Email #270: “the people in charge of the mail”?

Including this email, I have written to you 270 times since December, and I have received a total of 27 replies. All of your replies are of course generic. You have never addressed the specific content of any of my letters, and I have no reason to believe that you have personally read anything I have written to you. Your staff appears to slot each of my and your other constituents’ questions into general categories according to pre-existing form letters. Whenever I have asked a question outside those categories, I have received no response. Your office also appears to send only one general letter to cover a wide range of very specific follow-up questions, and so I assume many more of my letters have been ignored for that reason too.

But I have not received any replies from your office since July 17th. Usually I receive a minimum of two per month and as many as six. I wrote to you about the Charlottesville violence on August 13th and about your opinion regarding the removal of Confederate statues generally on August 22nd and received no answers. These are relatively new topics, but I know your office has been sending a recently crafted form letter to other constituents who have raised the same concerns. The range of other questions I’ve asked in the past six weeks have been ignored too.

I called your district coordinator Debbie Garrett last week to ask why I was no longer receiving replies, and she told me she would pass on my concern to you. This is the scripted response your staff members give all callers regardless of topic, but since I was not asking about your position on a legislative or other political issue, it seemed odd. I asked if there was another staff member I should call about response letters instead, but Debbie repeated her statement verbatim as presumably she and the rest of your staff have been trained over these past months.

I called your DC office next, and the person I spoke to very kindly checked my name in your database and reported that the status was marked “active.” She said she would forward my question to “the people in charge of the mail.” I’m not sure who those specific people are, and I am not trying to investigate the inner workings of your office. I am simply trying to find out if my letters to you are being deleted unread.

Though your previous 10% response rate was sadly inadequate and the content of your form letters were sometimes comically mismatched to the specifics of my questions, I could at least trust that the invitation on your website to “Contact Bob” linked to a functional form. Now when the words “Thank you. Your form has been successfully submitted” appear on my screen, I have no way to know if the program automatically deletes messages sent from my IP address or if an intern has been instructed to delete them manually without opening them. And if my messages are being systematically deleted, how many other constituents are on the same blacklist?

Expecting a generic form letter for one of every ten of letters is a depressingly low bar, but you and your office are failing at even that.

Bob Goodlatte replies about President Trump’s Twitter activity

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.  I appreciate you sharing your concerns.

As your congressman here in the Sixth District, I take the responsibility of being your elected representative very seriously.  Whether it is by my votes, my public statements, or my actions, I strive each and every day to uphold the values and ideals of Virginia’s Sixth District.

President Trump was sworn into office on January 20, 2017 and assumed the responsibilities of the nation’s highest elected office at that time.  As President, he has the “bully pulpit” to advance his agenda to the American public.  One of the ways he has chosen to communicate with the nation is through the use of social media, specifically Twitter.  It is my hope that he will use that to share his vision for the future and plans for economic growth to show that America continues to be the greatest nation in the world.  I do understand why some folks have been troubled about the President’s Twitter statements and activity.  Please know that I appreciate those concerns and I hope he will use this platform to convey a positive message.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me and hope you will stay in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate issues important to our country. I believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlattes replies about health care

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding Medicaid and the impact of H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), on Medicaid. Medicaid is an important program for many Americans with limited income and resources, but it is facing collapse if we don’t act to fix it now.

Seven years ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, became law. With it came unaffordable premiums, higher deductibles, and a lack of choice and access to insurance for far too many folks in the Sixth District of Virginia and across the country. The Department of Health and Human Services found that the health insurance premiums paid by Virginians increased an average of 77% between 2013 and 2017. Additionally, in April of this year, Aetna announced that it will exit Virginia’s Obamacare insurance marketplace, leaving an estimated 27 counties with only a single insurer to pick from in 2018. It’s easy to see why this mess of big-government mandates and red tape has not provided the health care solutions so many families need.

As you may know, optional state expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare has significantly increased federal spending on the Medicaid program. Under Obamacare, the federal government share is higher for individuals in the newly eligible expansion population (defined as non-elderly adults with family income at or below 133 percent of federal poverty level) than for individuals in traditional Medicaid. This program currently supports over 72 million recipients, more than those currently enrolled in Medicare. In fact, the program now accounts for more than 15 percent of all federal health care spending and represents one in four dollars of a state’s average budget.

As you may know, Medicaid is both federally and state-funded, but states do not currently have enough control over the program. They are required to follow a “one-size-fits-all” program that is mandated by the federal government – a program that is not getting the job done.  Low reimbursements to health care providers and greater regulatory burdens have led to fewer and fewer physicians accepting Medicaid. Sadly, Medicaid patients are roughly twice as likely to visit the emergency department (ED) as those with private insurance. Medicaid beneficiaries shouldn’t be forced to visit an ED to get primary care.  It is clear reforms are needed to improve Medicaid- reforms that incentivize states to align their own Medicaid programs to their individual needs, as opposed to promoting unrestrained growth and spending.

In the 115th Congress, a proposed alternative to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient centered reforms is H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). At its most basic, the AHCA would take steps to ensure health care remains affordable and accessible. Under the AHCA, individuals who do not have access to health insurance through their employer or a program like Medicaid or Medicare would receive an age and income-adjusted tax credit that is both advanceable, and refundable. This credit can be used to choose state-approved health insurance coverage, as well as unsubsidized COBRA coverage.  The bill strengthens consumer-driven health care choices by increasing maximum contributions to tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts by nearly 100 percent, and repeals a number of Obamacare taxes, including a tax on the medical devices many Americans rely on for daily care.

Under the AHCA, Medicaid financing would be converted to a per capita model. The per capita allotment would be based on a state’s average medical assistance and non-benefit expenditures in four beneficiary categories: aged, blind and disabled, children, and adults. Under the AHCA, states would no longer be able to choose to expand their Medicaid programs to cover the “newly eligible” population, and states that have already expanded would have their enrollment at the enhanced match rate frozen as of 2018. States, like Virginia, that have not expanded their Medicaid program under Obamacare, would have access to a safety-net fund established under the AHCA that is specifically for non-expansion states. Additionally, Medicaid cuts that were established under Obamacare would be restored to non-expansion states earlier than for states that chose to expand their Medicaid programs.

H.R. 1628 was passed by the House of Representatives, with my support, on May 4, 2017. It now awaits further action by the United States Senate.

The status quo cannot continue. We know that our nation can do better. I firmly believe that the American Health Care Act is a better way forward. As the Senate begins consideration of this bill, I urge them to keep the process moving. Passing the AHCA is a major step in repealing Obamacare and ensuring Americans have access to affordable health care. As long as Obamacare continues to fail, I will continue to work in the House to maintain my commitment to the people of the Sixth District to repeal Obamacare and support patient-centered health care reform. Obamacare must not remain the law of the land.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me and hope you will stay in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate important issues to our country. I believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.

With kind regards.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Email #211: “an open line”?

I suppose I should thank you for the recent form letters your office sent in response to three of my last fifty emails to you.

Your most recent response begins:

“Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns with …  I appreciate hearing from you.”

It ends:

“I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me. I believe it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate issues of importance to the United States.

“Again thank you for you for the benefit of your comments. Feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance.”

The one I received before that begins:

“Thank you for contacting me about the issue of … I appreciate you sharing your concerns.”

It ends:

“I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me and hope you will stay in touch as the 115th Congress continues to debate issues important to our country. I believe it is vital to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.”

And the letter before that begins:

“Thank you for contacting me regarding ….  It is good to hear from you.”

And it ends:

“I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me. I believe it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of the 6th district. In addition, I hope you will be in touch as the 115th Congress considers legislation or addresses additional issues of importance to the United States.

“Again, thank you for the benefit of your comments. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance.”

Ech of your middle paragraphs begin “As you know …” or “As you may know,” and then recounts details about bills or topics that I already recounted to you in my own emails. Some offer justifications for your positions, often the very justifications that I had taken issue with when writing you. In no case do you acknowledge any specific point I raised.

Your staff seems to follow a very simple process:

1) categorize emails by topic;

2) forward generic response; and

3) delete.

If a letter by a constituent addresses a topic that your office does not have a ready-made response for–as apparently the majority of my emails do not– then the process is even simpler:

1) delete.

It seems that you do not think it is good to hear from me, you do not appreciate my taking the time to share my views with you, and you do not hope I will be in touch again. Worse, it seems that you feel the same about all of your constituents who write you letters, regardless of what topics they write about or what specifically they have to say about them. In what sense then is this “an open line of communication”?

While I understand that you cannot respond personally to every letter or even a fraction of the letters you receive, please know that your form responses create an impression of extreme and almost comic insincerity.

Bob Goodlatte replies about health care

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts on health care reform and the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  It is valuable for me to hear how Congress can better reform our health care system, and I will be sure to share that information with my colleagues who sit on committees with jurisdiction over health care reform.

Seven years ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, became law. With it came unaffordable premiums, higher deductibles, and a lack of choice and access to insurance for far too many folks in the Sixth District of Virginia and across the country. In April of this year, Aetna announced that it will exit Virginia’s Obamacare insurance marketplace, leaving an estimated 27 counties with only a single insurer to pick from in 2018. It’s easy to see why this mess of big-government mandates and red tape has not provided the health care solutions so many families need.

This is exactly why I supported the American Health Care Act. At its most basic, the AHCA would take steps to ensure health care remains affordable and accessible. Under the AHCA, individuals who do not have access to health insurance through their employer or a program like Medicaid or Medicare would receive an age and income-adjusted tax credit that is both advanceable, and refundable. This credit can be used to choose state-approved health insurance coverage, as well as unsubsidized COBRA coverage.  The bill strengthens consumer-driven health care choices by increasing maximum contributions to tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts by nearly 100 percent, and repeals a number of Obamacare taxes, including a tax on the medical devices many Americans rely on for daily care.

Throughout the evolution of this proposal, members of our community have raised many thoughtful concerns regarding the coverage of essential health benefits. Any patient protections created by the Affordable Care Act will continue under the AHCA.

Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage, rescinding coverage, or excluding benefits due to a patient’s pre-existing condition. The AHCA would only allow insurance companies to consider health status when assessing premiums if that person has not maintained continuous coverage. In addition, the AHCA includes $138 billion to assist states in establishing high-risk pools, lower out-of-pockets costs for patients, ensure coverage for special conditions such as maternity care, and for other risk-sharing measures. The AHCA will also continue allowing dependents up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans and prohibits lifetime limits on coverage. More information regarding provisions included in the AHCA can be found on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s website at: https://energycommerce.house.gov/healthcarecentral.

The status quo cannot continue. We know that our nation can do better. I firmly believe that the American Health Care Act is a better way forward. As the Senate begins consideration of this bill, I urge them to keep the process moving. Passing the AHCA is a major step in repealing Obamacare and ensuring Americans have access to affordable health care. As long as Obamacare continues to fail, I will continue to work in the House to maintain my commitment to the people of the Sixth District to repeal Obamacare and support patient-centered health care reform. Obamacare must not remain the law of the land.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this important issue. As consideration of health care reforms continue, I will be keeping your thoughts in mind. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance to you and your family.

With kind regards.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlatte Replies about President Trump

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about President Trump’s decision to dismiss James B. Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and your concerns about ongoing investigations into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  I appreciate hearing from you.

The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world and it is critical to have a director who holds the trust of the American people. It is clearly the President’s prerogative to remove the FBI Director, as was recommended by the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

However, I believe Comey’s dismissal should not impede an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel.

I support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation. I believe Robert Mueller, who served as FBI Director and federal prosecutor for Republican and Democratic presidents, will carry out a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts. That is precisely what needs to happen.

Along with the special counsel’s independent investigation, Congress and the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary. on behalf of the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are pursuing separate investigations to determine what level of interference the Russians did play in attempting to influence the 2016 election and what, if any, connections exist between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. It is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlatte replies about President Trump

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me about proposed congressional resolutions of inquiry asking the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives all records and communication as it relates to the financial practices of President Trump.  Additionally, the resolutions of inquiry seek any information relating to criminal or counterintelligence investigations targeting President Trump and his associates.

I take Congress’s role to uphold our constitutional framework of three co-equal branches of government very seriously. Congress and the American public should not and cannot allow one branch to assume too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government. That is why the House Judiciary Committee’s oversight plan for the 115th Congress will “conduct oversight into allegations of misconduct of executive branch officials and continue to conduct oversight into allegations of leaks of classified information, as well as allegations of improper interference with our democratic institutions or efforts to improperly or illegally interfere with our election.”

While we agree it is important to maintain effective and strong oversight of the other branches of government, I do, however, oppose recent resolutions introduced by my Democratic colleagues that lack the legal force or effect to retrieve information from the Department of Justice, and only satisfy the interests of narrow constituencies. Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, one of the resolutions’ sponsors, explicitly expressed that he wanted to force Congress to have a vote on Trump. I believe Congress’s oversight efforts can do better than employing ineffectual and disruptive resolutions.

On February 28, and March 29, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee reported unfavorably H.Res. 111, H.Res. 184, and H.Res. 203.  These three resolutions of inquiry would have requested that the Attorney General provide the House of Representatives all information the Department of Justice has in its possession relating to criminal or counterintelligence investigations targeting President Trump, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and other White House personnel; any Trump investments involving foreign agents or governments, records of communication between Trump campaign or transition employees with the Russian government; and any record relating to the president’s Twitter postings on March 4, 2017.

Congress should, and will, investigate any credible allegations of criminal activity by the Executive Branch, but it should not do so through politically-charged resolutions of inquiry that could jeopardize the integrity of the very investigations called for by the resolutions.

You have my assurance that whichever political party occupies the White House, I will continue to uphold our Constitution and its system of three coequal branches that are accountable to the American people.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. I believe it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlatte replies about Russia election interference

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I am actively seeking answers from the intelligence community and ensuring the Committee maintains rigorous oversight of Executive Branch agencies within the Committee’s jurisdiction.

On March 20, 2017, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James B. Comey publicly announced that the FBI is conducting an investigation into possible connections between Russian officials and President Trump’s presidential campaign. While this is an ongoing investigation, and information is therefore kept confidentially within the FBI, I am monitoring all developments in the investigation.

In this effort, I coauthored a letter on March 24, 2017, with my colleagues Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas which pressed key intelligence agencies about leaks of classified information and the impact they have on the American people’s trust in vital national security programs. In this letter to the leaders of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency, we expressed deep concern about leaks of classified information from unnamed sources to the media and the continuous repercussions of prior unauthorized and damaging disclosures about national security programs. These leaks are especially damaging as the House Judiciary Committee seeks to reauthorize and reform foreign surveillance programs in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) later this year. This program, which targets the communications of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States in order to protect national security, reportedly encompasses more than a quarter of all NSA surveillance and has been used on multiple occasions to detect and prevent horrific terrorist plots against our country.

All leaks of classified information have the potential to erode the American people’s trust in their government’s ability to protect both the security of our country and privacy of U.S. persons.  In our letter, we call on the intelligence community to openly dispel any false accusations of widespread illegal surveillance.  Moreover, it is vital for the intelligence community to publicly describe the value of FISA Section 702 in thwarting terrorist plots. Finally, we have requested a briefing on efforts made by the intelligence agencies to weed out any leakers of classified information and bring them to justice.

Furthermore, I share your concerns of the prospect that the Russian government or affiliated foreign agents attempted to interfere with our elections and are seeking to meddle with upcoming general election campaigns in France and Germany this year.

I want to emphasize that the intelligence community has found no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, testified that Russia “definitely did try to influence the campaign.”

Right now, the FBI and the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are pursuing separate investigations to determine what level of interference the Russians did play in attempting to influence the 2016 election, and what relationship existed between the Russian government and the Trump presidential campaign. Rest assured I will monitor the respective investigations and work to ensure the investigations into Russia’s action will be conducted professionally and will follow the facts wherever they may lead.

I appreciate you taking the time contact me. It is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Sincerely,


Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlatte Replies about Town Hall Meetings

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting my office to request a town hall meeting.  Your request has been received and will be reviewed.

Communication with Sixth District residents is the most important way I learn about the opinions of our friends and neighbors so that I can take their views to Washington.  I travel up and down the Sixth District frequently, listening to folks from every corner of the District.

I appreciate that you want to communicate with me, and I want you to know that even if I am unable to accommodate your specific request, that there are plenty of other avenues available for communication.  I hope you will take time to visit my website and sign up for my Telephone Town Hall Meetings and e-newsletters.  Telephone Town Hall Meetings provide me the opportunity to have live conference call style meetings with thousands of Virginians numerous times each year.  E-newsletters allow me the opportunity to keep you informed about what Congress is doing on a regular basis.

You are also welcome to email me through my website or call one of my offices to share your views on a federal issue or legislation.  If you need personal help with a federal agency, my office may be able to help.  Please contact one of my district offices to speak with a representative if you cannot get an answer from a federal agency in a timely manner or if you’ve been treated unfairly.  My staff also hosts regular office hours, called Open Door Meetings, in parts of the Sixth District where I do not have a permanent office location so that folks can get help in a manner more convenient to their homes.  The complete list of Open Door Meeting times and locations may be found on my website.

I appreciate your desire to stay in touch with me as the 115th Congress considers issues of importance to the United States.  Thank you for reaching out.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress

Bob Goodlatte replies about Medicaid

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding Medicaid. Medicaid is an important program for many Americans with limited income and resources but it is facing collapse if we don’t act to fix it now.

Optional state expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, has significantly increased federal spending on the Medicaid program. In fact, the program now accounts for more than 15 percent of all federal health care spending and represents one in four dollars of a state’s average budget. This program currently supports over 72 million recipients, more than those currently enrolled in Medicare.

As you may know, Medicaid is both federally and state-funded, but states do not currently have enough control over the program. They are required to follow a “one-size-fits-all” program that is mandated by the federal government – a program that is not getting the job done.  Low reimbursements to health care providers and greater regulatory burdens have led to fewer and fewer physicians accepting Medicaid. Sadly, Medicaid patients are roughly twice as likely to visit the emergency department (ED) as those with private insurance. Medicaid beneficiaries shouldn’t be forced to visit an ED to get primary care.

It is clear reforms are needed to improve Medicaid; reforms that incentivize states to align their own Medicaid programs to their individual needs, as opposed to promoting unrestrained growth and spending.   You may be interested to know House Republicans have proposed various reforms to Medicaid under the “Better Way” agenda. The reforms proposed in this agenda aim to cap federal funding of the program and return control to those closest to the Medicaid beneficiaries – the states.

Under the “Better Way” plan, states would be given greater flexibility in how they receive their federal dollars, choosing between a per capita allotment or block grant, both of which are dependent on each state’s unique set of individual circumstances. The per capita allotment would be the default option, and would be based on a state’s average medical assistance and non-benefit expenditures in four beneficiary categories: aged, blind and disabled, children, and adults. If a state opted out of a per capita allotment, the second approach would grant a state a block grant of federal funds to finance their Medicaid program. Funding would be determined by a state’s Medicaid program for a base year, allowing the state to transition from federal expansion to managing their own eligibility and benefits for non-disabled, non-elderly adults and children. It is important that as we reform Medicaid, we ensure that states who have adopted a conservative approach to Medicaid, like Virginia, are not treated unfairly for their responsible fiscal decisions. You may read the entire proposal at better.gop.

Rest assured, I will keep your views in mind as Congress considers all proposals to reform Medicaid in a way that protects current beneficiaries and ensures the long-term success of the program for the future.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your views with me. It is most important to keep an open line of communication so that I can best serve the interests of Virginia’s 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch with me as the 115th Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.

Again, thank you for the benefit of your comments. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance.

With kind regards.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress