YEAR-END REPORT; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4
(House of Representatives - January 09, 2019)

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                              {time}  1730
                            YEAR-END REPORT

  The SPEAKER pro tempore (Ms. Stevens). Under the Speaker's announced 
policy of January 3, 2019, the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. 
Fortenberry) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the 
minority leader.
  Mr. FORTENBERRY. Madam Speaker, there is a twofold goal being sought 
by many of us right now, and it is this: to keep the government fully 
open and to secure our border.
  No one wins in a government shutdown. No one wins if the border is 
not safe. We ought to be able to rise above the momentary difficulty, 
whether it is a negotiation between the Senate and the House, the 
President and the House, the President and the Senate, and get to those 
mutually compatible goals of fully funding an operational government, 
as well as ensuring that Americans are safe and that we have the right 
type of assistance to our border personnel, the right type of barriers, 
the right type of technology, the right type of preventative measures 
to protect us all, and create the conditions in which America can have 
a truly just and humanitarian response to those in need. That is what 
is at issue this moment.
  With that said, Madam Speaker, though, I think it is important that, 
as we are at the beginning of a new Congress, as we were all sworn in 
last week, as this Chamber was filled with Members' children and 
Members' families coming from such extraordinarily diverse backgrounds, 
it was a celebratory atmosphere. It always tends to be that way, and 
then we get into the hard, hard work of governing.
  As President Kennedy once said, to govern is to choose wisely, and in 
a society divided by deep cultural and philosophical difficulties, that 
actually manifests itself here in the people's House.
  It is incumbent upon those of us who have been given this awesome 
responsibility to govern to undertake the awesome responsibility of 
deciding to govern well, to carry forth that spirit of the swearing in 
day with our families here, and that oath of office, where there is a 
common narrative around who we are as a people and where we should go 
as a Nation, reaching back to our most honored-in-time traditions and 
projecting them forward so America can have confidence that we have

[[Page H350]]

set up the guardrails for a successful culture, a successful economy, a 
successful society.
  That is our job. It is going to take difficult moments of prudential 
wrestling. It is my hope it will be done in a civil manner and that 
people will make their firm case and fight for those principles, but do 
so with an eye toward building consensus.
  We in Nebraska, I believe, invented the phrase ``get `er done.'' Just 
get `er done. Fight for what you believe and seek that which is 
possible. They are not mutually incompatible goals. That is our 
responsibility as legislators for the good, the well-being of the 
entire American public.
  With that said, Madam Speaker, I would like to do something a little 
bit unique. I would actually like to look back for a moment at the year 
in review and some important things that were accomplished.
  We tend to be caught in what I call the tyranny of the urgent, where 
what is right in front of us completely occupies us. Of course, we have 
a 24/7, 911 media that heightens all of this intensity. It is what it 
is. But the reality is, we did some pretty good things last year, last 
term, and I want to review a few of them.
  In December, the House and Senate passed a new farm bill with very 
strong bipartisan support. For a lot of Americans, it is very easy to 
overlook this accomplishment. Our grocery bills are some of the lowest 
in the world, our food is readily available, and our safety net for 
those who are vulnerable is well considered.
  It comes down to this: it is the vastness of our land and the quality 
of our soil and the gritty ingenuity of our farmers and ranchers who 
lay the foundation for America's prosperity, stability, and economic 
vitality. We tend to forget this because our food comes somewhat easy 
to us.
  The farm bill provides risk management tools to maximize this natural 
gift, allowing farmers and ranchers to provide food security for our 
country, our nutrition programs, as well as food assistance to millions 
of others around the world and protect those who are in very vulnerable 
circumstances.
  This bill also fosters conservation practices that enhance the 
protection of our soil and our wildlife habitat. I am pleased by the 
increase in the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.
  The farm bill ensures that America continues to lead the world in 
agricultural innovation, food safety, and renewable fuels. In Nebraska, 
agriculture is central to our well-being, our way of life, and our 
culture. Our land-grant universities help ensure that we maintain our 
tremendous productivity.
  The farm bill is a once-in-every-5-year piece of legislation. The 
birth of such legislation is neither smooth nor easy, but we got it 
done. It is a good lesson for what we are facing now with new 
challenges ahead of us. We got it done in a very strong, bipartisan 
vote.
  For Nebraskans, and many people throughout rural America, the farm 
bill is not just another Washington accomplishment. Like the rhythms of 
planting and harvesting, it is an expected rite of legislative passage 
essential to who we are as a people, as Americans, and to our well-
being.
  One of the things that I am excited about, Madam Speaker, is that 
beginning farmers and local food producers are big winners in our farm 
bill. I am very encouraged by the growing interest of young people in 
seeking agricultural opportunity.
  We are witnessing a food culture awakening, with local chefs, farmers 
markets, and a keen interest in eating local. The farm bill helps these 
next generation farmers and food entrepreneurs through new resources 
and training, such as the Local Agriculture Market Program, called 
LAMP, which accelerates the farm-to-fork movement across America, 
connecting local farmers with families, consumers, and restaurants. 
This offers a big, big opportunity for us all.

  I am also happy, Madam Speaker, that the farm bill includes my 
provisions to enhance the Farmer-to-Farmer Program. For over 30 years, 
the Farmer-to-Farmer Program has connected volunteer American farmers, 
agriculture extension experts, and others with deep knowledge of the 
agriculture industry with the world's farmers abroad. From dairy 
production to seed selection to entomology, irrigation, and crop yield 
determination improvement, as well as farm credit, this sharing of 
America's agricultural expertise dramatically enhances the capacity of 
people elsewhere to grow their own food, contributing to worldwide food 
security, community well-being, and human flourishing. Food security is 
the key.
  This year, we also passed the Global Food Security Reauthorization 
Act. I had worked on this important piece of legislation when it first 
passed. It amends the Global Security Act of 2016 to enable programs 
that support sustainable agriculture around the world and it extends 
assistance for international disaster relief and rehabilitation, 
especially for emergency food programs.
  Switching topics a bit, Madam Speaker, the fundamental duty that we 
all have here is to keep America safe. This requires a modern and 
properly equipped military.
  In recent years, our force structure has significantly deteriorated. 
Planes could not fly in certain circumstances and other equipment was 
not available.
  This past year in Congress, we passed the 2019 National Defense 
Authorization Act and the defense appropriations bill. Again, most of 
the government is open and functioning. We are working toward the rest. 
This helps rebuild our military after years of budget cuts. Our Active 
Duty, National Guard, and reserve force personnel will receive a 2.6 
percent pay raise, the largest in 9 years. We are going to purchase new 
aircraft, tanks, ships, and other military hardware to replace and 
upgrade worn out equipment. These bills also increase across-the-board 
funding for additional personnel, training, maintenance, and operations 
to ensure that our military is always ready to defend our Nation.
  Madam Speaker, while a strong military is vital, America's safety and 
prosperity also depends upon a skillful mix of diplomacy and 
development. Building authentic relationships around the world and 
attacking the root causes of structural poverty are equally important 
goals that need to work in tandem with a properly sized and prepared 
military.
  A race toward technological superiority through ever-larger weapons 
systems will not unilaterally resolve our most difficult security 
challenges. The tech gap that we enjoy is closing, and will continue to 
close rapidly.
  Then, we have to ask ourselves: Then what?
  I often use the phrase ``foreign policy realism'' to guide how I 
believe the United States should engage in global affairs. It is this: 
strong defense, smart diplomacy, and sustainable development. These are 
the three pillars.
  Thanks to the dedication and courage of our troops and our diplomats 
and the exhaustive work of many others who serve from their heart in 
faraway places, we ought to be very grateful that our country has been 
kept safe from attack. There is always a however. However, real risks 
remain.
  Northern Iraq and Syria are places where ISIS and other dark forces 
could regenerate. Iran meddles and frustrates peace throughout the 
region. The United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia is under 
severe scrutiny in light of our intelligence findings that implicated 
the Saudi Crown Prince in the murder of an American-based Saudi 
journalist. We also face risks from various actors to increasingly 
powerful, yet more nimble and mobile nuclear capabilities.
  Madam Speaker, I lead the Nuclear Security Working Group in Congress. 
We had a very important dialogue with the administrator of the National 
Nuclear Security Administration as we closed out the last Congress to 
discuss our coordination of nuclear nonproliferation activities.
  There are two core elements in preventing an attack. The first, of 
course, is deterrence. The second is threat reduction. Again, the dual 
work of our military and other government efforts in nuclear threat 
reduction has been successful in preventing nuclear and radiological 
terrorism.
  The challenge is to constantly reassess the changing threat 
environment. A single failure can lead to catastrophic consequences. 
These efforts must be matched with an equal effort to halt and reverse 
nuclear proliferation throughout the world.
  In a September conference, we gathered with national and nuclear 
security

[[Page H351]]

experts and former government officials across four administrations 
with the singular goal to improve U.S. Government oversight and 
coordination of nuclear counter and nonproliferation efforts. As a 
result, I am going to propose the creation of a nuclear 
nonproliferation council to enable a unified U.S. Government strategy 
on nuclear nonproliferation.
  In the National Defense Authorization Act, which we passed, there is 
a section also that perhaps has been overlooked, but it is important. 
It will speed the elimination of cesium chloride that can be used to 
make dirty bombs. This policy change that we were pleased to work on 
reduces the risk of a catastrophic radiological attack inside our 
borders.
  In the face of expanding Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals, our 
defense bill modernizes our nuclear deterrence capability even as we 
hope to reestablish a more stable and peaceful world. Only through a 
combination of strength and an openness to dialogue can we avert a 
nuclear arms race.

                              {time}  1745

  Back in June, the first-ever meeting between leaders of the United 
States and North Korea took place. President Trump met face to face 
with Kim Jong-un in a preliminary step towards reconciliation and 
denuclearization.
  The summit that was held in Singapore was a first step to shift an 
escalating trajectory of missile launches and hostile rhetoric, 
reducing anxiety for the region, America, and the world.
  The summit took a new approach to a long standoff. For the first 
time, a U.S. President reached out directly to a North Korean leader. 
The meeting would not have happened, though--and this is very 
important, Madam Speaker--without a unified global community willing to 
support the preconditions needed to encourage Kim Jong-un to meet.
  As an initial gesture of goodwill, North Korea returned the remains 
of U.S. service personnel and destroyed at least one nuclear testing 
facility.
  Clearly, much more progress is needed, and a joint action plan will 
require North Korea to continue to earnestly engage in 
nonproliferation.
  I believe that congressional leadership should play a role here in 
policy developments that can help the administration reduce the nuclear 
threats on the Korean Peninsula.
  Now, Madam Speaker, where I live, Nebraska, plays a critical role in 
keeping America safe. Offutt Air Force Base and Strategic Command are 
essential to America's security, and the steady work of guiding budgets 
and building the necessary coalitions here in Congress resulted in 
dramatic improvements to both Strategic Command as well as Offutt.
  The new USSTRATCOM headquarters building is nearing completion. Its 
increased capability, beginning this summer, will add to the combatant 
command's charge as one of the Nation's most vital missions, and that 
is nuclear deterrence.
  A major repair of Offutt Air Force Base's runway will soon begin.
  Again, I am very pleased, working with the Nebraska delegation and 
our colleagues, to continue to advance the completion of the Strategic 
Command as well as the enhancement of Offutt Air Force Base.
  Offutt is home to the Air Force's 55th Wing. The wing conducts 
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. This is very 
important, Madam Speaker, because, again, it is something that is 
overlooked in our tense times.
  One of the 55th Wing's important aircraft is the OC-135B. It flies in 
support of the 34-international-member Treaty on Open Skies, one of the 
last remaining functional arms control regimes that is operational 
between the United States and the Russian Federation.
  I am pleased that, working together, we were able to enhance funding 
for the OC-135B aircraft, again, vital to one of the last linkages of 
agreements with the Russians.
  Madam Speaker, I want to turn to another topic that really ought to 
be at the forefront of our discussions, but rarely is; if we are going 
to create a 21st century architecture for international stability, I 
believe it revolves around two words: human dignity.
  We traditionally think of diplomacy as between nation-states. 
Increasingly in our interconnected world, where people can reach people 
in faraway places in an instant or by travel in a very short period of 
time, it is this deeper transcendent idea that is still operational in 
our culture. It underlies our founding here in America. It is in our 
earliest documents. It is alluded to. This idea of human dignity, this 
sacred space of personhood from which the free exercise of conscience 
and right reason and other rights that we tend to take for granted, 
such as religious freedom, flow.
  Human dignity, the two words that mark the 21st century architecture 
for how we ought to conduct international affairs, reaching toward 
authentic relationships and dialogue with people with whom we may have 
had tremendous misunderstandings in the past, tremendous tensions, or 
even the grave consequences of war.
  Again, as I mentioned earlier, Madam Speaker, the tech gap is 
closing. We can beat anybody anywhere. We can do that and will continue 
to be able to do that. And, again, a strong military is absolutely 
essential to keeping the peace and creating the conditions for 
stability internationally, which protects us here at home.
  But what happens when, again, the miniaturization of technology is 
such that any bad actor or any bad nation has ready access to it; we 
have to ask ourselves: And then what?
  It is this idea of being in authentic dialogue around this 
fundamental principle that is operative in the way in which we conduct 
our affairs; human dignity, mutual respect for that sacred space of the 
person and their perspectives and their ability to use reason to think 
for what is good for themselves, their family, and their country.
  Human dignity. This is manifesting itself very clearly in something 
that, again, is really overlooked in our dialogue because we are caught 
in the urgency of the moment.
  Let me point this out, Madam Speaker. It is about the country of 
Iraq. America has given so much. We have lost so much in Iraq that it 
is hard to understand why engagement is ongoing and necessary. The 
thought of it is exhausting to the American people. It is exhausting to 
our process.
  But I need to point this out. Much is at stake. Iraq once had a 
mosaic and an ancient tapestry of religious pluralism that existed 
there. Christians used to total 1.5 million; now only a few hundred 
thousand remain.
  The Yazidi community, another ancient faith tradition that lived in 
peace, in persecution off and on; but, in attempting to live out their 
faith tradition in northern Iraq, right now there are about 400,000 
people from the Yazidi faith tradition trapped in refugee camps. They 
are internally displaced persons living in tent structures, distant 
from their northern Iraq homes, and many are children.

  As of this past summer, we had a statistic--and it is hard to know 
where this is now, given the dynamics--that about 3,500 Yazidi women 
remained as slaves of ISIS.
  In fact, Madam Speaker, we are still working through the logistics, 
but I am very proud that I reached out to Nadia Murad, who is a Nobel 
Peace Prize winner, who was captured by someone named Salman, the 
Iraqi, and held in slavery.
  She came to my office, and I spoke with her and I said: I would like 
to hear the fullness of your story, but I recognize that is selfish on 
my part and that the horror and the pain and the tragedy are very real 
to you. So if you do not wish to say anything, I completely understand, 
but I would like to know more if you are willing.
  And she agreed. And she told us, moment by moment about what happened 
to her family, about how she was captured, sold, and how she eventually 
escaped, with the help of a Muslim family, by the way.
  I reached out to Nadia recently, and I invited her to the State of 
the Union. And she is going to come. We are working through it, and I 
am hopeful that works out. Right now she is scheduled to come, and I am 
proud of that.
  Because it is not about me giving a speech here about human dignity--
and I think Nadia would agree with me saying this--it is not even about 
the trauma that she went through and the need to heal. The reason that 
she is speaking so clearly and so courageously about the horror she 
went through, in

[[Page H352]]

the midst of her great pain, is this singular concept right here: human 
dignity.
  How can civilizations survive if we do not somehow rally ourselves 
around this fundamental principle of respecting the sacred space of 
personhood, of allowing people the liberty to live in peace and 
exercise their tradition as they see fit, to do good things for their 
family, to carry forward the wisdom of their tradition and ages, 
through their family life and the exercise of their faith.
  If we give up on that principle, where do we go?
  We can fight it out. We might even be able to win. But the deeper 
answer lies in the message that Nadia and so many others are telling 
us, crying out for justice and humanitarian relief and begging for a 
new way to think, a new way to order ourselves.
  And because we have the philosophical foundation here in America, 
because we have been a just and generous society and we have welcomed 
people who have fled persecution, the world looks at us as this 
beautiful place of the residual, of the protection of that fundamental 
value that I believe every heart longs for: to be respected, to be in 
community, to be loved.
  Now, here is what I think we ought to do. We have about 5,400 
American troops in Iraq. And, with the help of international partners, 
we have been training Iraqi national forces and nurturing their 
capacity to lead and finish the work of defeating the dark, twisted 
horror of ISIS.
  At the behest of the Vice President, I went to Iraq last summer, and 
the Iraqi forces that we have trained and the military told me directly 
they have fought and they have fought well. Again, the irony of the 
attack of ISIS and the genocide against Christians and Yazidis and 
other religious minorities and the killing of so many innocent Muslim 
people is that it has created a nationalism, if you will, among the 
Iraqi people. And they have fought hard and fought well and taken many, 
many casualties.
  But here is the key: An additional security footprint is still 
required in the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar so that it is possible--these 
are the areas in northern Iraq proximate to Kurdistan. A new security 
settlement in that area would allow the return of Christians and allow 
the return of Yazidis to their traditional homes and to begin to 
rebuild.
  Again, as I mentioned, in July, at the request of the Vice President, 
I joined Administrator Mark Green of the United States Agency for 
International Development and Ambassador-at-Large for International 
Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, former Governor of Kansas, and we went 
to Iraq together.
  We were responding to reports that our initial efforts to help the 
religious minority communities were not having the intended effect.
  When we stepped into the dusty alleyways and streets and villages and 
camps, we gained firsthand knowledge of the broken conditions there. 
Our trip included intense discussions with Iraqi religious leaders, 
international aid workers, displaced children, U.N. personnel, as well 
as our military leadership.
  Despite the situation's fragility, there is certain progress being 
made, including courageous acts of ecumenical alliance and 
revitalization, often with international nongovernmental organizations 
and faith-based entities.
  My firsthand observation was this: The situation in Iraq can be 
summarized in three words: possibility, urgency, and security.
  Multiple levels of challenge remain. Security is weak, and the 
prospect of permanent refugee camps is real.
  If Iraq loses its minority communities, the hope for a healthy 
pluralism in the region will die, and a severe chain of events will 
occur. Iran will expand its presence. ISIS could regenerate. Out-
migration will ensue, and Iraq will forever lose this extraordinary 
ancient tapestry of multiple faith traditions that are so vital for 
human dignity, mutual respect, and peace.
  So, working with the administration, our government, we are expanding 
and accelerating our humanitarian support for those who suffered 
genocide, and this is all good. However, the financial assistance must 
be combined with the proper security settlement that ensures a just 
return for these beleaguered minorities to the Nineveh Plain and 
Sinjar.
  So, Madam Speaker, this is what I have done. I am recently getting 
ready to reintroduce a resolution in the House of Representatives to 
develop a multinational security mission to integrate local Christians, 
Yazidis, and other minorities into the security forces of the central 
government of Iraq.

                              {time}  1800

  Getting this right means justice for the oppressed, stability for 
Iraq, and the preservations of the principles necessary for 
civilization itself. By doing so, we will correct a fragile security 
situation. The religious minorities will have special autonomy for 
protection of their own areas, but, again, under Central Iraqi 
authority, under the Iraqi flag. The mission will be international in 
character under the Iraqi flag. I know, right now, many other nations 
are very willing to join this effort, to put down a new security 
footprint that would stabilize permanently that area and allow people 
to go home.
  Madam Speaker, there is another issue related critically to human 
dignity, and while it is not something that we often talk and think 
about, we are starting to get our mind around how big tech is 
controlling our lives. We are starting to worry that the surveillance 
of our habits and our contacts by people who shouldn't be surveilling 
us, these big tech companies, are creating multiple levels of 
difficulty. This growing problem here in America is affecting the most 
vulnerable persons here: our children.
  The CEO of Google, a few months ago, recently came before Congress, 
and he did receive an earful. Big tech is controlling our lives. Big 
tech is concentrated and dominating. Big tech is going to necessarily 
come under increased policy scrutiny to ensure that individual privacy 
is protected and competition is not stifled. But one overlooked area, 
problem, is protecting children online.
  Now, Google's YouTube is the most popular online platform for 
children on Earth, and 8 out of 10 U.S. children from 6 to 12 use it 
daily. In April of this past year, 23 child and privacy advocacy groups 
filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that 
Google's YouTube online video and advertising network systematically 
collected data on the online habits of tens of millions of YouTube-
watching children under the age of 13, and that data was sold to 
marketers.
  Now, in support of this advocacy, Congressman  David Cicilline, who 
is from Rhode Island, who sits on the other side of the aisle from me, 
he and I asked Google for answers on its policy regarding protection of 
children online. The response was weak.
  So our goal is to continue to try to ensure that the internet's 
extraordinarily beneficial technological advances square with the time-
honored values essential to a humane, decent, and dignified world. We 
want Google to thoroughly answer our questions. We want Google to be 
true to its original motto: ``Don't Be Evil.''
  Now, Madam Speaker, let me turn to another topic, and touch on it 
briefly, to talk about what is germane in this moment, given the 
discussions of border security, some of the things we actually worked 
on last year that weren't successful but, nonetheless, may provide some 
answers for the current dilemma that we find ourselves in.
  America is, again, a kind and generous nation, and we have opened our 
arms to persons who seek refuge and want to rebuild their own lives and 
accept and embrace the deeper values of our country. However, charity 
cannot flow from chaos. No one is entitled to enter America illegally. 
Law and order create the conditions for justice and compassion. Law and 
order create the conditions necessary for charity, for justice, and for 
compassion.
  Now, the dynamics around immigration are complex and multilayered. A 
Yale study came out last year that said the number of persons illegally 
in the United States could be as high as 30 million, but at least 40 
percent of those have overstayed a visa. And over the past 30 years--
and this is what we are wrestling with right now--over the past 30 
years, incomplete border control, insufficient Federal enforcement, and 
the cynical exploitation of the poor for economic gain here in America

[[Page H353]]

has created an attractiveness and led to a failing system.
  So, in an attempt to meet multiple immigration challenges, to align 
the various perspectives that are here in Congress about a humane and 
compassionate response about the need for additional, necessary border 
resources, about the need to update our immigration laws, this year we 
voted on legislation that would stiffen internal enforcement, modernize 
our immigration laws, and significantly increase border resources.
  The House-led legislation moved more toward a merit-based immigration 
system, provided new funding for more humane shelters at the border. It 
accelerated the judicial review process, and it made accommodations to 
resolve the anxious ambiguity for those who are called the Deferred 
Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA kids, children who were brought 
here through no fault of their own.
  I supported these initiatives, but, unfortunately, they failed in the 
House. And moving forward, I think we need to keep certain other 
priorities at the forefront of the immigration debate, which are, of 
course, an increase in border security, robust internal enforcement, 
and this additional priority which is now only coming to light. We have 
been doing this for a number of years. Of course, the policy needs to 
be revisited and evaluated in terms of success, but I do think it is an 
important one: moving the immigration debate off the 1-yard line and 
working with creative and imaginative foreign policy engagement with 
the countries in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El 
Salvador. In that way, to help those countries build more just and 
humane systems both economically and politically, to create the 
conditions for stability, decreases the intensity of need for out-
migration for either economic purposes or fleeing criminal activity.
  Now, immigration can seem remote and abstract for many of us, but it 
is important to remember that it has a human face, and I am very proud 
that we are doing two things at once here. We are, of course, debating 
the importance of immigration policy and potential changes, but also 
assisting many people who have gotten tangled in immigration 
difficulties back home.
  Madam Speaker, I think there are certain things in this House that 
transcend disagreement, and one of them is our veterans. Americans 
often sense what is right and good, and we instinctively recognize the 
nobility of self-sacrifice for another, for our country, and for our 
timeless ideals, and our veterans stand above the division and 
discord--beyond politics--to what is lasting and true.

  But beyond our applause and admiration, we are also duty-bound in 
this body to keep our promise to care for them. So, this past year, we 
did some important things.
  Back at home, we are in the process, after some long negotiations, of 
creating a new state-of-the-art VA facility in Lincoln, on the historic 
veterans' campus there. This is a victory. This is a significant 
victory for economic regeneration of a unique historic property, and it 
arrives on the heels of a very successful public-private partnership to 
expand and improve and innovate the Omaha VA Medical Center. I am so 
proud that Nebraska continues to inspire the Nation with creative 
partnerships to assist our veterans.
  Now, here in Congress, we passed a law called the VA Maintaining 
Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks, the acronym is 
the MISSION Act. It was signed into law, and it brought the long-needed 
reforms in the last Congress to the VA system. It provides a 
replacement for the VA Choice program and consolidates community care 
programs for veterans who live far from a VA center or experience long 
wait times for care.
  This is going to assist many of our veterans in rural communities and 
help them receive the quality of care that they deserve in a reasonable 
amount of time. This act also expanded the veteran caregiver program, 
making more pre-9/11 veterans and their families eligible for 
assistance.
  Now, another bipartisan project that I hope we can pursue shortly, 
and we have been in dialogue in a bipartisan manner on this, is to work 
with the international community to create a historic center at the 
site of our D-day battles in Normandy. A new institute that is being 
envisioned by some European colleagues could reestablish, for the 21st 
century, a renewed understanding of the pivotal battle that happened on 
D-day, its consequences for the war, and the institutions that emerged 
afterward that have created the conditions for stability and 
prosperity, many of which are aging and need to be updated and 
challenged.
  The United States cannot pull the world's weight alone. We need to be 
in authentic partnership and in authentic dialogue when we have 
differences, but in partnership with those who have been given the 
capacity by our sacrifice, both militarily and economically, to advance 
their own economies and build out systems of governance.
  Again, the 21st century architecture of international diplomacy is 
going to revolve around that central idea: authentic partnerships based 
on the philosophical principle of human dignity that lead to burden 
sharing and vision sharing at the same time.
  Madam Speaker, I had an interesting thing happen this summer. I 
wasn't at home, and I regret that I wasn't there to receive him, but he 
stopped in my office. World War II veteran Sidney Walton stopped by, 
and he has a really fascinating story.
  You see, he told my staff and some of the young people there, the 
interns, he has a deep regret that when he was young, he never really 
took the time to visit with the last few remaining Civil War veterans. 
So he has taken it upon himself; he has embarked on a national No 
Regrets Tour, and his goal is to visit all 50 States and give young 
Americans a chance to meet a World War II veteran.
  Again, his name is Sidney Walton. We were honored to have him in 
Nebraska, and he will finish his tour at the White House, as I 
understand it, this February, on his 100th birthday.
  Thank you, Sidney. Great, great effort.
  Madam Speaker, let me also touch upon another area that is so 
essential to our well-being, our sense of being able to fulfill these 
deepest longings that we have, our healthy sense of ambition for 
ourselves and for our family.
  A lot of times around here we cite economic data, have a bunch of 
charts that show statistics. We do a lot of that around here. It 
doesn't really convey, I think, the deeper dynamics of what is 
happening. But let me go into it just for a bit and talk about the 
positive outcomes that have occurred.
  This year, we have seen more jobs, increased wages, and reinvestment 
in equipment, plants, and research and development. Our gross domestic 
product, one of the measures of the economy, is climbing, and median 
household income is rising. Unemployment is at a 50-year low, and many 
people who have been marginalized or on the sidelines, thankfully, have 
found access to meaningful work.
  And if we think about a holistic approach to helping our neighbor, 
work is dignity. When a person is able to use their gifts and talents, 
either their two hands or their intellect, to make things, they are not 
only providing for their own well-being, but they are in solidarity 
with the community. This benefit of exchange goes beyond just material. 
It creates the value of relationships. That is the beauty and dignity 
of work.
  And when people are sidelined, when entire communities have been 
decimated through poor planning or poor policies or become 
overdependent upon one industry that decides it is going to pick up and 
leave--and we have seen that happen over and over in America--it is not 
fair to people; it is not fair to communities.
  But when we can see a return of entrepreneurial momentum, especially 
in small business--and again, people who have had real difficulty, for 
whatever reason, finding access to meaningful work restores 
individuals' vitality, of course, helps them to help themselves and 
creates solidarity and community. That is what, when we go into all 
these charts and graphs and economic figures, we really ought to be 
talking about, what I just said: the dignity and beauty and meaning of 
work, the gift of work, the ability to create the conditions necessary 
for societal flourishing.

                              {time}  1815

  So last year, we passed an important, what was called Tax Cuts and 
Jobs Act,

[[Page H354]]

and we are seeing this enhanced economic growth and more take-home pay 
for families.
  In addition to those important benefits, there is another little-
known provision in here that I want to touch on for a moment, and it is 
called Opportunity Zones. It provides powerful tax incentives to 
encourage revitalization of some of the newest, most economically 
distressed areas of the country. It has been overlooked in terms of our 
understanding of that law.
  This investment opportunity will foster job regeneration and make 
better use of taxpayer dollars already spent, and it forges stronger 
communities.
  Madam Speaker, I used to be on our city council back home, and most 
of city council works is public works. When you see an area that is no 
longer functioning well, it is not just a blight on the community; it 
is not just that buildings are run down. We already made an investment 
there. We already paid for streets. We already paid for streetlights. 
We already paid for utilities, and they are being underutilized. That 
minimizes the return on an investment already made.
  We also have to provide police and fire protection for these areas. 
Again, those are real costs to the taxpayer. They are not on an 
accounting balance sheet, but they are real costs. It is called 
opportunity cost and underutilized investment. It is already there.
  So this idea of regenerating places across America that have the 
infrastructure already creates the conditions in which we get a better 
return on the tax dollar for money already spent. We are not chewing up 
additional land and resources. We are recycling, regenerating, 
rethinking possibility in some of the hardest hit areas of our country.
  I am excited. In my own congressional district, there are 14 of these 
Opportunity Zones that have been designated.
  Now, here are some hard realities, and I should point them out 
because they are real. Let's just be honest.
  Our deficit is high, and it is stubbornly high, and there are real 
disparities between those at the top and those who struggle to make a 
living.
  And while we hear policymakers tend to take too much credit for 
economic booms and too little blame for the crashes, most analysts do 
conclude that the actions taken by Congress over the last year have 
improved our economic outlook--again, a good accomplishment.
  We got the farm bill done. We got the right type of tax reform done. 
We strengthened our military, and we are looking forward to the debates 
around where we go as a nation now.
  Something that continues to be difficult for all of us, though, is 
the right type of healthcare reform. And I am going to venture out here 
and say that I would assume that everybody in this body holds to these 
same three principles. I don't mean to speak for anyone else, but this 
is what I believe. I think we ought to be striving for three things in 
the right type of healthcare reform: lower cost, improved well-being, 
and the protection of vulnerable persons.
  So let's just start there. Let's not create another proxy fight over 
the Affordable Care Act. Let's just start there.
  How do we get to lower cost, particularly for people in rural 
communities who are priced out of the individual market and have 
incomes that they don't get a subsidy?
  Some of the farmers in my community are paying as high as $40,000 for 
healthcare. You can't do it unless you are very wealthy.
  So what happens? A member of the family has to leave and go get a job 
in order to get the benefit. We don't even know how to calculate the 
economic lost potential of forcing somebody to go do a job they don't 
want to do simply to get health insurance. We don't even know how to 
calculate that.
  So I proposed something in the farm bill. Unfortunately, the Senate 
didn't take it up, but it is the Rural Health Insurance Act, which 
would have subsidized the startup of new risk pools to provide for 
better health insurance options in areas of rural communities, 
primarily, where this market has been decimated, where people have had 
to change the way they reorder their economic lives in order to have 
some access to health insurance. I thought it was a good idea.
  The startup costs for risk pool sharing, the sharing burden that is 
necessary to create an insurance product for smaller businesses, are 
high, so I wanted to provide, just like we do in markets that don't 
function efficiently, like crop insurance, a subsidy that would help 
the startup of these new risk pools in order to give more competition 
to the health insurance market in rural communities. That is one idea I 
had. We didn't get it all the way through, but I am glad it passed the 
House.
  I look forward to working with colleagues on the other side of the 
aisle again who are looking toward those three goals. How do we think 
creatively and imaginatively about reducing costs, improving well-
being?
  We are right around the corner from amazing breakthroughs in 
innovation and technology in both managing and preventing and curing 
disease, and we have significantly increased our funding on a 
bipartisan basis for the National Institutes of Health for disease 
research.
  So we have done a number of things that are important for the 
American people. Of course, it tends to get overshadowed by some of the 
more philosophical fights that have occurred, but I would ask my 
colleagues, let's embrace the concept that we might be able to find 
some policies that everybody could potentially agree on around three 
goals: reducing cost, improving well-being, and protecting vulnerable 
persons. I think that is pretty reasonable.
  There is another idea out there that I will be introducing this year. 
I already have a cosponsor from the other side of the aisle. Here is 
the problem:
  For 3 years in a row now, America's life expectancy has declined. We 
are consuming more healthcare and dying younger. Rates of asthma and 
diabetes have skyrocketed in some populations, and it is really hard to 
see whether or not we are making progress on certain preventable 
illnesses. We can do better than that. That is not a necessary 
condition that we have to settle on.

  So, to start an effective new conversation, I am introducing the 
Community Health Improvement Leadership and Development Act. It is 
called the CHILD Act. My cosponsor is from a large urban area, and this 
allows communities across America to fully participate in improving 
their own health.
  How does it work? When community members find an innovative way to 
improve health and save money in their State Medicaid program, the 
legislation allows the verified savings to be shared back to that very 
community and State. It is a virtual cycle of assuring access to care 
and more creative prevention. I like it. It is a win-win for taxpayers 
and people in communities and towns across Nebraska and America.
  As we go on, I hope this is one of those ideas that fits into the 
three sets of principles as to how we are going to reduce cost, improve 
outcomes, and protect vulnerable persons.
  Madam Speaker, I know our time is getting ready to run short, and can 
you give me an idea of how much time is left.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Nebraska has 7 minutes 
remaining.
  Mr. FORTENBERRY. Madam Speaker, I want to introduce a new topic in 
the time that we have remaining, again speaking to that which might be 
able to unite us in a very divided time, that which is a fundamental 
principle that is operative in most of our hearts, that which, again, 
transcends these temporary and urgent moments of policy division. It is 
what I call natural security.
  We talked about national security. We talked about economic security. 
We talked about human dignity, family security. Now I want to talk 
about natural security, and here is an example.
  Nebraska is one of the only States where you can find three distinct 
subspecies of the turkey.
  Madam Speaker, are you with me on this? It is really very 
fascinating.
  In the southeast corner of Nebraska, you can find the Eastern turkey. 
In the southwest corner, you can see a Rio, and out west, you can find 
a Merriam. This unique trifecta exists right there in my home.
  Now, why am I raising this? Why would you be raising this? Of course, 
I

[[Page H355]]

find it interesting, and I hope you do as well, Madam Speaker.
  This newfound abundance of turkeys is an amazing story because, due 
to urban pressures and habitat loss and improperly regulated hunting, 
not too long ago, wild turkeys were in decline across the Nation. But 
they have since rebounded through basic conservation efforts.
  With innovative thinking and proactive policy, we can conserve and 
restore other wildlife and natural habitats, while bringing social, 
cultural, and economic multipliers to our rural communities.
  Nebraska has been at the forefront of such conservation efforts, and 
we will continue to lead this charge at home as well as here, so I have 
introduced the Recovering America's Wildlife Act.
  Now, Madam Speaker, we weren't able to get it through Congress last 
year, but I think by the end of the session, we had 120--it was 
probably a little bit higher--bipartisan cosponsors.
  So what does it do? It takes an upstream approach to habitat 
protection through robust funding of State wildlife action plans so 
that we don't have the downstream effect of habitat loss. In Nebraska, 
we do this through means of voluntary landowner agreements.
  This is why this is important. As we approach the renewal of the 
Endangered Species Act, RAWA, the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, 
actually gets in front of the problem by preventing wildlife from 
becoming endangered in the first place, and it moves us from costly 
regulation and litigation to collaboration.
  I am very excited about this because I think it is another way in 
which we can use moneys from lands in Federal trust and plow it back 
into another form of trust that creates a widespread benefit for those 
interested in environmental policy, those interested in conservation 
policy, and those interested in enhanced recreational sporting and 
hunting opportunity.
  That is why so many people have gotten on this bill. It transcends 
our divide. It is a creative mechanism by which we use certain moneys 
that are already being gathered into the Treasury and apply them in 
innovative and creative ways.
  Madam Speaker, I, again, am grateful for the opportunity to have had 
time to present to this body an overview of last year's work. It is 
important because, ultimately, it is not just about policy; it is about 
persons.
  A woman named Mary came into my office this past year, and she was 
with two men who had made their living as truckers. Their pensions were 
in danger. Mary just began to tear up as she explained the dire 
circumstances in which they found themselves, because multiemployer 
pension plans--this is a little bit in the weeds, but multiemployer 
pension plans, some are in dire condition.
  So what does that mean? Somebody who said, ``I am going to work for 
this set of benefits and, in turn, I am going to be guaranteed an 
income of this level in my older years,'' all of that promise, all that 
work and those promises are now under real threat.
  So, again, working in a bipartisan fashion, that is an area which is 
in severe need that we worked to try to fix last year and will do so 
again, working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
  Madam Speaker, my intention tonight was to give an overview of the 
last year because so often, again, in the dynamics of the moment, we 
lose sight of the good things that were accomplished for our economic 
security, for our national security, for family security, for the well-
being of our land and water. By taking a little bit of a look back, 
maybe this gives us some prospect for unity, consensus, while fighting 
on principle, but unity and consensus for good.
  Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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