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Brat, McEachin highlight importance of bipartisanship

By Coleman Jennings, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Though they come from different sides of the aisle, two Virginia congressmen came together for a moderated discussion on entrepreneurship and economic growth. U.S. Reps. Dave Brat, a Republican from Glen Allen, and A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Richmond, highlighted the importance of bipartisan cooperation in moving Virginia and the nation forward.

While Brat and McEachin disagreed over issues such as health care, they found common ground in supporting broadband service in rural areas and deregulation that will stimulate business growth.

“If you don’t have internet, you can forget about bringing jobs in,” McEachin, who was elected last fall, told the approximately 80 people who attended Thursday’s forum, which was sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals.

Brat, a tea party stalwart who advocates for limited government, agreed that expanding infrastructure is important for business growth. “I’m trying to be as pro-business as I can on every policy I’m for,” he said at the event, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch building.

Although the officeholders were cordial and friendly to each other, such sentiments were not shared by some members of the audience. About a dozenmembers of the audience jeered at Brat, frequently interrupting his answers with scoffs. A small group in attendance continually raised red index cards every time Brat said something they didn’t like.

The topics for discussion were prepared beforehand and presented by the moderator T. Otey Smith, a principal of RLJ Equity Partners in Bethesda, Md. Each congressman was given about three minutes to give his take on the given question.

The two men may not often see eye to eye on certain issues. But on Thursday night, they frequently agreed on certain aspects of the discussion and exchanged encouraging words on topics where they shared similarities.

The discussion was not without its disagreements. One that stood out was health care. McEachin supported former President Barrack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. “Obamacare didn’t do everything right, but all the problems in the health-care system were not created by Obamacare either,” McEachin said.

He criticized President Donald Trump and other Republican officials for their vow to repeal and replace Obamacare. “They don’t have a lot of places to go to fix our health-care system and make it look different from Obamacare.”

Brat started off by calling Obamacare “in the ditch,” saying it “focused on coverage up front and paid no attention to price – prices have gone up 105 percent under Obamacare.” Brat is in favor in delegating health-care coverage to the states rather than having the federal government issue mandates.

“Politicians are not good at running things. Let’s bring that power down to the state level,” he said.

Brat represents Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Chesterfield County to Culpeper. As an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, he won the seat in 2014 by upsetting House Minority Leader Eric Cantor.

McEachin represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes Richmond, Petersburg and parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties. An attorney, he previously served 17 years in the Virginia General Assembly.

After the hourlong discussion, both men shook hands and stayed around to talk to constituents. Some attendees said the respect Brat and McEachin showed for each other provided a model for other members of Congress.

“I think bipartisanship is key, especially in a time like this,” said Mark Stafford, a resident of Brat’s district. “I don’t want to watch my country waste away.”

VA MEMBERS URGE CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP TO TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT MINERS BEFORE HEALTHCARE BENEFITS EXPIRE

~ An estimated 10,000 retired coal miners in Virginia are at risk of losing health and retirement benefits in the coming years ~

WASHINGTON – In a letter today, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, and Reps. Gerry Connolly, A. Donald McEachin, and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (all D-VA) urged Congressional leaders to take action to protect retired coal miners who risk losing their healthcare benefits as part of negotiations to keep the government funded before the end of the week. Last year, Congress reached a deal to extend government funding and retired miners’ health care benefits until April 28th. In March, retired coal miners and their families began receiving letters notifying them of the impending termination of their health care coverage. 

“This nation was built on the backs of our workers. Let us not forsake them. We implore you to immediately pass a permanent health care fix for the miners and commit to working with us to finding and passing a solution for the imperiled 1974 Pension Fund,” the members wrote.

Retired miners are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is severely underfunded, still reeling from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and a series of bankruptcies in the coal industry.

The Virginia Congressional members pressed for the inclusion in negotiations of the Miners Protection Act, bipartisan legislation which would transfer federal funds to shore up the underfunded health insurance and pension plan.

“Anything less is merely an extension of the ongoing uncertainty and agony that these men and women have been carrying for years. Anything less is an unacceptable and tragic failure of this body to keep its word to the men and women who powered our nation to prosperity at the risk of their own health and lives,” the members added.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

April 25, 2017

The Honorable Mitch McConnell                              
Senate Majority Leader                                               
The Capitol S-230                                                       
Washington, DC 20510                                              

The Honorable Chuck Schumer

Senate Minority Leader
The Capitol S-221
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Paul Ryan                                          
Speaker of the House of Representatives                   
The Capitol H-232                                                      
Washington, DC 20515                                              

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi  
House Minority Leader
The Capitol H-204
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi,

As you know, at the expiration of the current continuing resolution, 22,600 of our nation’s retired coal miners will lose their healthcare benefits.  In March, these miners received letters notifying them of this impending termination and, sadly, it is not the first such letter they have received.  

Virginia is home to nearly 10,000 UMWA beneficiaries whose benefits are at risk in the coming years, many of whom will soon suffer the anguish and fear that comes with the loss of these life-saving benefits. 

While the continuing resolution included a four-month extension of benefits, it did so using remaining funds in the existing Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association (VEBA) plans.  The “extension” was essentially a transfer of funds already belonging to these miners.  In fact, it shortened the timeline for 6,500 of these miners who would have otherwise received healthcare benefits through July.  Additionally, the pension fund that these miners and their widows rely on for life’s basic necessities will reach the point of no return this year if Congress does not act to shore it up.

This bill is simple – it is the continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners.  The Krug-Lewis Agreement was signed in 1946 at the White House in front of President Truman by UMWA president John L. Lewis and Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug.  While the agreement itself was not drafted in perpetuity, Congress essentially codified the promises made in that agreement by subsequently passing the Coal Act. 

The Coal Act and its 2006 amendments re-committed the government to the health and retirement security of our nation’s miners and their families.  In fact, prior to passage of the 1992 Coal Act, the Dole Commission (appointed by President George H.W. Bush) issued a report stating that, “The UMWA Health and Retirement Funds is as much a creature of government as it is of collective bargaining. There is a line running from the original Boone Report to the present system. In a way, the original Krug-Lewis agreement predisposed, if not predetermined, the system that evolved.” 

The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order.  As Congress considers a continuing resolution to keep the government running, we fully expect that such a vehicle will include the permanent health care fix for our nation’s retired miners as promised at the end of 2016 and proposed in the Miner’s Protection Act.

Anything less is merely an extension of the ongoing uncertainty and agony that these men and women have been carrying for years.  Anything less is an unacceptable and tragic failure of this body to keep its word to the men and women who powered our nation to prosperity at the risk of their own health and lives. 

This nation was built on the backs of our workers.  Let us not forsake them.  We implore you to immediately pass a permanent health care fix for the miners and commit to working with us to finding and passing a solution for the imperiled 1974 Pension Fund.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                  

Mark R. Warner                                                        
United States Senator            

Tim Kaine
United States Senator

Gerry Connolly
United States Representative

A. Donald McEachin  
United States Representative

Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
United States Representative 

Platt Urges Democrats to get behind McEachin K-12 Education Bill

“63 years after we outlawed unequal facilities, the average Virginia child is going to an obsolete K-12 facility according to national standards. This isn’t the equality we should be looking for!”

Great Falls, Virginia -- Democrat Susan Platt, a candidate for Lt. Governor in the June 13 primary, called on fellow Democrats “to get behind the potentially game-changing K-12 facility legislation being championed by Democratic Congressman Don McEachin.” The measure, H.R. 922 (a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last February), almost certainly “is the best hope in Virginia history to enable localities to afford modernizing their oldest, undated facilities, a pre-requisite to the equal educational opportunity that Dr. King wanted for our children, that Democrats have long promised the working families of Virginia” said Platt.

In 2013, then Governor Robert McDonnell order the state’s first-ever K-12 facility review. He found the results shocking. Besides obsolete nature of the average facility, upwards of 40% of Virginia’s K-12 buildings were sufficiently aged to be considered as “historic” structures under federal and state law.

McEachin’s legislation addresses an unintended anti-education bias in federal law. In 1986, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill created the “federal rehabilitation tax credit.” It incentivized modernization of buildings sufficiently aged to qualify as historic under the law. But the IRS code contained unappreciated legalese buried in arcane bureaucratese.

Platt said the Trump Hotel project in Washington provides an easily understood explanation. The Trump Organization modernized a government owned building – the old DC Post Office – into a new Hotel use pursuant to a long-term lease. This enabled the project to take advantage of beneficial “federal rehabilitation tax credit” financing. However, because a local K-12 facility modernization project aims to keep the same use – a local school – it runs afoul of the so-called “prior use” rule. The “prior use” rule says this financing is barred when the post-modernization usage remains the same.

“This seeming little rule has a huge anti-education impact” said Platt. “Based on current law, it can drive up local school modernization costs by upwards of 33% or possibly even more here in Virginia depending on the particular circumstances of a project.”

From academia to Main Street, the 40,000 federal rehabilitation tax credit financed projects around the country have been widely praised.

“Every dollar saved in local construction costs is a dollar available to improve local instruction without raising local taxes or incurring more local debt.”

Platt pointed out that the Congressional Black Caucus presented Don’s bill to President Trump at their meeting last month.” “Dean Rozell of the George Mason School of Public Policy wrote an article on it, I recommend it to everyone.”

Platt applauded Congressman McEachin for his efforts.

“Education is the great equalizer, that’s what Dr. King said and he was so right,” pointed out Platt.

“Democratic leaders, and thus who want to be Democratic leaders, need to publicly support and get behind Don.”

The Brown decision was in 1954. After 63 years, “I think the children of Virginia have waited long enough” declared Platt.

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