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Politics: Enter at your own risk

Gov. Martinez Chose Unnecessary Cuts to Medicaid

Most of the attention on the results of the 2017 Special Session has focused on the dangerously thin margin between revenue and expenditures the Governor's red pencil actions left our State facing for the coming year. Projections at the time were that New Mexico would have less than one half of one percent (each percent of a $6 billion budget is $60 million) as cash reserves available if tax collections dipped or unanticipated critical spending was required.

But as bad as that situation is, there is another consequence of Governor Martinez' actions which has left most legislators baffled: her deliberate rejection of at least $120 million in Federal Medicaid money that would have flowed into that program if she hadn't vetoed a sensible, thoroughly-vetted "provider fee" that the Hospital Association had voluntarily put on the table.

The hospitals of the state are not nuts. They did not make their offer because they enjoy paying taxes (many, as non-profits, are exempt from taxation currently). No, their offer was not completely for altruistic motives. They, as many observers and legislators have also concluded, after examining the reason for their current solid financial footing, determined that the enhanced Medicaid reimbursements made possible by the extra money the Affordable Care Act provides have benefitted them greatly.

So, after putting pencil to paper, they quite reasonably concluded that the budget crisis we faced might lead to cuts in that reimbursement level. Their solution was to protect Medicaid by boosting state revenue by $80 million through a hospital tax (provider fee) which they would pay, but when matched by Federal Medicaid funds at the rate of 3 to 1, would produce far more money than needed to keep the enhanced rates whole.

In fact, just half of their provider fee revenue would be needed to draw down the $120 million in Federal money. The rest, about $40 million, could be used in the General Fund to boost reserves or increase spending in some other badly-needed program of State government.

I confess that many of Governor Martinez' actions leave me shaking my head in disbelief. But this one absolutely takes the cake. She justified it by saying she didn't want to raise state revenues "on the backs of the state's working families"—a worthy motive, of course, but completely without relevance in regard to a hospital tax.

Now those hospitals may be faced with having to reduce services when the State Medicaid program has to shave reimbursements to live within its constricted budget. Many other cost-saving changes to the Medicaid program under consideration at this moment could have been avoided had the provider fee been approved.

Over half of the other states utilize a provider fee of this sort in coming up with a part of their state match for Medicaid. This approach has been run past the Feds and would not have caused problems. It's just hard to identify any reason at all that a State Government sinking in an ocean of debt would have rejected a $120 million life preserver of Federal money.

New Mexico's hospitals deserve a round of applause for stepping up and offering a way to tap that Federal revenue. The Governor, however, didn't clap; she vetoed.

Albuquerque, NM - Yesterday, Democrat State Senator Joseph Cervantes announced his campaign for the New Mexico governor's seat.

At the same time, Senator Cervantes' launched his gubernatorial campaign by denouncing the idea that New Mexico needs to attract new companies to our state, adding that luring out-of-state jobs have been too much of a priority for legislators trying to bring jobs to New Mexican residents.

Joseph Cervantes has kicked off his candidacy by announcing that he does not see the need to bring jobs and economic opportunity to this state," said Ryan Cangiolosi, Chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico. "Cervantes doesn't seem to understand that our next governor should have a plan to put more people to work."

Cervantes' also enters the race as a direct challenge to Michelle Lujan Grisham, as he becomes the 3rd Democrat to enter the 2018 governors' race against her.

"Senator Cervantes is the third Democrat to challenge politician Michelle Lujan Grisham, and who knows, there will probably be more to step forward against her failed record of carrying water for Nancy Pelosi and her extreme agenda," Cangiolosi stated. "Cervantes and many Democrats see Michelle Lujan Grisham as an inferior candidate who has no real solutions for the people of New Mexico."

WASHINGTON - As the White House prepares to gift the big pharmaceutical companies with an executive order that reportedly favors the industry over consumers, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and a wide group of Senate and House Democrats in pushing President Trump to keep his promise to bring down drug costs and get behind real solutions to reduce the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, one of the central reasons why health care costs are rising.

An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that prescription drug prices are too high and that we need action to lower prices. In a letter to Trump, the lawmakers urged the president to support their Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act, a comprehensive bill to help ensure that drug companies put patients before profits and bring some much-needed relief to families and seniors. This legislation is supported by a broad range of organizations and patient advocacy groups. It aims to help patients afford their medications, unlike the executive order being prepared by the White House. According to press reports, the president's order would do little to actually address rising drug costs—and instead, it would give drug monopolies more power to shake down patients and would ease regulations on an industry that's already hiking prices at an alarming rate.

"We hear time and time again from our constituents across the country about how high prices for life-saving and life-sustaining treatments force patients to choose between their health and their economic security," the lawmakers wrote to Trump. "Now is the time to address the American people's concerns in a meaningful way. We urge you to stand up to the pharmaceutical corporations and put the needs of patients first and to support a comprehensive approach that offers real solutions that will make a real difference in peoples' lives."

The letter to Trump was led by Franken and, in addition to Udall, was signed by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). It also was signed by U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ari.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Kathy Castor (D-Fl.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

Udall is a cosponsor of the landmark legislation to tackle prescription drug costs by increasing transparency and accountability, boosting access and affordability of key drugs, spurring innovation, and increasing choice and competition.

The letter can be found below and here.

Dear President Trump:

We are deeply concerned by news reports suggesting that your administration is failing on one of your principal campaign promises, namely that you would bring down prescription drug prices for American consumers. Instead, under your leadership, your administration is reportedly pursuing an executive order that "appears to give the pharmaceutical industry much of what it has asked for." At a time when profits of prescription drug corporations are at an all-time high and patients are skipping doses because of unaffordable drug prices, pursuing such an executive order is an abdication of your responsibilities to the American people.

We are particularly troubled by reports that your administration's draft executive order includes policies that, perversely, would make prescription drugs more expensive here and abroad. In particular, we are concerned that the draft executive order targets the 340B drug pricing program. The 340B program requires pharmaceutical corporations to provide discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve large numbers of low-income patients. Low-income patients in the U.S. are the most vulnerable to high drug prices. If, as reported, your administration scales back this program, more Americans of limited means will be forced to choose between health and other basic life necessities, like putting food on the table and a roof overhead for the family.

Reports also suggest that your draft executive order would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other related agencies to roll back regulations. Weakening regulations at the FDA would not reduce prescription drug prices, but it could compromise patient safety. The FDA is not the source of the crisis of high drug prices that our country faces. Instead, a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that drug corporations set prices to maximize profits. Rather than focusing on efforts that could undermine U.S. efforts to maintain the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs, efforts at the FDA should be focused on priorities that will result in lower costs for American consumers, such as eliminating barriers that prevent getting generic drugs to market faster and ensuring robust competition in the marketplace.

On the campaign trail, you promised to address high drug prices. You supported measures that would allow consumers to access imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas and vowed to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors. After the election, you again said that you would "bring down drug prices." But since taking office, you have not followed through on these campaign promises. Instead, your administration is pursuing an executive order that does not include the solutions you promised or the relief that Americans need, and could actually result in increased prices for the American people.

Simultaneously, your administration and Congressional Republicans are attempting to rip health coverage, including prescription drug coverage, away from millions of Americans. Taking away Americans' health coverage will make the problem of unaffordable medicines even worse, and ineffective proposals from the drug industry are not a solution.

Rather than pursuing policies that disproportionately benefit the prescription drug industry, you owe it to the American people to make good on your promises by pursuing thoughtful, aggressive, comprehensive policies that will tackle the root causes of high prescription drug prices. Our offices have recently introduced or support legislation to do just that. The Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act is a comprehensive solution that will bring transparency to drug pricing, increase the affordability of drugs, spur innovation in new treatments, and promote choice and competition in the drug market. It's time we identify and carry out reforms to ensure the federal government's power as both a purchaser and payer can be leveraged to better serve American families who are making impossible choices just to get the treatment they need to survive.

We hear time and time again from our constituents across the country about how high prices for life-saving and life-sustaining treatments force patients to choose between their health and their economic security. Now is the time to address the American people's concerns in a meaningful way. We urge you to stand up to the pharmaceutical corporations, put the needs of patients first, and support a comprehensive approach that offers real solutions that will make a real difference in peoples' lives.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28, 2017) - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined in sending a letter led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos citing major concerns with steps the U.S. Department of Education has taken under her leadership to diminish civil rights enforcement for students across the country. The Senators highlight a number of alarming steps Secretary DeVos has taken, including proposing to slash the budget of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), hosting events with anti-LGBTQ groups, and scaling back OCR's civil rights enforcements, among others.

"Your testimony in front of Congress, your continued association with groups with records of supporting discrimination, and two memos written by the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, have reemphasized longstanding concerns about your dedication to the idea that all students, no matter their race, religion, disability, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have a right to receive an education free from discrimination," wrote the Senators.

Due to the disturbing actions of the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has opened a multi-agency investigation into whether the Trump Administration's proposed budgets, staffing cuts, and policy priorities have increased the risk of discrimination.

The full text of the letter is below and a PDF is available here.

June 27, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We are extraordinarily disappointed and alarmed by recent actions you and your staff have taken that have diminished the U.S. Department of Education's ("the Department") enforcement of federal civil rights laws. Your testimony in front of Congress, your continued association with groups with records of supporting discrimination, and two memos written by the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, have reemphasized longstanding concerns about your dedication to the idea that all students, no matter their race, religion, disability, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have a right to receive an education free from discrimination.

You claim to support civil rights and oppose discrimination, but your actions belie your assurances. During your confirmation hearing, and during recent testimony, you gave confusing and contradictory answers about the federal role in protecting students' civil rights and whether you believe that all schools receiving federal funds should follow civil rights laws. In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you attempted to distance yourself from your family's giving to organizations such as the Family Research Council, which promote intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others. Yet, on June 15, 2017, the Family Research Council participated in an official event on engaging fathers in students' education at the Department. You have also appointed staff who have fought against the Department's 2011 Title IX Guidance clarifying schools' responsibility to address campus sexual assault and against expanded protections for survivors of sexual violence on campus. These actions appear to reinforce the Trump Administration's efforts to curtail civil rights protections for students and families.

Recently your Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, sent a memo to Regional Directors of the Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") scaling back and narrowing the way OCR will approach civil rights enforcement. Over the past decade, OCR has maximized its impact and ability to enforce civil rights laws by taking a systematic approach, gathering multiple years of data, and looking to see whether the discrimination, harassment, or other prohibited behavior raised by a complainant was indicative of a broader problem affecting other students or school community members. The new field memo instructs field investigators only to investigate "systematic" or "class-action" issues when they are raised directly in a complaint or at the discretion of the investigative team. Limiting use of the systematic approach may cause investigators to miss issues of pervasive discrimination or civil rights abuses.

The memo also announced that OCR is ending the longstanding practice of Department headquarters' oversight of certain types of investigations. Previous Assistant Secretaries for Civil Rights have maintained oversight of specific types of cases to ensure uniform approaches to complicated cases across regional offices in the context of changing and developing legal doctrine. We are deeply concerned that without consistent oversight from headquarters, complainants will receive different levels of support from the Department based on where they live, and civil rights enforcement will vary based on the preference of individual Regional Directors and investigative teams.

According to the field memo and comments by Department staff, the changes outlined are designed to allow investigative staff to resolve complaints within a reasonable time-frame. We share the goal of ensuring that complainants receive a swift and timely answer, which is why we fought to ensure increases in OCR's last two budgets. These increases enabled OCR to increase its workforce to 582 full time employees, up by more than 40 over 2015. Unfortunately, the Administration's budget request proposes to reduce OCR funding, which will lead to a loss of staff and, as a result, an increase in the backlog of cases. Closing cases quickly at the expense of the quality of the investigation is not in the long-term interests of the complainants and impedes students, teachers, and families in receiving just resolutions. Rather than abandon a systematic approach, we strongly urge you to support increased funding for OCR's budget to allow the office to hire additional personnel to swiftly resolve complaints.

We are also extremely disappointed in the Department's failure to take actions to protect transgender students. More than a third of transgender students report being the subject of harassment or bullying in school, sixty percent of transgender youth report being forced to use bathrooms inconsistent with their gender identity, and half of transgender children have seriously contemplated suicide. Despite these shocking statistics, on February 22, 2017, the Department withdrew joint guidance on transgender students' rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX").

On March 10, six Senators wrote you expressing outrage at that decision and asking how you intend to enforce civil rights protections for transgender students. While you have not yet answered that letter, recent steps by the Department suggest you will not act to protect transgender students. In fact, the Department has already abandoned its defense of some students who have experienced discrimination or harassment by dismissing or closing at least two cases involving transgender students and withdrawing previous findings of discrimination against the school districts.

Furthermore, a second memo sent by Acting Assistant Secretary Jackson to OCR Regional Directors on June 6, 2017, now permits investigators to dismiss cases relating to discrimination against transgender students. The memo suggests the Department will allow investigators to determine whether and how they will protect transgender students, including their right to use the facilities corresponding with their gender identities. It is the responsibility of the federal government and the Department to investigate and address civil rights violations at schools and on campuses across the country. The meaning of Title IX, and the protections afforded students, should not be left to the individual interpretations of investigative teams and the preferences of Regional Directors. Put plainly, these actions are inconsistent with OCR's responsibilities under Title IX and the implementing regulations.

In light of these extremely troubling actions taken by the Department and others in the Trump Administration, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights ("the Commission"), a bipartisan, independent agency created by Congress to monitor national civil rights policy and enforcement, took the unusual step of announcing a two-year, multi-agency investigation into whether the Department and other agencies' proposed budgets, staffing cuts, and programmatic priorities have increased the risk of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The Commission's statement cites "grave concerns about continuing signals from the current Administration (...) that the protection and fulfillment of civil rights of all persons will not be prioritized" and expresses dismay at the Trump Administration's "dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement." The Commission explicitly raised concerns about the Education Department's "proposed budget calls for reducing staffing (...)at the department's Office for Civil Rights," noting that "these proposed cuts are particularly troubling in light of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' repeated refusal (...) to commit that the Department would enforce federal civil rights laws." We share these concerns and expect the Department to fully cooperate with the Commission's investigation.

In order to fully understand the impact of recent policy and civil rights investigatory and enforcement changes at the Department and OCR, please provide the following information and documents by July 11, 2017:

  • A list of all open OCR cases involving a transgender student as of January 30, 2017, disaggregated by the nature of the complaint, and the current status of each of these cases.
  • A list of all open OCR cases involving sexual assault or sexual harassment as of January 30, 2017 and the current status of those cases.
  • A list of all cases OCR has closed or dismissed between January 1, 2017, and today, and the specific reason each case was closed.
  • A complete, un-redacted copy of the manual used by investigators.
  • An explanation of how the Department intends to ensure that OCR investigators are making determinations about transgender students' rights based on binding legal precedent in their region.
  • An answer as to whether the Department will continue to post all resolution agreements online.
  • Any and all memoranda, analyses, or other communications discussing the rationale for, and impact of, policy changes affecting civil rights enforcement by the Department.
  • Any and all memoranda, analyses, or other communications discussing the rationale for, and impact of, proposed budget cuts in OCR.
  • A list of all metrics that will be used by the Department to assess effectiveness of civil rights enforcement.

There is no more serious responsibility of the Department than to ensure consistent, vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and protections for all students. The Department must fulfill that responsibility and work tirelessly to promote equality, opportunity, and an environment free of discrimination for all our children. For questions about these requests, please contact Carly Rush or Jake Cornett with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at 202-224-0767.

Sincerely,

Albuquerque, NM - The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce will honor several House Republican representatives at its 2017 Chamber Awards and Legislative Reception on Thursday, June 29, 2017, at the Albuquerque Museum.

The Chamber annually recognizes legislators who have sponsored legislation to improve New Mexico's communities. This year, the Chamber is bestowing the following honors to members of the House Republican Caucus:

"E for Effort" Awards
Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-Valencia)
Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes (R-Bernalillo)
Rep. Monica Youngblood (R-Bernalillo)
Rep. Larry Larrañaga (R-Bernalillo)
Rep. Jason Harper (R-Sandoval)

Start to Finish Awards
Rep. Jim Dines (R-Bernalillo)
Rep. Monica Youngblood (R-Bernalillo)

In addition to these awards, the Chamber is distinguishing Rep. Harper with its Business Advocate in Politics Award and Rep. Dines with its Chairman's Award for Excellence.

The awards will be given to the legislators during a special presentation tomorrow evening at the Albuquerque Museum located at 2000 Mountain Road NW. The program will begin with a reception at 5:00 P.M. followed by the main event at 5:45 P.M.

VIDEO: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/review-of-the-fy2018-budget-request-for-the-environmental-protection-agency

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demanded that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt explain the administration's dangerous and "offensive" proposal to slash funding for programs essential to the EPA's core mission of protecting clean air, clean water, and public health.

During a hearing on the EPA's Fiscal Year 2018 budget, Udall pushed Pruitt to answer how he intends to carry out his promise to meet EPA's essential responsibilities given the administration's proposal to make massive cuts to research, support to states, climate change programs, and Superfund cleanup. Udall also questioned Pruitt on the EPA's implementation of Udall's landmark bipartisan chemical safety reform law enacted last year, noting that while funding is maintained for the EPA's toxics office, the EPA has announced new policies that would weaken the chemical safety program. Citing these irresponsible cuts and misguided priorities, Udall predicted that Pruitt's EPA budget "is dead on arrival."

"The budget request before us today is downright offensive," Udall said. "It would slash EPA funding by nearly a third. Research is cut in half. Enforcement is cut by a quarter. Toxic cleanup is cut by 30 percent. Support for states is slashed by 45 percent. Tribal support is cut by 30 percent. Environmental justice programs are zeroed out. And all climate change programs are eliminated. I can't square this with your rhetoric about returning EPA to its core responsibilities. Nothing was spared. EPA's 'core' is hollowed out. ... And let's not pretend that the agency hasn't already sustained cuts and already been working hard to do more with less. Staffing has slid a full 10 percent over the last decade. The agency's budget has dropped nearly $1 billion in real terms."

"These cuts aren't an attempt to rein in spending - they are intentional steps to undermine science and ignore environmental and public health realities," Udall said.

"It's 2017, but I fear we are reverting to the Dark Ages," Udall said, blasting the Trump administration for its "relentless pursuit to undercut and disregard science to the benefit of industry."

Udall questioned Pruitt about the administration's continued refusal to acknowledge and address the urgent threat of climate change, including an EPA budget that axes almost all money devoted to programs to combat global warming. Udall noted the sudden and troubling removal of the EPA's climate change website, and pressed Pruitt to provide the "official Trump administration position on accepting the scientific evidence that man-made climate change is occurring."

Pruitt refused to identify an official Trump administration position on climate change. In response, Udall offered the following statement after the hearing: "Scott Pruitt's inability - or unwillingness - to articulate this administration's position on climate change, the biggest existential threat the world faces, is beyond alarming. Science is about evidence, not beliefs. And the evidence that we must act to combat climate change is overwhelming. Igoring this urgent problem is not a solution."

Udall also asked Pruitt to square his desire to allow states to make decisions locally with his proposal to slash funding for EPA grants to states by 45 percent - even as states are still struggling to recover to pre-recession revenue levels. "States are on the front line for implementing most of our federal environmental laws. They rely on EPA for more than a quarter of the funding needed to carry out these delegated responsibilities. States are the ones that run programs to decrease childhood lead poisoning, prevent radon poisoning in schools and homes, oversee public water systems to prevent tragedies like Flint, Michigan, reduce ozone, monitor water pollution, and ensure safe disposal of hazardous waste," Udall said. "It looks to me like this budget proposes to create a foregone conclusion that state-delegated environmental programs die on the vine. How do you envision states would be able to make up for this drop in federal support?"

In addition, Udall questioned Pruitt about how the EPA is implementing Udall's landmark chemical safety reform law, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was enacted last year to fix the badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. "I'm glad to hear you say you support robust implementation of TSCA," Udall said. "Yet this proposal cuts programs that are vital to TSCA, such as the Office of Research and Development - cut in half - and core agency functions like enforcement. We can't just build a wall around the TSCA office and expect it will perform." Udall also said he was troubled by the TSCA framework rules that Pruitt announced last week. "I need your assurances that EPA is going to take a comprehensive look at chemicals and their impacts on public health and the environment, not a limited review focused solely on uses that help shield chemical companies from regulation of their products," Udall said.

Udall expressed his deep concern at Pruitt's proposal to cut 30 percent from Superfund cleanup at the most contaminated sites in the nation. "I understand you started a task force to speed up Superfund cleanups," Udall said. "I welcome a fresh look at the process. But I'm worried that a focus on speed will lead to shortcuts and lax standards. Sites like the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine, need comprehensive remediation - not a Band-Aid."

On Gold King Mine, Udall secured a commitment from Pruitt that the EPA will rethink its insufficient and misguided approach to compensating Navajo farmers and others harmed by the spill. In response to questioning from Udall, Pruitt stated that EPA's insufficient compensation of the victims is "something that we're trying to remedy, and in the process of remedying. ... We've been engaged in a very robust investigation, on the ground, developing facts that I think demonstrate the EPA needs to do more than what was done by the end of last year, in response to the Gold King situation."

Finally, Udall pressed Pruitt about the administration's proposal to cut off support to help the Navajo Nation and states with a water monitoring program to ensure the safety of water flowing through the community from the Gold King Mine. Udall championed $4 million to start that program in the FY17 omnibus appropriations bill, but the EPA is proposing to eliminate funding for the program in FY 2018. "Can you assure us today that you will be fully committed to working with the Navajo and the states to ensure the water monitoring is ramped up quickly, despite the request to stop funding for these state and Tribal efforts in FY18?" Udall asked. Pruitt committed to doing so, saying that "it's important for the agency to do more than what it's done, with respect to the Gold King situation, and I will commit to you that we are going to do that."

The following is Udall's opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Administrator Pruitt, I appreciate seeing you before us today. I'd like to thank Holly Greaves for joining you. Welcome to you both.

Administrator Pruitt, the budget request before us today is downright offensive.

It would slash EPA funding by nearly a third. Research is cut in half. Enforcement is cut by a quarter. Toxic cleanup is cut by 30 percent. Support for states is slashed by 45 percent. Tribal support is cut by 30 percent. Environmental justice programs are zeroed out. And all climate change programs are eliminated.

I can't square this with your rhetoric about returning EPA to its core responsibilities. Nothing was spared. EPA's "core" is hollowed out.

And let's not pretend that the agency hasn't already sustained cuts and already been working hard to do more with less. Staffing has slid a full 10 percent over the last decade. The agency's budget has dropped nearly $1 billion in real terms.

These cuts aren't an attempt to rein in spending - they are intentional steps to undermine science and ignore environmental and public health realities.

Your budget actually boasts about eliminating 60 programs, reversing real progress in every corner of our nation, from the US-Mexico Border to the Chesapeake Bay.

Also eliminated are the Energy Star and Water Sense programs, market-based partnerships which together have saved consumers nearly half a trillion dollars on their utility bills.

Many of the programs you're proposing to eliminate have proven track records. The budget takes aim at the U.S.-Mexico border infrastructure program, which has eliminated 353 million gallons of raw sewage per day from transborder watersheds, significantly reducing cases of Hepatitis A, skin disorders, and gastrointestinal disease.

The idea that these programs are unnecessary, redundant, or even "mature," ignores real results and the need to sustain the progress we've made.

The only bright spot I see in this budget is continued funding for drinking water and clean water infrastructure for states, proposed at $2.25 billion.

But, the administration's support for the states goes dark after water infrastructure. Administrator Pruitt, you've expressed your intent to "return" responsibility to the states, but then you propose to cut state funding by 45 percent.

States are on the front line for implementing most of our Federal environmental laws. They rely on EPA for more than a quarter of the funding needed to carry out these delegated responsibilities. States are the ones that run programs to decrease childhood lead poisoning, prevent radon poisoning in schools and homes, oversee public water systems to prevent tragedies like Flint, Michigan, reduce ozone, monitor water pollution, and ensure safe disposal of hazardous waste.

In other words, cutting this funding is a backdoor evisceration of the core programs you claim to prize.

The budget also proposes to cut enforcement by 23 percent, taking cops off the beat from holding polluters accountable.

We don't need to guess how this would turn out. Reagan-era cuts to EPA - similar to the size you propose - resulted in 69 percent fewer civil cases referred to the Justice Department.

And for an administration focused on return on investment, it's surprising to see a proposal to scale back such an effective tool in EPA's toolbox. Compliance stemming from enforcement cases have generated $60 billion in pollution control investments in just the past five years.

This proposal also cuts 30 percent from Superfund cleanup - by definition, the most contaminated sites in the nation. More than 1,300 sit on a waiting list.

I'm also troubled that your budget proposes to eliminate $4 million for independent monitoring of the water still flowing - every day - from the Gold King Mine into areas of New Mexico. I worked hard last year to start that program.

I'm committed to continuing this funding, despite the administration's proposal to stop supporting the Navajo and the states in this effort. It is critical to the health of those living downstream from Gold King Mine. It's also critical that we ensure those affected by the spill receive proper compensation, and I continue to work to make that happen.

The budget also cuts research funding in half - which would cause ripple effects for generations. How would we identify risks? What basis would we have to mitigate the worst impacts on our health and environment? It's 2017, but I fear we are reverting to the Dark Ages.

The budget also proposes to fire 3,800 scientists and researchers, a full 25 percent of EPA's staff. This comes on the heels of 1,500 staff already lost over the last decade, a drop of nearly 10 percent. And just last week the administration handed out pink slips to most of EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, which ensures that EPA's research is grounded in credible scientific evidence.

Add this to your backtracking on a growing list of critical regulations that were based on sound science - for clean water, ozone, greenhouse gases, pesticides, methane, and fracking. It's clear that this administration is in a relentless pursuit to undercut and disregard science to the benefit of industry.

I was originally heartened by your commitment to toxics reform. But last week, EPA announced new policies that would weaken the risk evaluations at the heart of the program. It looks like the chemical industry has punched loopholes into TSCA. Your budget appears to preserve most of the funding for the toxics office. But no amount of funding can overcome policies to weaken the intent of the law. And the law should be implemented in the same bipartisan, balanced way in which it was created and passed.

Finally, this budget request virtually eliminates every dollar of EPA funding related to climate change. Fuel standards, international partnerships, research - all of it.

Sadly, these proposed cuts go hand in glove with the president's decision to renege on our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Climate change is a global crisis that requires urgent global action. But this administration is choosing to isolate the United States from what scientists, national security experts, and world leaders agree is one of the greatest destabilizing forces of our time - climate change - and the role of human activity in creating it.

As a nation, we can't afford to stick our head in the sand and ignore scientific reality. Just like we can't afford to enact many of the other irresponsible cuts included in this budget request.

Administrator Pruitt, this budget is dead on arrival.

We agree that EPA funding needs to focus on EPA's core responsibilities. To most Americans, and to me, it's clear that this core responsibility is to protect public health and ensure clean air and clean water.

But this proposed budget shows that the new EPA thinks its core responsibility is to cater to industry. Let polluters off the hook, deny the tenets of science, and walk away from our global commitments.

We obviously have a lot to discuss this morning, Administrator Pruitt. Thank you.

Albuquerque, NM- The Republican Party of New Mexico is pleased to announce that Dominic Pacheco will serve as Interim Communications Director for the NM GOP. Pacheco is a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico, graduating with studies in Political Science and a minor in Economics. We welcome him to the RPNM team.

Below is his contact information:
O: 505.298.3662
C: 505.615.5181
Email: Dominic@gopnm.org

VIDEO: https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/10155252271282870/

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, spoke on the Senate floor for the fourth time to oppose TrumpCare, the bill that Senate Republicans released today to repeal the Affordable Care Act and drastically cut Medicaid. Udall stood up for the hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans who would lose coverage if this bill becomes law, and read the testimony of Elena, a University of New Mexico Law graduate, who - thanks to the Medicaid expansion - was able to have a potentially life-saving surgery that reduced her risk of breast cancer from 87 percent to less than 10 percent.

In his speech, Udall called TrumpCare a "disgrace and a disaster," saying that "the Republican plan raids Medicaid. It strips away protections that prevent insurance companies from canceling your policy for getting sick - and reduces the services your insurer has to provide, and it does this all to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthy."

Udall decried the secretive and closed process Senate Republicans used to draft TrumpCare - excluding everyone except corporate lobbyists, and without holding public hearings or seeking bipartisan input. Udall said that the bill is "extremely unpopular" with New Mexicans and the American people: "I've received over 10,000 letters, emails, and calls from New Mexicans pleading with me to help save their access to health care. Over 96 percent of my constituents who have contacted me about health care oppose Trumpcare."

Udall read the testimony of Elena, who, at 29, discovered she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Thanks to the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare, Elena was able to afford a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer to less than 10 percent- less than that of the average woman. In her testimony, Elena wrote, "I am so grateful that I qualified for Medicaid at a time in my life when I unexpectedly needed health insurance more than I could have ever anticipated."

Udall highlighted the devastating impacts that the Medicaid cuts alone in TrumpCare would have on New Mexico. "Medicaid expansion has meant that over 265,000 New Mexicans have health care coverage that they did not have before," Udall said. "Americans support the Medicaid program. They understand that, even if they don't need Medicaid, neighbors, friends, family may need it. And they understand that they may need it - unexpectedly, in the future - like Elena."

Udall urged his Republican colleagues to reject this bill and work with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act - rather than gut our health care system - to provide every American access to affordable health coverage. "I commit to Elena and to every New Mexican and American that I will work to make the ACA stronger - so that all Americans get the health care they rightly deserve," Udall said.

The full text of Udall's remarks is available below.

Mr. President. All across my home state of New Mexico, thousands of hard working people owe their health -- and in some cases, their lives -- to the Affordable Care Act.

Since early January -- I've received over 10,000 letters, emails, and calls from New Mexicans pleading with me to help save their access to health care. Over 96 percent of my constituents who have contacted me about health care oppose TrumpCare.

Let me say that again, because I think it's a very important number here - 96 percent of New Mexicans who have contacted me about health care over the past six months are opposed to TrumpCare and they're opposed to the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. President, the TrumpCare bill is a disgrace and a disaster.

It is a disgrace that Senate Republicans are trying to force an extremely unpopular bill on the country, in one week.

They are doing this even though this bill affects one sixth of our economy. And even though it would cause hundreds of thousands of people in New Mexico - and millions of Americans - to lose access to health care, prescription drugs, drug addiction counseling, and other life-saving services.

The Republican plan raids Medicaid. It strips away protections that prevent insurance companies from canceling your policy for getting sick -- and reduces the services your insurer has to provide, and it does this all to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

Mr. President, this bill is a disaster because it would be devastating for older New Mexicans, families who are struggling to make ends meet, women, people with pre-existing conditions, and New Mexicans in rural areas. Our rural areas would be particularly hard hit. In some cases, it would cause very severe damage to the health care in rural areas.

Hospital administrators in rural counties - like Guadalupe and Socorro in my home state - have told me that losing Medicaid reimbursements could break their budgets. And that could force these small, rural hospitals to limit services - or even to close. And you know, the last thing you want to happen in a small rural community is have the hospital close, because we all know what happens after that. Hospital closes, and the diminution in services and it's very hard for communities to stay alive in that situation.

So it's no wonder that the American people don't want this bill. They don't want TrumpCare. And, I suppose, it's no surprise that the Republicans have kept it hidden - without letting anyone see it.

I want to talk about that for a moment. That's not just a talking point for Democrats.

But if this bill passes and becomes law, many people will suffer. And it has been kept a total secret.

Mr. President, I wish I could read on the Senate floor every story I've gotten from my constituents who are concerned. If I could, I could hold the record for longest floor speech.

I've shared several in the past. But today, I'd like to read just one. From Elena, from Albuquerque.This is a picture of Elena, from Albuquerque, NM. She has a very, very moving story that she wrote me about that I think, in this story, you hear the story of the Affordable Care Act and the good that it does.

Elena is 31 years old. Earlier this week, I told some of Elena's story in a speech here on the Senate floor. But today, I want to tell Elena's full story.

Elena graduated last year from the University of New Mexico Law School - my alma mater.

And she is quite determined and motivated, as you will hear.

She wrote her story in a Facebook post to friends -- and gave me permission to share it with the American people and with my colleagues in the Senate.

Here is her story. This is Elena's story, in Elena's words:

For the past 18 months I've been carrying around a big secret. I've felt really guilty for not sharing it, and yet -- try as I might -- I could not work up the nerve to tell you all. Lucky for me, Senator Udall has helped me to rip off the band-aid.

In spring 2016, I found out that I have a BRCA 1 mutation, which puts me at a very high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Women with a BRCA 1 mutation also tend to get breast and/or ovarian cancer very young. Sometimes even in their twenties or thirties.

When you have a BRCA 1 mutation, you have two options: One, you can get breast screenings every six months and yearly ovarian screenings, and keep your fingers crossed that nothing pops up. Or two, you can get your breasts and ovaries removed and significantly decrease your odds of getting cancer. Needless to say, there's not really a "right" decision. A woman's choice just comes down to what she feels is right for her body and life.

In the past 18 months, I've gotten to check a whole lot of things off my "absolutely not on my bucket list" bucket list. In April 2016, I had my first breast MRI, which revealed a lump that my doctor thought might be breast cancer. I then had my first mammogram, my first breast ultrasound, and my first breast biopsy.

These tests thankfully revealed that I didn't have breast cancer. They also helped me to make the difficult decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy and significantly reduce my chances of getting breast cancer.

In August 2016, I had a prophylactic mastectomy. And in October and February of this year I had follow up surgeries to have my breasts reconstructed.

Since February, I've been focusing on healing, and I feel great.

Obviously, this isn't the end of the road. Doctors suggest that women with a BRCA 1 mutation get their ovaries removed around age 40. And of course screening will continue to be important. But for now, I feel at peace knowing that I'm doing what I can to protect myself.

As Senator Udall mentioned, at the time that all of this health stuff came up, I had health insurance thanks to Medicaid Expansion through the ACA/Obamacare.

I first enrolled in Medicaid about three years ago when I was a law student at UNM School of Law.

UNM had just given qualifying students the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I was a healthy 29 year-old with no preexisting conditions, and doubted I would ever use my health insurance. Little did I know, completing the Medicaid application would be one of the most important decisions I ever made.

So, a truly genuine, #thanksObama to President Obama, his staff and all of our elected leaders who worked to make the ACA happen and are fighting to keep it alive.

I am so grateful that I qualified for Medicaid at a time in my life when I unexpectedly needed health insurance more than I could have ever anticipated.

I am so thankful the drafters of the ACA understood that allowing me to get the preventative care I needed was better for my health, and also more financially sound. The ease with which I have received my medical coverage has allowed me to focus on my recovery.

While it has been a challenging year and a half, knowing that I could trust my health insurance made it so much easier than I'd imagined it would be.

I am so relieved that now I can focus on my future instead of figuring out how to pay off insurmountable medical debt.

I am fully recovered from my surgeries and am working on moving my life and career forward. I look forward to paying taxes (I swear, I really do) to support programs like Medicaid so that I can do my part to assist other Americans in staying healthy.

If you had told me when I signed up for Medicaid that I would make such extensive use of it, I wouldn't have believed it. At times, I have felt guilty for having to utilize Medicaid at a time in my life that has proven to be so medically and financially complicated.

Friends and family have been good enough to remind me that this is what Medicaid is about: ensuring that Americans can afford to take care of their health, regardless of their financial state, when an issue strikes. The Affordable Care Act has made this a reality for more people than ever before; I am so grateful to be one of them.

I am very scared for what the future will bring for those many individuals who have received insurance thanks to the ACA. I worry that if the ACA is destroyed, my preexisting condition will make it financially impossible for me and many others to get health insurance.

I worry for people who couldn't get insurance through their work and were finally were able to get it through the Exchange. I worry that those who suffer from ailments that constantly affect their health won't be able to afford the care they need.

I worry about the millions of Americans who are about to lose so much.

I understand that the ACA is not perfect. It needs some work, especially for people on the exchange who are paying premiums that are way too high. But the replacement plan that is being proposed is going to make it incredibly difficult for all of us to get quality, affordable coverage.

There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to all those who worked so tirelessly to make the Affordable Care Act happen. I am so hopeful that instead of destroying the ACA, our leaders will work to make it stronger so that all Americans can get the health care they deserve.

And those are the words that Elena posted on her Facebook page, very moving, very moving words.

Mr. President, before her surgery, Elena had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. And now, it's less than 10 percent -- less than that of the average woman.

I commit to Elena and to every New Mexican and American that I will work to make the ACA stronger - so that all Americans get the health care they rightly deserve.

But the Senate Republicans cannot claim the same. Their bill -- drafted in secret behind closed doors- hurts people like Elena who have pre-existing conditions. It hurts people in her situation who have complicated healthcare needs with high medical costs, and those who benefit from the Medicaid expansion.

Americans support the Medicaid program.

They understand that - even if they don't need Medicaid - neighbors, friends, family may need it. And they understand that they may need it - unexpectedly, in the future - like Elena.

Medicaid expansion has meant that over 265,000 New Mexicans have health care coverage that they did not have before.

Pretty remarkable thing, in 6 short years in New Mexico, after the passage of the Affordable Care Act - you had people who didn't have any health care - and now 265,000 have medicaid coverage. And they could be in a situation, just like Elena. Many of these are hard-working families, families living in rural New Mexico, and Native Americans families, living in New Mexico.

The Senate Republican bill - like the House Republican bill - will end Medicaid expansion in New Mexico for people like Elena.

Mr. President, I want everyone listening to hear: This bill cuts Medicaid overall - more deeply than the House version. And when President Trump said that the House version was a mean bill, this is a meaner bill is. They are not necessary - these cuts are meaner - and they are not necessary to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And they will hurt millions of Americans.

They are also devastating to our state economies. New Mexico can't afford to pick up the tab for those cuts. So the state will be forced to cut services and reduce payments to doctors. Hospitals might close. And that would mean health care jobs will dry up.

Elena's story is one of millions. Every Senator has hundreds and thousands of constituents with these stories.

We all need health care at some point in our lives.

I urge, I implore, my fellow Senators across the aisle to reject the McConnell TrumpCare bill. Work with Democrats -- on a bipartisan basis -- to improve America's health care system to so that every American has access to affordable health care.

Don't do this. Don't gut our health care system.

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