I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all of the utility workers, first responders, volunteers, and emergency response professionals dedicated to helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
I visited PPL Electric Utilities' Emergency Command Center in Allentown earlier this week and received an update on the utility's hurricane response efforts from PPL Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer William Spence (pictured above).
I was joined by Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley (R), U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and U.S. Representative Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
I appreciate the work of Lt. Gov. Cawley and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to respond quickly to the needs of Pennsylvanians during this storm. I have offered my assistance to PEMA and FEMA as cleanup continues, and I stand ready to help in the recovery effort.
Speaking out for Pennsylvania's jobs
I released a report in October detailing how President Obama's proposed tax policies will hurt America's manufacturing industry.
The report looks at 10 Pennsylvania manufacturers, finding that President Obama's plan to raise marginal income tax rates will put these and other manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage with their foreign counterparts, hindering economic growth and job creation. According to a 2012 Ernst & Young report, the president's onerous tax policies will cost Pennsylvania nearly 31,000 jobs.
American manufacturers already pay the highest business tax rate in the world at 35 percent. Under President Obama's tax plan, Pennsylvania companies will see their marginal tax rate jump from 35 percent to 41 percent.
The president's plan will only exacerbate the competitive disadvantage our manufacturers face, forcing them to compete with foreign companies paying rates as low as 15 percent in Canada, 22 percent in South Korea and 25 percent in China.
A one-page summary of the report is available here, while a full copy of the report is available here.
Equipping PA to prosecute tax fraud
The IRS has responded to a request I made by announcing an expansion of a pilot program to allow local law enforcement in eight states, including Pennsylvania, to go after perpetrators of tax fraud.
I contacted the IRS in August after Pennsylvania law enforcement officials notified me of a new trend in tax fraud where fraudulent tax returns were filed using legitimate Social Security numbers to generate improper tax refunds. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, I asked him to explain how the department is addressing this form of tax fraud in Pennsylvania.
Under the current system, the IRS could not work with local law enforcement officials since taxpayer information is confidential. The IRS's pilot program, however, will ask tax fraud victims to fill out a form giving the IRS permission to work with local law enforcement and share a limited amount of taxpayer data in order to target identity thieves.
I am pleased the IRS will now be able to coordinate with local law enforcement officials to more aggressively pursue perpetrators of tax fraud. Clearly, any kind of tax fraud is a waste of taxpayer dollars and must be stopped. I am grateful to local officials for bringing this critical issue to my attention, and I hope the IRS will use this step forward to crack down on all forms of tax fraud.
I visited Berks and Montgomery counties in October to meet with local district attorneys and highlight this new IRS program. I'm pictured above with Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
Ensuring deployed troops can vote
I have asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ensure members of the military are able to vote via absentee ballot.
In recent weeks, I have received substantial constituent correspondence expressing great concern about this issue. These constituents believe that the Defense Department is not fulfilling its obligation to provide those who defend our freedom adequate access to state voting systems so that they can vote.
In the letter, I outlined concerns I've heard from Pennsylvanians serving overseas. Among other concerns, some deployed service members are encountering problems accessing state absentee ballot websites. A U.S. Army major from Adams County currently stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan said she was unable to access the state's portal for absentee ballots. Adams County officials have informed me that they have received a number of such complaints from service members.
To read my letter to Secretary Panetta, please click here.
Working to reduce VA claims backlog
I've asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki how the department plans to address its disability claims backlog.
I am deeply concerned about the backlog of veterans' disabilities claims. The department's annual claims are expected to reach 1,250,000 in 2013, an increase of almost 60 percent since 2005.
Claims are also becoming more complex, with a higher number of disabling conditions claimed. I am informed that to address the mounting workload, the department has set as a strategic goal that no claim will be more than 125 days old in 2015.
In a letter, I asked Secretary Shinseki for more information about how the department will reduce the backlog and meet its strategic goal.
To read my letter to Secretary Shinseki, please click here.