Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 12.8.14

The ABLE Act

Much talk about Congress focuses on partisan conflict.  But it is important to keep in mind that, though discord gets more attention, Democrats and Republicans can and do work together to get things done.  Among my efforts are the bipartisan Drug Quality and Security Act (H.R. 3089) to clarify oversight of the compounding drug manufacturing system (which was signed into law) and the Patient Choice Act (H.R. 2090), bipartisan legislation to speed up Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of drugs and give certain patients the option to buy new, innovative, experimental drugs and therapies at their own expense.

More recently, I was proud to cosponsor and vote in favor of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (H.R. 647), which passed the House of Representatives on December 3 with very strong bipartisan support.  The ABLE Act enables those with disabilities to set up tax-free savings accounts, and will allow those on Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work, earn money, and save while continuing to receive those benefits.   Much like 529 college savings accounts, these 529A (or ABLE) accounts would be administered by the States on a voluntary basis.  The range of investment options would be determined by the States.

In voicing their support for the ABLE Act, Americans for Tax Reform said on December 2, “Put simply, an ABLE account is to a child with a disability what a 529 plan is to a child who has college in his future.  Not only is an ABLE account a good way to increase tax-free savings for families (always a good thing), it's a compassionate way for families with special needs children to save for the needs of the most vulnerable.”

The ABLE accounts will assist those with disabilities and their caretakers with managing expenses, helping to provide stability, security, and the knowledge they can save and cover the costs of medical care, housing, transportation, education, etc. into the future.

“This is why we’re here: to advance solutions that make people’s lives better,” said Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), whose seven-year old son Cole has Down syndrome.  “Solutions that empower all Americans – no matter where they come from, how much money they make, or what challenges they face.”

I urge the Senate to pass the ABLE Act, so we can send this common-sense bill to the President to be signed into law.

Defeating ISIS and Defending Congress’ Power

In previous columns I have noted my belief that the President does not have the authority to wage an extended war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without Congressional approval.  Like Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), I believe Congress must debate and decide whether or not the United States goes to war or, alternatively, consider an authorization for the use of military force.

As described by the New York Times, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) “…used a routine meeting over an unrelated issue — clean water — to force his colleagues to schedule a vote on authorizing force against the Islamic State.”

The President is Commander in Chief, but it is the constitutional duty of Congress to declare war.  I am pleased the Senate will be taking action on this important matter, and strongly believe the House should also debate and vote on this issue as well.

Protecting Civil Liberties

Each year, Congress considers the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which primarily specifies budgeting for the Department of Defense.  However, although the NDAA does include some good provisions, I am of the belief that it fails to adequately protect our civil liberties.

The law says if you give assistance to a terrorist, you can be held indefinitely by the military against your constitutional rights.  Note it doesn’t stipulate that you know that person is a terrorist.

In theory, under the current system, you could be held indefinitely for having a new neighbor over for dinner or for assisting them with changing a tire, even if you are unaware of that person’s alleged involvement with or connection to al-Qaeda and associated forces.  While not specifically defined, those probably include groups on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations List.

Of course, people push back on this, saying, “Well, they wouldn’t actually detain you for something like this.”  But if that’s so, why not provide clarity in the law so it requires someone to knowingly give assistance to a terrorist or terrorist organization?

If I am to err, I will err on the side of liberty.  Because it lacks language that clearly protects our freedom, as in past years, I opposed this bill.

As always, if you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office by email, please visit my website at


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