Legislative Update From Senator Richard Burr

Message From Senator Burr

This week, the 113th Congress came to an end. When the Senate opens back up on January 6, it will be with a new majority. In the 114th Congress, I will be serving on three committees - the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (or HELP) Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee.  I will be stepping down from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee after having served seven years as the Committee's Republican Ranking (or lead) Member.

I consider my time on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to be a privilege. During that time, I had the opportunity to author and pass into law several pieces of legislation that are close to my heart, including the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, and the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. I am pleased North Carolina veterans will continue to be represented on the committee with the able leadership of Senator-elect Thom Tillis, who will be serving on the panel next Congress. Though I will no longer be a member of this esteemed committee, I intend to stay actively involved in passing the Clay Hunt Mental Health bill, which I introduced this year with Senator McCain.

Among the final votes taken in the 113th Congress was the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act.  This soon-to-be law, which some have called the most significant piece of legislation affecting the disabled since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act nearly a quarter century ago, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.   

I got involved in the ABLE effort nearly 8 years ago with Senator Casey.  Families of severely disabled children came to us expressing the critical need for an easy way to save for their child's future expenses, especially since many Americans with Down Syndrome and autism are now outliving their parents.  Most middle-class families don't have the money to spend on lawyers and financial planners to set up sophisticated trusts to make sure that their disabled child will be OK long after they are gone.  What's worse, current federal law actually discourages parents from putting any assets in the name of their disabled child in fear of disqualifying them from federal programs down the road. It's utterly unacceptable that our current laws doom a child born with a disability to a lifetime of poverty and dependence.  This is especially unfortunate when a parent or other family member has the resources and the desire to save and plan for that child's future expenses but are advised by lawyers and planners not to.  The ABLE Act will take the first critical step in ending this injustice by allowing parents of disabled children to use 529 accounts to save for their child's future expenses much like they can for college. You can watch my floor speech by clicking here.

In addition to the ABLE Act, I am pleased to discuss another law that was passed last week that is of special importance to North Carolina.  On Friday, the Senate passed H.R. 3979, a bill that included legislation I authored known as the Preserving Public Access to Cape Hatteras Beaches Act (S. 486).  The Hatteras legislation will help tourists and sportsmen gain access to North Carolina's renowned Outer Banks beaches.

This new law is a triumph for the Outer Banks region. The constraining regulations outside interest groups and the Federal government have imposed on access to our beaches are finally being addressed.  This is a win for North Carolinians and tourists from around the country who wish to visit North Carolina's scenic treasures.  It is my hope that the Park Service will follow these new guidelines, and I look forward to working with them to ensure that we are both protecting and enjoying our beaches.  Read more here.

Finally, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the 2015 budget that Congress passed on Saturday.  This legislation has been nick-named the "Cromnibus," but it what it really was is legislation to fund the operations of the federal government for the 2015 fiscal year. 

I voted, with a bipartisan majority of my Senate colleagues, to pass this legislation.   While not perfect, it will allow the federal government to continue to run, bringing us into the new year with a new majority in the United States Senate. 

No one from the mainstream media has really reported on what was included in budget bill, including the fact that it kept federal spending below last year.  The bill included important provisions that were hard-won by my House Republican colleagues. This legislation funds the majority of the federal government through September 2015, but we chose to only fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015.  This gives us the ability to enter the 114th Congress with a new majority and a greater ability to address the serious concerns Republicans have with the President's recent executive amnesty.  When the Senate returns next year, we will have more Republican votes to end or severely limit what was clearly an overreach by the President.

Let me be clear about my personal disapproval of the President's recent actions regarding amnesty and my fear that his actions pose a grave threat to our rule of law. In fact, I voted with Senator Ted Cruz on a point of order as a way of expressing my staunch disapproval of the actions that the President has taken.  Unfortunately, that point of order failed. 

That said, I must be clear that the budget (or "Cromnibus") bill itself does not in any way authorize, fund or tacitly condone what I believe to be measures that the President has taken that are blatantly outside of his authority.  There has been much misreporting about the bill, and I want to be clear that I would not support any legislation that I believe would approve or facilitate Obama's extra-legal actions.

With regard to other areas of the budget, it should be noted that the legislation provided no new funding for Obamacare, and it reduces funding for the IRS by $345 million - the federal entity primarily responsible for the implementation of Obamacare.  It also provides new, extensive oversight of the IRS in the wake of allegations of targeting of conservative groups.  It is my hope that in the 114th Congress we will have a chance to repeal and replace the health care law.  The budget also maintains all existing pro-life policies, ensuring taxpayer dollars are not being used to fund abortions.

In addition, the bill includes the following provisions:

  • Banning the Administration's onerous "light bulb" standard
  • Bans and places limitations on federal agency conferences and bonuses
  • Provisions to stop the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S
  • A prohibition on funding for the IRS to target organizations for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights
  • A $60 million cut and extensive oversight requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Oversight and monitoring requirements to weed out waste and abuse in nutrition programs
  • A pay freeze for the Vice President and senior political appointees
  • No funding for the International Monetary Fund

To see other provisions of H.R. 83, click here.

As always, please reach out to any of my offices if you have any questions you would like answered or if you would like to leave a message for me.

I am proud of the accomplishments of this year but I know that 2015 holds even more work to be done.