Courtney at business breakfast: Yes, Congress is passing bills

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Groton — When U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney held a town hall forum via telephone recently, a woman from Tolland essentially asked him, "Is Congress doing anything?"

Given the abundance of headlines about the Mueller investigation and about Democrats sparring with President Donald Trump, Courtney thought that was a good question.

The 2nd District Democrat spent much of a business breakfast on Friday, which the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut held at Groton Inn & Suites, talking about bills the U.S. House of Representatives has passed. The event came a day after the end of a marathon 21-hour markup of defense spending by the House Armed Services Committee, of which Courtney is a member.

He noted that when the committee "staggered out at 7 a.m.," its bill authorized $22 billion in the shipbuilding account. The request has submarine funding at 49 percent of total shipbuilding, compared to 26 percent in fiscal year 2007. Courtney also highlighted the bill's inclusion of $653 million for maintenance of three Los Angeles-class submarines.

In response to a question about his feelings on Trump's proposal to put smaller, tactical nukes on submarines, Courtney said the committee voted to block the deployment of those weapons on submarines.

"I'm not close to being convinced that's a good idea," Courtney said of the president's proposal, noting that the late former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger made the point that once a submarine shoots its missile, it's exposed.

Beyond the committee, Courtney pointed to three bills that passed the House with bipartisan support: the SECURE Act, which involves tax credits and automatic enrollment to help businesses get employees into retirement plans; the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which expands benefits of the Agent Orange Act to veterans serving off the coast of Vietnam; and the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which closes loopholes in background checks for gun purchases.

The last bill received support from only eight Republicans. The SECURE Act passed 417-3 in the House, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told ThinkAdvisor the Senate is working to pass the bill. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed unanimously in the House on May 14 and in the Senate on Wednesday.

At the breakfast, Ledyard resident Jami Allyn said she considers much of what the state and federal government does to be "parenting legislation," and questioned why there is a cap on how much people can contribute to a 401(k) each year.

Courtney noted that the bill "did actually make changes to some of these arbitrary restrictions," like pushing back the mandatory drawdown from 401(k) accounts.

He added, "In my opinion, that's not parenting; it's just basically smart policy, because there's a federal tax component."

Courtney also pointed to House passage of bills that were more partisan, such as ones providing a pathway to legal status — not citizenship — for children whose parents entered the country illegally, restoring net neutrality and saying the U.S. should re-enter The Paris Agreement on climate change.

Theresa Armendarez, executive director of the education nonprofit Higher Edge, was pleased with Courtney's response to her question about college affordability and loans. The congressman noted that farming will be added as a key occupation in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Courtney also was asked about his thoughts regarding action on the Mueller report and whether it should lead to an impeachment inquiry.

He responded that while there are parts of the report "that frankly I think are very troubling," particularly in regards to Trump's interactions with former White House Counsel Don McGahn, he is "not there" in terms of designating congressional oversight as an impeachment inquiry.

Courtney opened the breakfast by talking about the nationwide struggle to find skilled labor in both manufacturing and health care, the $850 million Electric Boat is spending to expand its Groton shipyard for Columbia-class submarines, and the nonsubmarine work in undersea technology being done in Groton by ThayerMahan.

e.moser@theday.com

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