Zika: an update

Morgan Griffith
Report from Washington

Florida health officials recently reported that several individuals were infected with the Zika virus by local mosquitoes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states “…are likely the first known occurrence of local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission in the continental United States.”
In response, Senate Democrats are calling for Congress to act on Zika. However, in June, Senate Democrats voted to block a Zika funding measure.
Up to now, it has appeared to me that some in the Senate are playing politics with this issue. I would gladly drive to Washington for a 2:30 a.m. session to solve this problem if I were convinced it’s not just more political gamesmanship.
In addition to a three-part series on the difficulties local departments and civic organizations in the Martinsville area have in finding volunteers to help them operate, the Martinsville Bulletin recently ran a piece by editor Brian Carlton entitled “The first step can be the hardest.”
Carlton begins by relaying a recent conversation he had with a Martinsville woman in which she said she didn’t have the time to dedicate “at least six to seven hours” to volunteer.
This is a thought with which I suspect many of us struggle.
Carlton asks, “Are there times when we pass by chances to help, because of the effort we assume it’ll take?”
He reminds readers, however, that our busy schedules need not preclude us from pursuing volunteer opportunities that work for organizations and our calendars alike.
Even with the busy schedule I keep between work in D.C., work in the Ninth District (which is approximately 9,114 square miles), and family commitments, I find it very rewarding when I can volunteer a few hours.
As Carlton writes, “There’s no such thing as a bad volunteer. The word doesn’t exist. And maybe the first job isn’t the one you stick with. But there are opportunities waiting. We just have to be willing to try.”
Last April, the Department of Labor proposed its “fiduciary rule,” which would impose costly new mandates and burdensome regulations on financial advisors that provide retirement advice.
The rule would require these advisors to act as fiduciaries, and therefore they could not receive a fee from the companies providing insurance products such as annuities.
I and many of my colleagues had numerous concerns about this proposed rule and its impact on workers who save in qualified plans and Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). We outlined many of our concerns in an October 2015 letter to the Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.
Regrettably, the final fiduciary rule was issued on April 8. And bipartisan concerns have been raised that the rule will restrict access to affordable retirement advice for low- and middle-income families and harm small businesses that will have to pay more in order to offer retirement options to workers.
I can recall my mother’s insurance agent Clayton Stanley coming by our home on numerous occasions in the 1960s when I was young and advising her on annuities, advice which is continuing to benefit her to this day. However, my mother, now 86, was then a single mom who had two young kids. She would have been unable to pay the up-front fee necessitated by the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.
Using the Congressional Review Act to block the Obama Administration’s fiduciary rule, my friend Congressman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, introduced H.J.Res.88. This resolution passed the House of Representatives in April, and shockingly passed the Senate in May. President Obama vetoed the resolution.
I supported an effort to override the President’s veto. Unfortunately, this effort failed.
At times, I have been disappointed and frustrated with progress made in Congress, including for example the lack of progress that results from the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. Since Republicans regained the majority in the Senate, however, we have been able to place on President Obama’s desk eight bills that he has vetoed, including this resolution.
I am disappointed by the President’s veto of such a common-sense proposal—helping low- and middle-income Americans like my mother when she was younger to save for retirement.
I don’t know where those currently running for president stand on this issue. But I would hope that whoever is elected would be willing to revisit this situation.

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