It has been 20 years since a freshman member of Congress has been selected to serve on a conference committee to decide the inter-workings of a congressional appropriations bill. These conference committees are the last stop legislation has to resolve differences between the language given by the House and the Senate and are only staffed by a dozen or so lawmakers. On Thursday, the House announced that Congressman Scott Taylor (VA-2) will be the first freshman legislator since 1998 to participate in the Conference Committee to finalize the Energy and Water Infrastructure, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch Appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2019.
House Appropriations Chairman, Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) said, “It is important that we have variety of voices, including a freshman member, on the Conference Committee. Rep. Taylor has proven himself to be an effective member of our committee during his first term, and a strong advocate for a return to regular order.”
Frelinghuysen noted that Taylor, a former Navy SEAL and Iraq combat veteran, brings a proven record of personal accountability to the table. “We also welcome him as a veteran who knows the needs of all veterans, especially those who continue to fight overseas and those that suffer from physical and mental wounds. I have full confidence that [he] will continue to prove himself as we move forward in this process of funding our government’s defense, infrastructure, and legislative priorities,” the chairman said in a press release.
Passage of individual appropriation bills have been few and far between over the last two decades, meaning Taylor will have significant influence on the outcome of those final negotiations. “Going to conference is the next step in responsibly funding our government,” Taylor said.
The Virginia Republican said, “I am grateful for Chairman Frelinghuysen’s trust and confidence in naming me as a conferee, a huge honor, and I look forward to working with my colleagues as we move forward in this process.”
Taylor explained that he his “committed” to ensuring the priorities of the House-passed FY 19 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (Milcon-VA) Bill, and the Energy and Water Infrastructure Appropriations Bills, which are critical to military and waterway infrastructure in the Commonwealth.
The legislation to provide for next year’s military budget for energy and water infrastructure investments includes $44.7 billion in targeted funding toward national security efforts, for example nuclear weapons activities. The funding is $1.5 billion above the FY 18 enacted level and $8.17 billion above President Donald Trump’s budget request.
The total Milcon-VA Bill includes $85.3 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $3.9 billion above the FY 18 enacted level – the largest dollar amount in history for the VA. The bill funds VA medical care with $71.2 billion, which will enable around seven million patients to be treated next year. As well, the bill allocates $1.2 billion for the modernization of the VA’s electronic health record system.
The funding levels for VA medical care are:
Mental Health Care Services – $8.6 billion.
Homeless Veterans Services – $7.4 billion.
Suicide Prevention Outreach – $196 million.
Opioid Abuse Prevention – $387 million.
Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment – $589 million.
Rural Veterans Health Initiatives – $270 million.
The FY 19 Milcon-VA Bill also includes funding for eight military construction projects across the Commonwealth.
Dam Neck: SOF (Special Operations Forces) Magazines – $8.9 million.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis: Fuel Facilities Replacement – $6.9 million; Ground Vehicle Fueling Facility Replacement – $5.8 million.
Air National Guard, Joint Base Langley-Eustis: Cyber Ops Facilitary – $10 million.
The projects throughout Virginia include:
Portsmouth: Ships Maintenance Facility – $26.12 million.
Fort A.P. Hill: Training Campus – $11.73 million.
Fort Belvoir: Human Performance Training Center – $6.12 million.
Humphreys Engineer Center: Maintenance and Supply Facility – $20.25 million.
Pentagon: Exterior Infrastructure & Security Improvements – $23.65 million; North Village VACP & Fencing – $12.2 million.
Although Taylor has been deciding on big-ticket defense spending items, he has also been fastidious in sponsoring and passing legislation aimed at help veterans who come back from war, even those who fought on foreign battlefields decades ago.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Taylor co-sponsored Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) guidelines do not acknowledge that Blue Water Navy (BWN) veterans may have been injured as a result of the military’s use of the chemical weapon “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War era. Instead, however, the VA limits the presumption to veterans who actually “set foot on land” in Vietnam or served in the country’s inland waterways during the war.
The bill will expand the presumption of service connection for certain conditions linked to contact with herbicides – which according to the VA include certain types of cancers and neurological disorders – to BWN veterans who served off the shore of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, as stated in a press release. Furthermore, it authorizes the VA to notify BWN veterans of their ability to submit new claims for disability benefits, and offer retroactive benefits to certain veterans and survivors who previously filed benefit claims based on exposure to chemical weapons.
“This bill is long overdue, I applaud those who never gave up hope, and never stopped working to make this right. I am glad to have played a small part in the effort by co-sponsoring and helping to push this bill through the House. I urge my Senate colleagues to swiftly pass it and send the bill to the President’s desk,” said Congressman Taylor.
In a similar measure designed to help the nation’s veterans, Taylor’s VA Senior Executive Accountability (SEA) Act was signed into law by President Trump. The legislation intended to make the Secretary of Veteran Affairs more personally accountable for problems at VA hospitals, and requires the secretary to directly approve, via a written statement, the reassignments of any senior VA executives and provide an annual report to Congress explaining those job changes and their costs.
Taylor’s bill was drafted after a months-long response program aimed at mending the VA’s response to management problems at Hampton VA Medical Center. According to a press release from the congressman, the center in his southeastern Virginia district, “was performing at a one-star level out of five. To remedy the situation, VA leadership made the decision to transfer the executive to another facility, thereby transferring one center’s problem to another.”
“Rather than protecting subpar executives, we need to refocus our efforts on retaining the best employees, leaders, and providers across the VA, with the proper oversight,” Taylor said. “This type of accountability has been sorely absent from the VA for years.”
It is not often that a first-term congressional lawmaker is given such a large responsibility to their country, insofar as dictating the course of funding on the federal level. Taylor’s personal, experiential approach to solving problems in the coastal congressional district and his duty to his country during his time in the Navy SEALs have proven to the leadership in Washington that he is someone that is worth supporting to make tough decisions.
Such a star-studded record in just his freshman term shows that Taylor is not just an elected official, but a leader – one whom represents his district well and provides direction to the the country he has served and will continue to serve.