s deeply concerning that he’s trying to build it by pulling from military construction funds, which is money that should be going toward projects like fixing military family housing and making security improvements to our bases.”

The following list includes many of the provisions Sens. Warner and Kaine supported on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations bill:

  • Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA): The bill includes a 1.9 percent salary increase for federal civilian employees. 
  • Border Security: The bill includes $100 million in border security technology and $564 million for non-intrusive port-scanning technology. It also adds 600 customs officers.
  • Opioid Crisis: The bill includes $468 million to help combat heroin, fentanyl, and illegal distribution and abuse of opioids.
  • WMATA: The bill includes the full annual federal funding commitment of $150 million for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) capital improvements.
  • Chesapeake Bay: The bill provides $73 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership that directs and conducts the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, of which $6 million is for nutrient and sediment removal grants and $6 million is for small watershed grants to control polluted runoff from urban, suburban, and agricultural lands.
  • Grants to State and Local Law Enforcement: The bill includes more than $3 billion in grants to state and local law enforcement. This includes: $178 million to address sexual assault kit and other DNA evidence backlogs; $100 million for the STOP School Violence Act; and $75 million for grants to improve the NICS firearms background check system.
  • NASA Langley: The agreement provides $21.5 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is $764 million above last year’s funding level. The legislation provides full support for both the Space Launch System ($2.15B) and Orion ($1.35B), which will be responsible for future deep space travel and benefits NASA Langley. The NASA Aeronautics program will receive $725 million, $40 million above last year's level, which funds substantial work at NASA Langley, and additional funding will go towards launch infrastructure improvements at Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
  • Unmanned Systems: The bill appropriates $6 million in matching funds for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research. Sen. Warner successfully amended the Senate bill to double funding to $6 million for research done through UAS test sites like the one at Virginia Tech, which are working towards integrating UAS into the national airspace.
  • BUILD infrastructure grants: The bill provides $900 million for competitive transportation grants through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, formerly known as “TIGER” grants. Virginia has previously used these grants for projects, including improvements to Washington's Metro system, I-95 Express Lanes, I-564 connector from Norfolk International Terminals at the Port of Virginia, I-64 Delta Frames Bridges in Rockbridge County, the Pulse bus-rapid transit system in Richmond, and Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun County near Dulles.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $435 million for LWCF, which has helped preserve forests, trails, wildlife refuges, historic battlefields, and Chesapeake Bay lands and waters in Virginia. Just earlier this week, Congress passed legislation to permanently reauthorize this crucial program. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails, and more.
  • National Park Service: The bill provides more than $3.2 billion for operations of the National Park Service. In 2018, nearly 26 million individuals visited Virginias’s 22 National Parks and provided over $1 billion in economic benefits to the Commonwealth and gateway communities.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for payments to counties through the PILT program in order to help local governments offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries.
  • Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI): The bill provides $1 million to help bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America. Recent changes to the program included in the Senate-passed version of the 2018 Farm Bill closely follow Sen. Warner’s efforts in the Senate to eradicate food deserts.  
  • FBI Headquarters: The bill does not include funding for the Trump Administration’s plan to demolish the existing FBI headquarters in Washington and build a new facility in its place. Warner and Kaine have for years worked to secure funding for a FBI headquarters at a new site to replace the current, deteriorating building in Washington. They have raised concerns about the White House’s involvement in the abrupt decision to reverse course on a new FBI HQ location and have called on the Department of Justice to investigate that decision.    

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Washington – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Kennedy (R-LA) to introduce the Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act, legislation to protect the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who were hurt by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. 

“The recent shutdown may be over, but federal employees and contractors are still feeling its effects,” said Sen. Warner. “They shouldn’t have their credit scores threatened because the President recklessly decided to shutter the government for 35 days.”

The bipartisan Protect Federal Workers’ Credit Act would require credit bureaus to remove negative information that was placed on the credit reports of federal workers and contractors who missed payments as a result of a government shutdown. The bill would apply to the recent shutdown and any future government shutdowns. 

Virginia is home to more than 170,000 federal employees and thousands of federal government contractors. During the 35-day shutdown, Sen. Warner met and heard from Virginia families who had to miss bills or draw down on their savings to afford basic necessities. These financial decisions can have a damaging effect on an individual’s credit score and make it harder to qualify for future bank loans.

Sen. Warner previously introduced the Stop STUPIDITY Act to end the threat of future shutdowns and protect federal government workers from being used as pawns in political negotiations. In addition, Sen. Warner introduced legislation that the President signed into law that secured back pay for federal workers. He continues to press the Administration and his colleagues to pass bipartisanlegislation that would provide back pay to low- and middle-wage federal contractor service employees affected by the government shutdown.

A copy of the legislation can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) were joined by every member of the Virginia congressional delegation in urging U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to relocate the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Units (FTU) to Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads. Originally located at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018, the squadron is being temporarily held at Eglin Air Force Base, awaiting a decision by Secretary Wilson as to where it will be housed permanently.

“Beyond the existing ramp space and infrastructure at Langley that would allow it to quickly receive aircraft at minimal additional cost, a decision to move the F-22 FTU to Langley would leverage a number of key benefits that Langley and the surrounding areas have,” said the members of Congress. “The Hampton Roads area has a long history of supporting our nation’s military and their families, and would provide strong recruiting and retention ability.”

“Additionally, the Virginia Air National Guard stands uniquely positioned to support the FTU, with experienced instructors and maintainers well versed on the platform,” they continued. “We ask that you give full consideration to Joint Base Langley-Eustis as a host to this mission.”

Built to accommodate three squadrons, Joint Base Langley-Eustis is currently underutilized, housing only two F-22 squadrons and supporting maintenance units. Moving the F-22 FTU would advance an important recommendation put forward by the Government Accountability Office, which has emphasized the need for improving aircraft availability by consolidating the fleet into larger squadrons or wings.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was signed by Reps. Bobby Scott, Robert Wittman, Gerry Connolly, Morgan Griffith, Don Beyer, A. Donald McEachin, Ben Cline, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, Denver Riggleman, and Jennifer Wexton. 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Heather Wilson

Secretary of the Air Force

1670 Air Force Pentagon

Washington, DC 20330-1670

 

Dear Secretary Wilson:

In December 2018, you announced that the Air Force would conduct a Strategic Basing Process to determine the new location for the F-22 Flight and Maintenance Formal Training Units (FTU). As the Air Force looks to move this mission from Tyndall AFB, and its temporary location at Eglin AFB, we write to express our strong support for moving the mission to Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

While Joint Base Langley-Eustis currently has two F-22 squadrons, as well as supporting maintenance units, it was built for the beddown of three squadrons, thereby underutilizing the airspace and Air Force investment in ramp, hangar, and operations support facilities. The east coast Mid-Atlantic training ranges provide an excellent opportunity to train with other 4th and 5th generation aircraft in the region. Moving the F-22 FTU to Langley would advance one of the recommendations put forward by the Government Accountability Office regarding F-22 organization: the need for “consolidating the fleet into larger squadrons and/or wings in order to improve aircraft availability.” 

Beyond the existing ramp space and infrastructure at Langley that would allow it to quickly receive aircraft at minimal additional cost, a decision to move the F-22 FTU to Langley would leverage a number of key benefits that Langley and the surrounding areas have. The Hampton Roads area has a long history of supporting our nation’s military and their families, and would provide strong recruiting and retention ability. Additionally, the Virginia Air National Guard stands uniquely positioned to support the FTU, with experienced instructors and maintainers well versed on the platform. 

We ask that you give full consideration to Joint Base Langley-Eustis as a host to this mission. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for any additional information.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the $12 billion National Parks Service (NPS) maintenance backlog, which has delayed the upkeep of visitor centers, rest stops, trails, campgrounds and transportation infrastructure operated by NPS in the Commonwealth and across the country. The Restore Our Parks Act, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last year, would take existing government revenue and allocate it to the chronically underfunded National Park Service.

Virginia’s national parks, which host over 25 million visitors every year, are in critical need of this funding to continue preserving some of the nation’s most precious national treasures. Shenandoah National Park alone has outstanding maintenance needs totaling almost $80 million, while Colonial National Historical Park is more than $420 million behind schedule. To make matters worse, recent reports indicate that the 35-day government shutdown exacerbated the NPS maintenance backlog and delayed important work for readying park facilities, roads and trails for the busy summer season.

“The deferred maintenance backlog at national park sites in Virginia is currently over a billion dollars. The Commonwealth trails only California and the District of Columbia in total deferred maintenance needs. Colonial National Historical Park, which is home to Historic Jamestown and Yorktown Battlefield, has over $400 million in deferred maintenance needs alone,” said Sen. Warner. “We owe it to our Commonwealth and to our country to pass this bill and clear the $12 billion maintenance backlog that is holding back essential repairs and renovations at our cherished national parks. This problem will only worsen if we fail to act.” 

“For more than a century, the National Park Service has been inspiring Americans to explore the natural beauty of our country,” Sen. Portman said. “My visits to various national parks in Ohio last year made it clear that we must pass this legislation to ensure that they have sufficient resources to maintain our national parks. This bill will create the Legacy Restoration Fund to provide the National Park Service with funds for deferred maintenance projects. This legislation will also help tackle the more than $100 million in maintenance backlog at Ohio’s eight national parks and will ensure the National Park Service can continue preserving American treasures like Cuyahoga Valley National Park.” 

“Today, too many of our national parks are in bad shape. American families spending their vacations in our national parks are often shocked to find that so many of the roads, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds and visitor centers are run down or even closed,” Sen. Alexander said. “The Restore Our Parks Act would be the biggest help to the National Park Service in 50 years – it would cut in half the maintenance backlog at our national parks and help restore our 418 national parks so Americans can enjoy them. The legislation is supported by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives, the Trump Administration and more than 100 conservation groups. When an idea this good – fixing our national parks for future generations – gets this much bipartisan support, it’s going to happen sooner or later. It is my hope we pass the legislation as soon as this year.” 

“From Acadia to Zion, the National Park System captures our country’s diverse natural beauty and is a proud reminder of America’s dedication to preserving public land for all its citizens,” Sen. King said. “As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.’ We have a collective responsibility to maintain this spirit of the wilderness in our National Parks – and this starts with the $12 billion maintenance backlog. With strong bipartisan support, this bill will ensure our parks are well-maintained so generations of visitors can experience the wonders of our National Parks for years to come.” 

“The Restore Our Parks Act would provide billions of dollars to address the multibillion-dollar repair backlog at our national parks,”said Marcia Argust, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project to restore America’s parks. “This investment would help preserve these treasured places and support sites that generate more than $18 billion in annual spending in nearby communities by park visitors.”

“For years, our national parks have been plagued with underfunding while also dealing with a mounting backlog of repair needs, totaling nearly $12 billion. Grand Canyon’s water and sewer systems, built during World War II, are failing. Roads in Yellowstone that were originally built in 1905 for carriages, not the millions of cars and RVs that use them today, are sinking. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King, park staff could get the funding they need to fix our national parks. The bipartisan Restore Our Parks Act would make a much needed and significant investment to address these and so many more infrastructure needs in national parks across the country, ensuring they are ready to welcome the next generation of park visitors,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association. 

“In 2018, our National Parks contributed $35.8 billion in total economic output and supported 306,000 American jobs. National Parks are a huge attraction for visitors across the country and around the world, which makes investment in the maintenance of our national parks not just an environmental necessity but also an economic priority. U.S. Travel applauds Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King for reintroducing the Restore Our Parks Act, which will invest in national park infrastructure and facilities and shrink the nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance facing our parks,” said Tori Barnes, Senior Vice President, Government Relations, U.S. Travel Association. 

“The nearly $12 billion National Park System deferred maintenance backlog jeopardizes some of our nation’s most iconic historic resources and cultural artifacts. By creating a reliable federal funding source to reduce the backlog, this legislation will enable the National Park Service and other federal agencies to save the historic structures, landscapes, and necessary infrastructure that enable the public to safely enjoy the places that reflect our nation’s history. We commend Reps. Bishop and Kilmer and Sens. Portman, Warner, Alexander and King for their leadership in creating a bipartisan path for Congress to secure the future of important historic and cultural resources now at risk,” said Thomas J. Cassidy, vice president for government relations and policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The time is now for Congress to address this national crisis, particularly in the Nation’s Capital. The National Mall hosts more than 35 million visits each year and has the highest deferred maintenance bill of any National Park across the country. As the greatest symbol of American Democracy, we must improve and preserve this historic legacy for generations to come. We express our gratitude to Representatives Bishop and Kilmer in the House and Senators Portman, Warner, Alexander and King in the Senate for their steadfast leadership of this important legislation,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO, the Trust for the National Mall. 

The Restore Our Parks Act would establish the “National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund” to reduce the maintenance backlog by allocating existing revenues the government receives from on and offshore energy development. This funding would come from 50 percent of all revenues that are not otherwise allocated and deposited into the General Treasury not to exceed $1.3 billion each year for the next five years.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Portman, Alexander and King, other original cosponsors include Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kamala Harris (D-CA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Gary Peters (D-MI), John Boozman (R-AR), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (R-MT). 

A similar bill is being introduced in the House today by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), and has the backing of more than 90 cosponsors.

A list of additional organizations supportive of addressing the NPS backlog can be found here

 

VA National Park Deferred Maintenance as of 2017*

 

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

$1,998,224

Assateague Island NS

$2,774,577

Blue Ridge Parkway

$186,619,608

Booker T Washington National Monument

$1,370,913

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP

$327,072

Colonial National Historical Park

$421,872,932

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

$1,848,864

Fort Monroe National Monument

$2,280,548

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Mem NMP

$10,371,731

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

$1,306,614

George Washington Memorial Parkway

$233,441,316

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

$64,760

Maggie L Walker National Historic Site

$531,648

Manassas National Battlefield Park

$6,516,560

Petersburg National Battlefield

$11,754,041

Prince William Forest Park

$18,619,932

Richmond National Battlefield Park

$6,581,205

Shenandoah National Park

$79,208,621

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

$31,149,289

Total

$1,018,629,457


*Due to the continuously changing nature of facilities data, only final, year-end data is reported by the National Park Service. The last year for which data is available is FY 2017.

 

 

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act, legislation that would prevent the Trump Administration from promoting “junk” health care plans that lack protections for people with pre-existing conditions and would increase costs for millions of Americans.  

“Junk plans will increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Warner. “The Trump Administration should stop trying to undermine the success of the Affordable Care Act, and instead work with Congress on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will lower health care costs and expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care coverage.” 

Under new rules promulgated by the Trump Administration, states would be permitted to use federal subsidies to pay for these subpar health plans by utilizing a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) intended to give states additional flexibility to implement targeted improvements that expand coverage, reduce costs and provide more comprehensive benefits. Under the Trump Administration’s proposed policy, states will be permitted to increase out-of-pocket maximums and reduce the value of coverage, weaken essential health benefits, and implement changes increasing health care costs for the majority of beneficiaries as long as they can demonstrate that some people will see lower costs. As a result of this guidance, some Americans will have health coverage that doesn’t meet the ACA’s minimum standards, and millions of other Americans with pre-existing conditions could see their health care costs rise. 

As 42 Senators made clear in a December letter to Administration leaders, the Administration’s plan runs contrary to the intent of Congress in drafting and passing Section 1332 of the ACA. The Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act would prohibit the Trump Administration from implementing the guidance released on October 22, 2018 weakening protections for pre-existing conditions.

“The Trump Administration’s efforts to expand the use of junk insurance plans is bankrupt of all sense and morality. Congress must act to protect Americans from being left with higher out-of-pocket costs for less services, which can put their health in jeopardy,”said Sen. Cardin. “Improving our health care system requires serious leadership and ideas, but so far, all the Trump Administration has done is continually attempt to undermine protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

“The Trump Administration’s continued efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act are increasing health care costs for millions of Americans,” said Sen. Shaheen. “By incentivizing consumers to choose junk health insurance plans, the administration is taking us back to a time when Americans could be denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions like cancer and diabetes and be forced to pay sky-high medical bills out of pocket. The American people don’t want to go back to those dark days. Our legislation will block the administration from promoting or providing tax incentives for these junk plans. This commonsense bill will ensure that we maintain the protections that patients count on. It’s time for the Trump Administration to stop sabotaging health care and instead work with Democrats to try and lower prescription drug prices and expand access.” 

“The Trump Administration has rewritten the rules on guaranteed health care protections that millions of Americans depend on. They have expanded of junk insurance plans that can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and don’t have to cover essential services like prescription drugs, emergency room visits and maternity care,” Sen. Baldwin said. “Anyone who says they support health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions should support this legislation. This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to protect people’s access to quality, affordable health care when they need it most.”

In October, Senators forced a vote in the Senate on a discharge petition that would have blocked the Trump Administration’s rule to expand “junk insurance” plans. The measure was supported by 50 Senators, including one Republican. Ultimately, the petition did not receive the simple majority needed to pass the Senate and send it to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act has been endorsed by Families USA, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Epilepsy Foundation, and the American Heart Association. A copy of the bill is available here, and companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Annie Kuster (D-NH), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Joe Courtney (D-CT).

 

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WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Mark Warner (D-VA) today introduced the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, which would reform Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation.

“Strong school leaders can have an outsized impact on the quality of education for our students, especially in high-needs school districts,” Sen. Cornyn said. “It’s important that educators have access to grant programs to further their impact in our local schools, and I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this legislation.” 

“Teachers and leaders are working tirelessly in schools across the country and deserve the best training and support possible,” said Sen. Bennet. “By investing in more flexible, higher-quality training programs, we can empower educators to grow in their careers and use innovative approaches in the classroom." 

“We can never thank our teachers enough for everything they do for our children, but we can take important steps like the Teacher and School LEADERS Act,” Sen. Scott said. “By ensuring strong support for high-quality teacher and leadership preparation programs, we can help our educators gain even more tools to pass on to the next generation of leaders.” 

“Professional development opportunities allow teachers and school leaders to grow in their careers and become better educators,” said Sen. Warner. “I am proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing legislation that invests in the future of our children by supporting and empowering their educators.” 

The Teacher and School LEADERS Act would reform Title II of the Higher Education Act to expand the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant program. Specifically, the bill would: 

  • Expand the program to provide training to educators who aspire to fill leadership roles in high-need schools.
  • Provide grant applicants and recipients greater flexibility over who they can partner with for preparation programs by removing restrictions requiring them to partner with an Institution of Higher Education to qualify. 

Several groups have announced their support of the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, including Educators for Excellence, Knowledge Alliance, Leading Educators, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Council on Teacher Quality, National Writing Project, New Leaders, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Teach for America, Teach Plus, Teaching Matters, and Third Way.

 

WASHINGTON – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged his Senate colleagues to support bipartisan legislation that would provide back pay to low- and middle-income federal contractors who otherwise will never see the 35 days’ worth of wages they missed during the partial government shutdown. 

In his remarks, Sen. Warner recalled various conversations he had with furloughed contractors and federal workers during the shutdown and highlighted the lingering consequences that continue to affect federal families. He also cited a recent survey that found that as a result of the shutdown, 62 percent of federal workers depleted all or most of their savings, 42 percent were forced to take on new debt and 25 percent tapped into their retirement savings. 

Additionally, Sen. Warner stressed the importance of ensuring that the government stays open and called on Congress to override the President Trump’s veto if the President decides to once again shut down the government.

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced legislation to help Americans tackle their student loan debt. The Employer Participation in Repayment Act would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free to their employees’ student loans – providing employees with much-needed relief and employers with a unique tool to attract and retain talented employees. 

“As the first in my family to graduate from college, I wouldn’t have been able to afford my college tuition without the help of student loans,” said Sen. Warner. “Unfortunately as the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, so has the rate of Americans who turn to student loans to pay for college. Today too many Americans are saddled with tough-to-manage student loan debt, with no end in sight. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Sen. Thune to create an innovative, bipartisan approach to help ease the burden of student loans. By making employer student loan repayments tax-exempt, employers will have a new tool to recruit and retain a talented workforce while also helping working Americans manage their financial future.” 

“Today’s economy is strong, and I believe we should keep our foot on the gas by passing common-sense bills like the one Sen. Warner and I have proposed that would give young career seekers additional tools to help overcome the burden of student loan debt and empower employers to attract future talent,” said Sen. Thune. “It’s no secret that as today’s college graduates look toward the next chapter in life, they often trade their cap and gown for debt and uncertainty. This bipartisan legislation, which I view as a win-win for graduates and employers, is good policy and one that I hope garners strong support.” 

According to reports, one in four Americans have student loans, and student debt in the U.S. reached $1.5 trillion in 2018. Student debt is a significant financial burden that not only influences the way our workforce saves and spends, but also has a stifling effect on the economy. The Warner-Thune bill would update an existing federal program so that it works better for employees living with the reality of burdensome student loan debt. The Employer Education Assistance Program, as currently written, only provides assistance for workers who are seeking additional education. It does not extend to individuals who have already incurred student loan debt during their undergraduate or graduate studies. 

Additional cosponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Doug Jones (D-AL), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Todd Young (R-IN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) and has support from numerous educational organizations.  

“Too many individuals and families are being hindered by the financial burden of their post-secondary education.  Student borrowers deserve access to a broad range of repayment options and loan forgiveness programs that address their variety of needs,”said Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations, National Education Association (NEA). “The NEA is proud to support Congressmen Scott Peters, Rodney Davis, Senators Mark Warner, and John Thune in creating new pathways for individuals to repay their student loans to make college more affordable and accessible for all.”

“The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities fully supports The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act of 2019 and Reps. Peters and Davis’s efforts to expand IRC Sec. 127 to allow employers to offer both tuition and loan repayment assistance to their employees.  Incentives like Sec. 127 encourage employers to invest in the education and training of employees at all levels, which ultimately benefits society and the economy.  Expanding this benefit to allow employees to also use this tax-free assistance for student loan repayment helps the employees at two vital stages of financing their education.  Improving this benefit will encourage more employer and employee participation, and result in a more educated and skilled workforce across the U.S,” said Dr. David L. Warren, President, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

“The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) commends Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Scott Peters for introducing the Employer Participation in Repayment Act. The benefits currently offered by Section 127 of the tax code are an important tool for employers to attract the best possible employees and build a skilled workforce. While Section 127 is currently a valuable tool in supporting U.S. competitiveness it could, upon passage of the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, become the benefit of choice for tuition assistance and loan repayments among employers. Expansion of Section 127 would benefit employers, employees, students, and families, and help both institutions of higher learning and the U.S. workforce retain a top spot on the global stage,” said Susan Whealler Johnston, PhD, President and CEO, National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).

“The enhanced ability for employers to contribute to student loan repayment represents an important opportunity to reduce student debt levels. We commend Senator Warner and Representative Peters for looking into this issue, as it may assist many community college students who borrow to pay for the cost of attendance of postsecondary education,” said J. Noah Brown, President & CEO, Association of Community College Trustees.

“Students shouldn't be forced to look toward a future of being stuck in debt, especially when we have so much to offer the workforce and the world. As the cost of a college education continues to rise, it is increasingly vital that students have access to programs and resources to assist in loan repayment and forgiveness. The Association of Big Ten Students supports the efforts of Congressmen Rodney Davis and Scott Peters and Senators John Thune and Mark Warner in making a debt-free life more accessible for all and encourages the implementation of programs to reduce student loan debt across the country,” said Sarah Henry, Director of Legislative Affairs, The Association of Big Ten Students.

“In today’s competitive job market, leading-edge benefits are the most powerful tool employers can wield to attract and retain talented workers. At SHRM, we advocate for efforts that create better workplaces and a better world. We strongly support The Employer Participation in Repayment Act, and I applaud Representatives Peters and Davis, and Senators Warner and Thune for their bold leadership on this critical issue. Expanding employer education assistance helps address the skills gap, which is holding back both workers and employers. When employers are able to help workers pay off student debt, more people will have confidence to pursue higher education and be better prepared to fill high-skilled fields,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, President and Chief Executive Officer, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Full text of the legislation can be found here. A summary of the legislation can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded Senate passage of a historic lands bill — S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act — that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that protects and preserves Virginia’s public lands. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for permanent reauthorization of LWCF. Authorization for the Fund expired at the end of last fiscal year.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is essential to preserving and protecting Virginia’s rich history and beautiful landscapes,” said the Senators. “By providing long-term security for this critical program, communities across the Commonwealth will be able to continue caring for our natural resources and history for future generations to enjoy.”

The LWCF provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more. This bipartisan package is supported by dozens of conservation and recreation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Nature Conservancy. 

The lands package also reauthorizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program. Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grants support the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Eligible projects include pre-preservation studies, architectural plans and specifications, historic structure reports, and the repair and rehabilitation of historic properties according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.

The lands package also includes a provision introduced by Sen. Warner that expedites access to national parks for Good Samaritans, or eligible search and recovery organizations, after they sign a liability waiver. Sen. Warner pushed for the legislative fix after Alexandria resident Jodi Goldberg’s brother Keith was killed and his body was left at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, Nevada in 2012. His family worked for 10 months to get the permits and secure a million-dollar liability insurance policy required by the National Park Service before it would allow a trained volunteer search and recovery team to search for his body in the national park. 

In addition, the bill includes language backed by Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with the entire Virginia delegation, that designates the George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library in Lexington as the National George C. Marshall Museum and Library.

 

###

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) led a letter, signed by every Democratic member of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, expressing opposition to the five Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last November, and requesting the Trump Administration revoke these IHAs and refrain from issuing seismic airgun survey permits off the coast of Virginia. The letter also expresses opposition to the inclusion of the Commonwealth’s offshore area in the final 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

“Virginians have too much to lose when we prioritize polluters’ profits over the health and safety of our ocean and coastal communities,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “Seismic airgun blasting can devastate marine life, including endangered species and essential fish stocks. History has shown us that offshore drilling accidents can irrevocably harm coastal communities’ economies, public health and marine life – and compromise military activities that are important to national security. The potential toll from an oil spill—in terms of damages, injuries, deaths, and other harms—is incalculable. I urge the administration to listen to Virginians, who have expressed vehement opposition to all forms of oil and gas exploration off Virginia’s coast.” 

“In Virginia alone, more than 20 communities have officially voiced their opposition to seismic surveys and offshore drilling, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk – Virginia’s most populous cities. The Commonwealth has a diverse and robust economy based on sectors like tourism, recreation, aquaculture, deepwater port commerce, and Department of Defense infrastructure. Moving forward with seismic testing and offshore drilling could threaten these critical engines of Virginia’s economy, along with the valuable ecosystems along the coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. These shores, and the ecosystems and jobs they support, are simply too vital to the Commonwealth to risk,” wrote the Members of Congress. “Our constituents remain concerned with the administration’s efforts to open the Commonwealth’s offshore area to oil and gas exploration and drilling. Accordingly, we again request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior deny all pending seismic survey permits for the Atlantic.”

“Assaulting our ocean with seismic airguns in search of dirty and dangerous offshore oil is reckless and wrong,” said Diane Hoskins, Offshore Drilling Campaign Director of Oceana. “Today’s letter calls on President Trump’s administration to do the right thing and protect Virginia from the harms associated with offshore drilling. Seismic airgun blasting threatens serious injury and even death to whales, dolphins and other marine life.  This dangerous blasting is being proposed so that companies can come in and drill for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast. Local communities and businesses up and down the East Coast have objected to expanded offshore drilling activities, like seismic airgun blasting.” 

 

Full letter text is available here and below. 

 

Background:

The issuance of the five IHA permits is a significant step in allowing companies to conduct widespread seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean for the purposes of oil and gas exploration. 

 

###

 

Link to release: https://mceachin.house.gov/media/press-releases/rep-mceachin-leads-members-va-congressional-delegation-letter-opposing-seismic

 

 

Dear Secretary Ross and Acting Secretary Bernhardt:

 

We are writing to express our opposition to the November 30, 2018 issuance by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of five Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits—a significant step in allowing five companies to conduct widespread seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean for the purposes of oil and gas exploration. We request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior refrain from issuing final seismic survey permits for geological and geophysical exploration off the coast of Virginia. In addition, we oppose the inclusion of the Commonwealth’s offshore area in the final 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

 

The administration’s recent decision to issue these IHA permits runs counter to the explicit wishes of coastal communities up and down the Atlantic that would be at risk from offshore drilling and exploration. Over 240 localities on the East Coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast, 1,600 elected officials, 42,000 businesses, and 500,000 fishing families from Florida to Maine have all voiced their opposition to oil and gas activities.[1] They recognize that these activities have the potential for serious impacts on everything from tourism to fishing catch rates—important sectors of these local economies. 

 

In Virginia alone, more than 20 communities have officially voiced their opposition to seismic surveys and offshore drilling, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk – Virginia’s most populous cities. The Commonwealth has a diverse and robust economy based on sectors like tourism, recreation, aquaculture, deepwater port commerce, and Department of Defense infrastructure. Moving forward with seismic testing and offshore drilling could threaten these critical engines of Virginia’s economy, along with the valuable ecosystems along the coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. These shores, and the ecosystems and jobs they support, are simply too vital to the Commonwealth to risk.

 

Studies have shown that seismic airgun blasting, which involves loud, disruptive, and repeated blasting for days or weeks at a time, can have harmful effects on marine life, including endangered species and essential fish stocks. The repeated, loud noises from seismic airgun surveying could negatively impact the ability of marine life to feed, reproduce, and navigate. Whales and dolphins, which rely on hearing for all aspects of life, can be particularly impacted. The North Atlantic right whale—which is critically endangered—would face threats of particular severity.[2] The impacts of surveying could also potentially diminish fish stocks along Virginia’s coast, putting at risk these communities that rely upon commercial and recreational fishing.

 

Our constituents remain concerned with the administration’s efforts to open the Commonwealth’s offshore area to oil and gas exploration and drilling. Accordingly, we again request that the Department of Commerce revoke these IHAs, and that the Department of the Interior deny all pending seismic survey permits for the Atlantic. We also reiterate our request that Virginia’s offshore area be excluded from the Department of the Interior’s 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for offshore drilling.

 

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded Senate passage of a historic lands bill — S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act — that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that protects and preserves Virginia’s public lands. Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for permanent reauthorization of LWCF. Authorization for the Fund expired at the end of last fiscal year.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is essential to preserving and protecting Virginia’s rich history and beautiful landscapes,” said the Senators. “By providing long-term security for this critical program, communities across the Commonwealth will be able to continue caring for our natural resources and history for future generations to enjoy.”

The LWCF provides states and local communities with technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. In the span of four decades, Virginia has received more than $350 million in LWCF funding to protect dozens of national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, trails and more. This bipartisan package is supported by dozens of conservation and recreation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and the Nature Conservancy.

The lands package also reauthorizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Grant Program. Historically Black Colleges and Universities Grants support the preservation of sites on HBCU campuses that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Eligible projects include pre-preservation studies, architectural plans and specifications, historic structure reports, and the repair and rehabilitation of historic properties according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. Last year, Virginia Union, Hampton University, Virginia State, and Virginia University of Lynchburg received grants totaling $2.27 million under the HBCU grant program.

The lands package also includes a provision introduced by Sen. Warner that expedites access to national parks for Good Samaritans, or eligible search and recovery organizations, after they sign a liability waiver. Sen. Warner pushed for the legislative fix after Alexandria resident Jodi Goldberg’s brother Keith was killed and his body was left at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas, Nevada in 2012. His family worked for 10 months to get the permits and secure a million-dollar liability insurance policy required by the National Park Service before it would allow a trained volunteer search and recovery team to search for his body in the national park.

In addition, the bill includes language backed by Sens. Warner and Kaine, along with the entire Virginia delegation, that designates the George C. Marshall Museum and Research Library in Lexington as the National George C. Marshall Museum and Library.

WASHINGTON – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged his Senate colleagues to oppose President Trump’s nomination of William Barr to serve as Attorney General.

In his floor remarks, Sen. Warner questioned Barr’s independence, citing the unsolicited memo that Barr authored and provided to the President’s legal team last June attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Emphasizing the need for an Attorney General who will protect the Special Counsel’s investigation from political interference, Sen. Warner brought up Barr’s problematically expansive views on the appropriate use of presidential pardons and questioned whether they factored into the President’s decision to nominate Barr for the position. 

Additionally, Sen. Warner raised concerns about Barr’s stances on a number of policy issues, ranging from LGBTQ equality and the role of government in women’s reproductive health care, to Barr’s support of mandatory minimum sentences and the President’s “Muslim ban.” 

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the danger of confirming a nominee who was handpicked by the President to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation. He recently wrote an op-ed calling for this nomination to be withdrawn. 

 

 

Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery:

 

Mr. President I rise today to oppose the nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General that the Senate will be taking up later today.

 

I do have a number of concerns about this nominee on policy grounds. I echo what my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have said about Mr. Barr’s troubling record on important issues affecting Americans’ constitutional freedoms. 

 

He’s advocated for harsh mandatory minimum sentences, as well as the President’s Muslim Ban.

 

I also have serious concerns about his past statements about LGBTQ equality and the role of government in women’s reproductive health care.

 

As one telling example, he testified in his 1991 confirmation hearing that “Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.” 

 

On all of these issues, he is entirely out of step with the views of the American public.

 

But for me, this is not simply an objection on policy grounds.

 

Nor is it a question of Mr. Barr’s experience. As a former attorney general, Mr. Barr has long been well-respected within the legal community.

 

But frankly, the nominee for our nation’s highest law enforcement position must be measured by more than his résumé.

 

Instead, this is a question of Mr. Barr’s fidelity to our Constitution.

 

I find Mr. Barr’s actions in the months leading up to his nomination to be deeply disturbing. And as a result, I have serious doubts about this nominee’s independence and willingness to stand up for the rule of law.  

 

Last June, Mr. Barr wrote a secret, unsolicited memo attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice by the president, which Mr. Barr then passed to administration officials.

 

In November, President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after months of public abuse over the Mueller investigation.

 

For a temporary replacement, he chose Matt Whitaker, whose primary qualification appears to be an op-ed he wrote decrying the scope of the Mueller probe.

 

With Mr. Barr’s nomination, it has become clear that the president’s sole concern is choosing a new attorney general who will shield him from the special counsel’s investigation. And Mr. Barr’s memo looks much more like a job application.

 

This President has repeatedly dangled the possibility of pardoning potential witnesses in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

 

Now, in Mr. Barr, the President has a nominee who has been outspoken about his expansive views on the appropriate use of the pardon powers.

 

Let’s be very clear. Any attempt by this President to pardon himself, his family, or key witnesses in the Mueller or SDNY investigations would represent an abuse of power that would require a response by Congress.

 

Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation has led to numerous indictments and convictions, including that of the president’s own campaign chairman.

 

It must continue free from political interference until it gets to the truth, and its findings must be released to Congress and the American public.

 

Under our constitutional system, no one is above the law, not even the president. We need an attorney general willing to vigorously defend this principle.

 

Consequently, I will oppose the nomination.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement on President Trump’s Executive Order artificial intelligence (AI):

“AI holds enormous promise, with diverse applications across almost every imaginable sector and an array of implications in the national security context, as well. Our strategic competitors fully understand the stakes and have devoted enormous resources to outpacing the U.S. in this area. At the same time, if we’ve learned anything from the last two years, it’s that U.S. policy should be much more thoughtful in the consideration of emerging technologies – particularly in modeling their misuse. I applaud a number of aspects of the Executive Order, such as the proposal – mirroring the white paper I released last summer – to open federal data-sets to non-federal entities. 

“Overall, however, the tone of this Executive Order reflects a laissez-faire approach to AI development that I worry will have the U.S. repeating the mistakes it has made in treating digital technologies as inherently positive forces, with insufficient consideration paid to their misapplication. As I raised in my white paper, there are early indications that AI may contribute towards ‘winner-take-all markets’ – making it all the more important that our AI policies catalyze and sustain long-term competition and innovation. Similarly, the Administration’s Executive Order treats the impact of AI on the American workforce almost as an after-thought – relegating consideration of upskilling and retraining to existing federal programs.  

“Lastly, while the Executive Order explicitly references the activities of strategic competitors and adversarial nations, it offers little concrete guidance on how the U.S. should respond to adversarial and malicious uses of AI technologies by state and non-state actors alike, nor does it address instances where American technology companies are working in and with adversary nations in ways that undermine civil liberties, privacy, and American leadership.”

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement:

“Today's news is devastating. Sexual assault is never acceptable, and survivors of violence and harassment deserve to be heard. ?If these allegations concerning Lieutenant Governor Fairfax are accurate, then they are clearly disqualifying and he must resign. 

“In the past week, the people of the Commonwealth have been subjected to what seems like an unending barrage of revelations about the past actions, both admitted and alleged, of their elected leaders. Resolving this crisis will require a government with the confidence of the people, justice for those who have been harmed, and a path forward that promotes healing and reconciliation. I am committed to doing everything I can to find this way ahead, but it will not be the work of a single evening. Those of us in elected office who have been endowed with the public'?s trust must always put the Commonwealth first.”
 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, A. Donald McEachin, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton released the following statement:

“Like other Virginians, we have been devastated by these horrible developments. We are brokenhearted that the actions of Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring have reopened old wounds left by Virginia’s long history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and systemic racism. There’s no question that Virginians’ faith in their government and leaders has understandably been deeply shaken.

“We have each publicly called for Governor Northam to resign. 

“Yesterday, we were shocked and saddened to learn of the incident in the Attorney General’s past. The Attorney General has earnestly reached out to each of us to apologize and express his deep remorse. We understand that he is currently engaged in in-depth discussions with leaders and others in Virginia. The Attorney General must continue those conversations, and stand ready to answer questions from the public if he is to regain their trust.

“We are deeply disturbed by the account detailing the alleged actions of Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. We believe these allegations need to be taken very seriously, and we respect the right of women to come forward and be heard.

“We will continue in dialogue with one another and our constituents in the coming days, and evaluate additional information as it comes to light.”


WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reduce duplicative filing costs for small businesses seeking to make retirement plans available to their employees. The bill was sponsored in the House by Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Phil Roe (R-TN), member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

“Employer-provided retirement plans give workers stability and strengthen our economy in the long run, but the process of offering these plans can be expensive and complex for smaller employers,” said Sen. Warner. “This bill would remove an unnecessary impediment and reduce filing costs, thereby making it easier for employers to promote the retirement security that workers deserve.” 

“Faced with an alarming $7.8 trillion shortfall in personal retirement savings, Americans simply aren’t saving enough to be able to afford a comfortable retirement,” said Sen. Collins. “When employers provide their employees with access to retirement plans, approximately 80 percent of them contribute.  This bipartisan bill will help promote retirement security by making it easier and less expensive for small businesses to establish retirement plans, increasing their accessibility to employees and helping to ensure that those who worked hard for decades do not spend their retirement in poverty.” 

“Too many Americans simply aren’t putting enough money away to be able to afford a secure retirement. It is no secret that women, especially women of color, are even farther behind in building adequate retirement savings due to continued pay inequality. By helping more small businesses provide workplace retirement plans we can give millions of hardworking families more financial peace of mind,” said Rep. Sánchez. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make it easier and less expensive for small businesses to establish retirement plans for their workers. This common sense legislation will help provide greater retirement security to more Americans.”

“It is imperative we do everything we can to encourage affordable and accessible retirement savings for all Americans,” said Rep. Roe. “This commonsense legislation will make it easier and less costly for small businesses to provide retirement plans for their workers by alleviating duplicative reporting requirements for plan administrators. I am proud to support this bill, which will promote a secure retirement for hardworking Americans.” 

A 2016 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that only 22 percent of workers at small companies have access to a workplace savings plan or pension, compared to 74 of workers at firms with 500 or more employees.  

This legislation would allow employers and sole proprietors who participate in retirement plans to file a single aggregated Form 5500 – a required annual return that that provides compliance information to the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Treasury Department. Currently, employers are required to file separate forms to satisfy reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code. By eliminating the need to report these two forms separately, this bill will remove unnecessary red tape and reduce costs for small businesses who wish to provide workers with retirement security. Under this bill, retirement plans would need to have the same trustee, fiduciary, plan administrator, plan year and investment menu in order to be eligible to file an aggregated Form 5500.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in collaboration with Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement, only one-third of self-employed respondents indicated that they make sure they are saving for retirement. These self-employed workers, along with sole proprietors and small business owners, are the most likely to benefit from this legislation, as they are the most likely to establish retirement plans that meet the requirements necessary to file an aggregated Form 5500. 

To provide DOL and Treasury time to implement this change, this bill has an effective date of no later than January 1, 2023. A copy of the legislative text is available here.

 

###

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,914,251 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the Free Clinic of the New River Valley in Christiansburg. This funding will allow the clinic to provide quality health care and dental services to individuals who cannot afford care or lack insurance.

“We’re pleased to announce federal funding to ensure the Free Clinic of the New River Valley can continue to offer valuable care to the community,” the Senators said. “The clinic helps ensure that uninsured and low-income patients can access the medical, dental, and preventative health services they need.”

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center Cluster Program. More than 27 million people in the U.S. rely on HRSA-funded health centers for affordable primary health care.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper and pressed him on what the Army is doing to resolve serious hazards in military housing reported at several bases in Virginia.

A recent investigation by Reuters alleged significant problems in base housing such as cockroaches, mice, mold and leaks, and described the difficulty that military families have encountered in getting the private management companies that own and operate the housing to address issues posing health hazards for families living in the homes. As part of its investigation, Reuters identified problems at several facilities across the country, including Fort Belvoir, Quantico, Oceana Naval Air Station, and other military bases in Hampton Roads. 

“Our nation’s military families deserve better than this. They deserve safe and healthy housing, free from mold, lead, pests, and other hazards,” said Sen. Warner. “In our meeting today, I told Secretary Esper that I expect the Army to make improving military housing conditions a top priority and hold accountable any companies who may have profited off the mistreatment of military families.” 

In November, Warner sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis regarding the “unacceptable conditions” documented in the homes. In the letter, he demanded a briefing from the Defense Department on the current situation, as well as a plan from DoD to ensure the safety of military families residing in private housing moving forward. 

In August, Sen. Warner – along with Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), David Perdue (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) – also pressed Secretary Esper to address problems with lead poisoning affecting families at several Army bases around the country, including Fort Belvoir.

This isn’t the first time Sen. Warner has intervened on behalf of military families experiencing health hazards in military housing. Back in 2011, dozens of military families stationed in Norfolk described problems with Lincoln Military Housing, one of the contractors identified in Reuters’ recent reporting. As now, the affected families – experiencing issues such as leaks, mold, and infestation – recounted major difficulties in getting the company or the Navy to take the complaints seriously. After Sen. Warner got involved, however, Navy brass and Lincoln executives pledged to improve their responsiveness, and the company took steps to address mold and other hazards.  

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WASHINGTON –U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA) today introduced the Building United States Infrastructure and Leveraging Development (BUILD) Act, which would raise the federal statutory cap on Private Activity Bonds (PABs) issued by or on behalf of state and local governments for highway and freight improvement projects from $15 billion to $20.8 billion. This would increase the amount of tax-exempt bonds the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) can approve for these projects by $5.8 billion.

“The condition of our highways and freight corridors make a big impact on the lives of Americans and on our nation’s economy,” Sen. Cornyn said. “As more and more of our infrastructure requires critical improvements, it’s imperative we find ways to reinvest in our roads and rails without the burden falling to taxpayers.  This bipartisan bill will help finance improvement projects through public-private partnerships, resulting in minimal cost to taxpayers with maximum impact on America’s roads, bridges, and rails.”

“Foreign countries, including China and India, continue to outpace the U.S. in terms of making truly robust investments in their infrastructure,” said Sen. Warner. “Not only will this legislation help boost U.S. competitiveness, it will also help close our nation’s infrastructure gap in a responsible way by facilitating proven methods of partnering private investment with public funds to help make desperately needed infrastructure improvements.” 

Background: 

PABs allow state or local governments to issue tax-exempt debt, with approval from USDOT, for qualified highway or surface freight transfer facilities. Less than $5 billion in PABs remain under the original statutory cap, set at $15 billion, and that amount is likely to be consumed in the very near future.

The Building United States Infrastructure and Leveraging Development (BUILD) Act would raise the statutory cap on PABs to $20.8 billion, allowing state and local governments to enter into additional public-private partnerships and enhance the capacity to finance additional surface transportation projects with private investment.

 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in a letter urging the Administration to stabilize the Medicare Advantage program that provides quality health care to 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities. The senators wrote to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma requesting she consider how to strengthen the program, innovate with technology and ensure predictability for enrollees. 

“Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care,” the senators wrote. “Beneficiary enthusiasm for the program remains strong, with more than one in three seniors enrolled…For plan year 2020, we encourage the Administration to implement policies that promote innovation, provide predictable funding to support long-term, value-based arrangements and ensure that any substantive changes include sufficient time for thorough evaluation and stakeholder engagement.” 

In addition to Senators Cortez Masto and Mike Crapo, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Angus King (I-Maine), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Hoeven (RN.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Bill Cassidy (R-La), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), John Thune (RS.D.), Shelley Capito (RW.Va.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), Tim Scott (RS.C.), Michael Rounds (RS.D.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Richard Burr (RN.C.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), Tom Udall (DN.M.), Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) also signed onto the letter. 

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

 

Dear Administrator Verma:

 

We write to express our strong support for Medicare Advantage and the high-quality care it provides to more than 21 million seniors and individuals with disabilities. We appreciate the Administration’s recognition of the value of Medicare Advantage and its work to encourage innovation for these private health plans. As annual updates are considered for 2020, we ask you to continue to strengthen and grow this proven part of the Medicare program by proposing policies that provide stability and predictability.

 

Millions of our constituents depend on Medicare Advantage for quality, patient-centered health care. Beneficiary enthusiasm for the program remains strong, with more than one in three seniors enrolled. This is due, in part, to private plans’ ability to leverage best practices in care delivery, use robust data analytics, and implement proven value-based care and care management models. Medicare Advantage enrollees report a 91 percent satisfaction rate, with 74 percent of enrollees in plans rated four Stars and above.

 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced average Medicare Advantage premiums are estimated to decrease by six percent in 2019. Meanwhile, beneficiary enrollment has increased by eight percent in the past year and 79 percent since 2010, a testament to the affordability, high-quality care coordination, disease management and community-based programs, and supplemental benefits such as vision and dental coverage provided by Medicare Advantage plans. Further, bipartisan efforts are helping to reduce beneficiary costs by increasing the use of telemedicine, promoting value-based insurance design, and expanding benefits that address social determinants of health by including transportation, nutrition, and other non-medical needs that enhance quality of life.

 

For plan year 2020, we encourage the Administration to implement policies that promote innovation, provide predictable funding to support long-term, value-based arrangements, and ensure that any substantive changes include sufficient time for thorough evaluation and stakeholder engagement.

 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Doug Jones (D-AL) today re-introduced the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act, a bipartisan bill to enforce full compliance by ZTE, a Chinese state-directed telecommunications firm that repeatedly violated U.S. laws, with all probationary conditions in the Commerce Department’s July 2018 deal to lift the denial order’s seven-year ban against the export of U.S. parts and components to ZTE. If the Commerce Secretary cannot regularly certify ZTE’s full compliance with the deal and with relevant U.S. export controls and sanctions laws, the denial order’s crippling punishments will be reinstated against ZTE. 

“When it comes to violating U.S. sanctions and deceiving our government, ZTE is a repeat offender. Companies like ZTE threaten our security and compromise American interests but this administration has failed to hold them accountable. This much-needed legislation will force the telecom firm to play by the rules by imposing punitive measures if ZTE once again violates trade restrictions or its agreement with the U.S,” said Senator Warner, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill to hold the Chinese state-directed telecoms company, ZTE, accountable for repeated violations of U.S. exports controls and sanctions laws," Senator Rubio said. “China’s communist government continues to threaten our national security interests through state-directed actors and, while it was a mistake to strike a ‘deal’ with ZTE in the first place, this bill would ensure ZTE is held accountable if and when it cheats again.” 

“ZTE’s actions represent a threat to our national security. While we work on a broader strategy to combat China’s theft of advanced U.S. technology and brazen violation of U.S. law, we must act to ensure ZTE is not able to violate the current agreement with the Department of Commerce or break our laws. This bipartisan legislation will help hold their feet to the fire and should be considered without delay,” Senator Van Hollen said. 

“Having continuously violated American sanctions on Iran and North Korea, ZTE’s disregard for U.S. laws undermines our national security interests and cannot be tolerated,” Senator Collins said. “Our bipartisan bill would require the Department of Commerce to monitor ZTE and effectively put ZTE out of business if they are found to be noncompliant, ensuring the safety of our economy and national security.” 

“ZTE – with the support of the Chinese government – has repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions, and they must be held accountable for their actions,” Senator Moran said. “The bipartisan ZERO Act would authorize the Commerce Department to monitor ZTE and make certain they are not violating the current trade agreement. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to protect our national security interests from bad actors and ensure ZTE faces severe penalties if they break the law again.” 

“ZTE must be held accountable for violating our sanctions laws and threatening U.S. national security interests, not given a slap on the wrist and allowed to do business in the United States,” Senator Warren said. “I’m glad to work with Senators in both parties on a bill to ensure that this company faces severe penalties if it breaks the law again or violates its settlement agreement.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on President Trump's State of the Union address: 

"What I had hoped to hear from the President tonight was  a plan to make sure our government stays up and running ten days from now, and a willingness to work with Congress to make sure that a shutdown never happens again. Unfortunately, what the American people got was more of the same partisan fear-mongering and one-sided demands. It's deeply disappointing to the hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors across the Commonwealth and the country who are once again bracing for the worst." 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced $1,262,495 million in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the University of Virginia. The funding will be used to conduct medical research regarding heart disease, neurological disorders, and identifying pathways for infections. 

“We’re excited to announce funding to support medical research in these important fields,” the Senators said. “The University of Virginia is a leader in the medical community and these funds can ensure its research departments have the resources they need to conduct thorough, life-saving work.”

The following programs will receive funding:

  • Heart and Vascular Diseases Research will receive $782,464.
  • Clinical Research Related to Neurological Disorders will receive $399,281.
  • Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation Research will receive $80,750.

The funds were awarded through HHS’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of biomedical research in the world. NIH-funded research has led to breakthroughs in new treatments, expanding life spans, and building healthier lives. 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after the Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries announced a final contract to block buy two Ford-class aircraft carriers:

“A big congratulations is due to the Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries for finalizing a deal that will save 4 billion in taxpayer dollars and help keep the country safe,” Senators Warner and Kaine said. “Virginia’s shipbuilders make the finest carriers in the world, and we have long pushed the Navy to make this smart investment by block buying the newest class of ships. We are also glad that this move will help provide stability for the Hampton Roads defense community, ensuring that the shipyards can maintain the workforce they will need to help us reach the Navy’s goal of a 355-ship fleet.”   

Warner and Kaine have long supported the block buying of aircraft carriers. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kaine championed language that was included in the annual defense bill to allow for a block buy. Warner and Kaine both supported this effort in funding bills and discussed the benefits with military leadership.

 

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chairman of the Aging Committee, and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act to provide greater flexibility and access to small businesses and their employees seeking to utilize the popular SIMPLE plans as an option for saving for retirement.   

“Financial advisors from Presque Isle to Portland have shared their concerns that neither employees nor their employers are in a good position to save for retirement,” said Senator Collins.  “The SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act is a win-win proposition for retirement security, encouraging small business owners and their employees to take steps to save for retirement.”

“The changing nature of work has made it more challenging for many Americans to plan for their retirement,” said Senator Warner.“This commonsense legislation will make it easier for small businesses to support their workforce in saving for retirement.”

Congress established SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) retirement plans in the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 to encourage small businesses to provide their employees with retirement plans.  Retirement plans among small employers continue to be scarcer than among medium and large employers.  While these smaller businesses have access to tax-favored retirement savings plans (including traditional 401(k)s), those plans are more expensive to administer. 

Businesses with 100 or fewer employees may currently create SIMPLE retirement savings accounts for their employees, so long as the employers do not have another employer-sponsored retirement plan.

The proposed legislation would increase the contribution limit for SIMPLE plans.  Increasing the limit would achieve two basic goals: 1) Encourage more small business employers to offer a retirement savings benefit to their employees and 2) Allow small business employees to save even more each year on a tax-deferred basis.

 

The SIMPLE Plan Modernization Act would:

  1. Raise the contribution limit for SIMPLE plans from $12,500 to $16,000 (halfway between current SIMPLE plans and traditional 401(k)s) for the smallest businesses (1 to 25 employees), with a corresponding increase in the catch-up limit from $3,000 to $4,500.
  1. Give businesses with 26 to 100 employees the option of the higher contribution limits, and, in order to continue to encourage them to transition to 401(k)s when they can do so, increase their SIMPLE plan mandatory employer contribution requirements by one percentage point if they elect the higher limits.   
  1. Allow for a reasonable transition period for employers that grow beyond 25 employees.
  1. Make the limit increases unavailable if the employer has had another defined contribution plan within the past three years (to encourage businesses that already have qualified plans to retain them).
  1. Modernize SIMPLE plan form filing requirements and modify the transition rules from SIMPLE plans to traditional plans to facilitate and encourage such transitions. 
  1. Direct Treasury to study the use of SIMPLE plans and report to Congress on such use, along with any recommendations.