Dear Friend, 

On Tuesday night, my amendment to cut our deficit and limit the risk of waste, fraud, theft, and abuse in Afghanistan passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The amendment to the Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Department Appropriations bill reduces funding to the Afghan Infrastructure Fund by $139 million, and was one of only two Democratic amendments to the bill to pass. Both Democrats and Republicans came together to reduce the U.S. role in Afghanistan, cut our deficit, and limit the risk of wasting taxpayer money overseas. By passing my amendment, the House of Representatives recognized that it is time for us to bring our troops home, for Afghanistan to invest in their own infrastructure, and for Congress to do a better job ensuring that taxpayer money is spent wisely. Watch my speech about the amendment here and read on to learn what else happened this week.

5 Year Anniversary of House Apology for Slavery and Jim CrowFighting to Save the Right to Vote for AllReviewing Stand Your Ground LawsStanding up for Civil RightsWorking to Find Cures Instead of Funding WarsEnsuring Privacy and Balancing the FISA CourtVital RecordsWelcoming a New Memphis VA DirectorGrant FundingPreventing Abuse of HorsesMaking College More AffordableGrant Announcements

5 Year Anniversary of House Apology for Slavery and Jim Crow

On the Floor of the United States House of Representatives yesterday, I commemorated the fifth anniversary of the passage of H.Res.194, which was the first and only official Congressional apology for slavery and Jim Crow laws. The apology, which I was the original sponsor of, passed the House on July 29, 2008 and acknowledged that we need to rectify the lingering consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that still affect the African American community. You can read the text of it here and watch the speech I gave on the House Floor here.

Fighting to Save the Right to Vote for All

This week, the Department of Justice announced that it would ask a federal judge to require that Texas, which has a history of discrimination, obtain pre-clearance from an independent agency before implementing new voting laws that threaten to disenfranchise minority voters. While last month’s Supreme Court ruling that dismantled sections of the Voting Rights Act was boneheaded, the Department’s move is a win for civil rights and shows that Attorney General Eric Holder is not waiting for even more discrimination before aggressively fighting to protect the voting rights of every American. I will continue to work in Congress and with Attorney General Holder to make sure that citizens are not disenfranchised.

Reviewing Stand Your Ground Laws

On Wednesday, I joined Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in introducing the Justice Exists for Us All Act. This important legislation would encourage states to repeal their Stand Your Ground laws or refrain from passing new ones. It would also provide incentives for states to ensure neighborhood watch programs are registered with law enforcement and its participants do not carry guns. We were all saddened by the death of Trayvon Martin and I hope legislation like this will help reduce incidents of gun violence and make our streets safer.

Standing up for Civil Rights

No one should be treated adversely solely on account of their race, their sex, their religion, their national origin, their age, or a disability. I introduced an amendment in the House Judiciary Committee this week to help combat unlawful discrimination and protect the civil rights that we all hold dear. There were nearly two hours of debate before the amendment was voted down on a nearly party-line vote. During the debate, one Republican even made the disgusting comparison of the civil liberties of minority groups to snail darters and prairie chickens. I do want to take a moment to thank Republican Representative Spencer Bachus from Alabama for standing up for civil rights and voting for my amendment. 

Working to Find Cures Instead of Funding Wars

The National Institutes of Health are our nation’s true Department of Defense. NIH-funded doctors, scientists and researchers across the country are out on the front lines every day fighting humanity’s most debilitating diseases and working to keep America healthy. That’s why I introduced a bill on Wednesday to ensure that their work to find cures for illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease doesn’t go underfunded or undermanned. My bill would replace more than $1.5 billion in crippling cuts to the NIH with Department of Defense funding that Pentagon leaders admit they don’t need. It’s time we prioritize finding cures instead of funding wars.

Ensuring Privacy and Balancing the FISA Court

This morning’s issue of the New York Times had a great story, in which I’m quoted, by Charlie Savage about how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is quietly reshaping a secret court that we entrust to balance the need for national security with each American’s right to personal privacy. Savage discovered that since becoming Chief Justice, more than 80% of Roberts’ appointments to the FISA Court have been Republican appointees—the highest percentage of any Chief Justice in the history of the FISA Court. Read his story here.

I recently introduced legislation, the FISA Court Accountability Act, to deal with this precise issue. It would change the way that members of the court are appointed by making sure that elected representatives have a say in who ends up on the court and address several other issues. The FISA Court Accountability Act won’t resolve all of our concerns about the FISA Court or NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it’s a start. My bill will bring accountability and transparency to the FISA Court and fix some of its most egregious problems.

Vital Records

I hosted a Congressional briefing this week on Capitol Hill titled “Vital Records: ‘Vital’ for A Reason!” to help members of Congress and their constituent advocates learn about vital records and their utility in public health, safety, and security. Vital records on births and deaths enable us to monitor the prevalence of disease and overall health status and develop programs to improve public health. These records are also essential for use in the administration of benefit programs—both to determine eligibility and reduce erroneous payments—and to ensure a person is who they say they are when applying for an official ID, a job, or benefits.

Welcoming a New Memphis VA Director

Just hours ago C. Diane Knight, MD, CMD, was announced as the new Memphis VA Medical Center Director. From her time over the last year serving as Interim Medical Center Director, I have heard wonderful things about Dr. Knight and look forward to working with her. I am glad to be one of the first people to welcome her into her new position. Dr. Knight replaces Jay Robinson, who was the first African American Memphis VAMC Director and an outstanding role model. I played an instrumental role in placing Jay Robinson in the position, and I wish him the best in the future.

Grant Funding

This week, I announced more than $2 million in grant funding to Memphis-area organizations. The University of Memphis was awarded three grants totaling nearly $900,000 for arts and research projects, the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee was awarded $907,000 to fight and prevent veteran homelessness, and St. Jude Children’s Hospital received more than $370,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services to study auto-inflammatory disease and host defense research.

Preventing Abuse of Horses

In addition to my briefing on vital records, I also joined with Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky in hosting a briefing on Capitol Hill about our legislation to prevent the abusive practice of horse “soring.” Horse trainers often go to great lengths to avoid detection rather than comply with current federal law and train horses using humane methods. Our Prevent All Soring Tactics Act would help stop these practices, and it wouldn’t increase the deficit by a penny. Our legislation protects the health and integrity of the Tennessee Walking, Racking, and Spotted Saddle Horse industries, essentially saving jobs, and I hope it passes.

Making College More Affordable

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Education Lottery reported record sales for the 2012-13 fiscal year and $339.7 million in proceeds for scholarships and other education programs. Since the creation of the lottery in 2004, it has now sent over $2.7 billion to students continuing their educations. It’s important to help make college as affordable as possible for our young people. I’m proud to have led the effort that has helped so many students achieve their academic goals and to graduate with less debt.

Grant Announcements   

I regularly release a list of grant announcements from federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and others. These federal funding opportunities are available to faith-based and neighborhood associations, nonprofits and other community organizations in the 9th district. The announcements are updated regularly on my website.

As always, I remain. 
Most sincerely,
Steve Cohen
Member of Congress 

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