Friday, February 22, 2008

Ask Boehner Column: What's Different Now that the Terrorist Surveillance Law Has Expired?

Regarding the terrorist surveillance laws that Congress is fighting over: Can you explain what is different today compared to before the law expired?

The law giving our intelligence officials the ability to quickly begin monitoring communications among suspected terrorists and terror groups expired at midnight, Saturday, February 16. While we can continue surveillance begun before that date, any new surveillance will be delayed by lengthy legal proceedings that put us and our troops overseas at an increased risk of attack. Let me give you an example.

The New York Post recently reported a heartbreaking story about U.S. forces in Iraq having to wait 10 hours last May before they could begin searching for three American soldiers taken hostage by al Qaeda because lawyers here in the United States were hammering out the proper documents to get emergency permission for wiretaps. One of our soldiers was found dead, two others remain missing. In August, Congress updated the law to ensure that a situation like this does not repeat itself, and that short-term fix expired – as I noted – on February 16. And now Congress has the responsibility to act on long-term modernization of our surveillance laws.

When the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was enacted in 1978, a world of wireless communications was unthinkable. Today, technology has changed so much that FISA must be updated to give us the best chance to intercept terrorist chatter. That update includes providing liability protections for third parties that voluntarily help the federal government monitor wireless communications. National Director of Intelligence Mike McConnell, appearing on a national news program recently, said that it’s very difficult to compel a private company to cooperate unless the company is assured it will not face legal action stemming from its help. Already, some trial attorneys are seeking millions of dollars in the form of frivolous lawsuits from third parties who have voluntarily cooperated to help protect us.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had this to say about the consequences of letting this law expire: "What people have to understand around here is that the quality of the intelligence we are going to be receiving is going to be degraded. It is going to be degraded. It is already going to be degraded as telecommunications companies lose interest."

I remain hopeful that when the House returns from a 12-day recess, it will immediately pass the same legislation approved by bipartisan Senate that will restore our ability to quickly intercept terrorist communications and protect the private companies that help keep us safe.

Do you know of any programs to use electronic patient records to improve medical care?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is actually implementing a five-year demonstration project for small- to medium-size primary care physicians to use electronic health records to improve patient care. The program’s goal is to revolutionize the way healthcare information is managed, reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care for an estimated 3.6 million Americans.

An electronic health record contains information such as prescription records, test results, treatment histories, progress reports and even X-rays. The benefits range from fewer adverse reactions to prescriptions and fewer redundant tests and procedures to faster diagnosis and treatment with comprehensive health information readily available.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and other senior HHS officials are meeting with community leaders across the country to encourage communities to apply to this program. Eligible communities will include those that:

  • Demonstrate active community collaboration with a broad group of stakeholders – healthcare providers, medical professional groups, patients and employers;

  • Show private sector support that includes the possibility of similar programs among employers or health plans in the region;

  • Are geographically large enough to recruit enough small- and medium-size medical practices – 100 will be eligible for incentives while another 100 will be control sites; and

  • Are not already participating in a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) demonstration similar to the electronic records program.

  • Once the 12 communities are selected in June, CMS will begin working within these communities to recruit eligible physician practices. The practices may receive financial incentives throughout the program that will vary in amount and will, in part, depend on reporting and performance for quality measures.

    For more information on this program, e-mail

    If you are an 8th District resident and have questions about either of these issues – or other issues with the federal government – please contact my office toll-free, 1-800-583-1001.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Boehner Column: "Third Parties Helping Secure America Should Be Protected, Not Opened Up to Lawsuits"

    Earlier this year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came together to pass an economic growth package to help get our economy moving again. I hoped this same spirit bipartisanship would extend to other critical matters, such as reducing wasteful government spending and keeping America safe. Sadly, this was not to be.

    At the end of last week, the House left Washington for a 12-day break after failing to pass critical legislation designed to ensure that our intelligence officials are able to monitor foreign communications of suspected terrorists overseas, such as Osama Bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda leaders while adding critical liability protections for third parties who helped us defend our country. This measure received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, and was on the verge of receiving the similar bipartisan support in the House until it was blocked from coming to the floor.

    For some lawmakers, there is no urgency to address this crisis. But the New York Post recently reported a heartbreaking story about U.S. forces in Iraq having to wait 10 hours last May before they could begin searching for three American soldiers taken hostage by al Qaeda because lawyers here in the United States were hammering out the proper documents to get emergency permission for wiretaps. One of our soldiers was found dead; two others remain missing.

    These unconscionable delays had real consequences. It should take exactly zero lawyers to rescue our troops. The liability protections included in the bipartisan Senate bill are intended to ensure that patriotic third parties are not subject to frivolous lawsuits when they cooperate with our intelligence officials to help track terrorists and protect our country. But already some trial lawyers are seeking millions of dollars in the form of frivolous lawsuits from third parties who have voluntarily cooperated with our government. This is wrong and we must fix it.

    Our first priority should be protecting our national security and not paying off trial lawyer campaign contributors. The question now is how much longer are some lawmakers prepared to protect their trial lawyer allies at the expense of our national security?

    Much has been said about the U.S. Senate being the world’s most deliberative body, but in this case our colleagues proved that they can work quickly to pass good legislation that will keep America safe.

    The consequences of inaction in the House and the failure to send a bill to the President are real. U.S. intelligence officials will not be able to begin new terrorist surveillance without needless and dangerous delays. If a previously unknown group were to attack or kidnap American soldiers tomorrow, U.S. forces would have to wait – again – for the lawyers to get permission before a search could begin. The families of the three soldiers abducted in May by al Qaeda can attest to how devastating waiting can be.

    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was written and passed during the Cold War era, and in August Congress updated it to reflect the sophisticated and adaptive nature of the terrorist threat. Just a few months ago, we were able to work in a bipartisan manner to close a gaping loophole that allows our intelligence officials to monitor foreign communications of terrorists overseas. There only ones preventing us from working together in a bipartisan way again are those in the House beholden to trial lawyers.

    What was true then remains the same today: instead of shielding terrorists, we should be working to prevent future attacks. Refusing to give our intelligence officials all the tools they need to keep America safe is unacceptable. Refusing to extend protection from frivolous lawsuits to third parties that cooperate with the government to protect American lives and then leaving town for 12 days is also unacceptable. And it begs the question: how much longer are some in Congress willing to protect their trial lawyer allies at the expense of our national security?

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    Boehner Announces 17th Annual 8th District Farm Forum

    WASHINGTON, DC – Former Congressman Cal Dooley of California will be the keynote speaker at the 17th annual 8th District Farm Forum, Congressman John Boehner (R-West Chester) announced.

    Dooley, now president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2004 and sat on the Agriculture Committee with Boehner. Dooley is a fourth-generation farmer and partner in Dooley Farms, growing cotton, alfalfa and walnuts in California ’s San Joaquin Valley .

    “Agriculture is a pillar of the 8th District’s economy, and I host Farm Forum each year so that people whose livelihoods depend on the continued success of our agriculture community as well as those with an interest in agriculture can come together to discuss the issues of the day,” Boehner said. “Farm Forum is always a highlight of my year, and I’m pleased to bring together some of the best agriculture policy minds in the 8th District, throughout Ohio and from Washington , D.C. to talk with farmers in our community.”

    This year’s distinguished panel of experts includes Tom Menke, President of Menke Consulting; Bob Peterson, President of the Ohio Farm Bureau; Carl Zulauf, the Francis B. McCormick Professor of Agriculture and Marketing Policy at The Ohio State University; and Jim Chakeres, executive director of the Ohio Poultry Association. The panel moderator will be Sen. Keith Faber (R-Celina), who sits on the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee and has been named a Friend of Agriculture by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

    Farm Forum is a free event for anyone with an interest in agriculture. To RSVP, call Boehner’s office toll-free at 800-582-1001 or register online at

    WHERE: Edison Community College , 1973 Edison Drive , Piqua

    WHEN: Saturday, March 1. Registration opens at 9:30 am; the program begins at 10 am.

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    Boehner Column/Ask Boehner: Illegal Immigrants Not Eligible for Tax Rebate Checks, Switching from Analog to Digital TV

    I occasionally use this column to answer questions from 8th District constituents. You may submit questions to My office is available to help constituents and you will find contact information at the end of this column.

    I liked the economic stimulus bill the House passed but now I hear that illegal immigrants will be getting rebate checks just like everyone else. Is this true?

    As you noted, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved an economic growth package intended to infuse resources into our economy and provide small businesses with incentives to expand and create new jobs. This simple plan would provide rebate checks to working families based on their 2007 tax returns and give tax relief to business owners.

    Unfortunately, an alarming number of reports have sprung up claiming that the package would enable illegal immigrants to receive a tax rebate. The bill contains no such language enabling illegal immigrants to receive a tax rebate. In fact, illegal immigrants who steal or fabricate a Social Security number are not eligible to receive checks under the House bill. An illegal immigrant who files taxes based on stolen or fraudulent information in an attempt to receive a check under the House bill is committing tax fraud.

    I continue to be a strong proponent of enforcing our immigration laws and securing our borders. In a joint-statement I issued with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we said that will take legislative action to clarify and underscore the language in the growth package that prevents illegal immigrants from receiving any benefits. In fact, the stimulus bill that passed in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support includes language similar to the provisions included in the 2001 and 2003 tax relief bills regarding the prohibition of benefits to those here illegally.

    The economic growth package isn’t perfect, but it will quickly get money into the hands of working families while helping small businesses grow and create jobs. Those are two of the most important components for the long-term economic health and security of our nation.

    Can you tell me why the government is making a change in how we receive television signals?

    On Feb. 18, 2009, over-the-air television broadcasts will become exclusively digital, which could render your old TV and rabbit-ears or rooftop antennae obsolete. As mandated by federal law, local TV stations are moving from the old analog system to digital broadcasting. This will free up much-needed parts of the broadcast spectrum for public safety communications – police and fire departments, and rescue squads.

    This switch to digital broadcasting is the most significant development in television technology since shows switched from black-and-white to color. But as with any major change, people will have questions. Foremost on peoples’ minds is whether or not they will have to buy a new TV once this change goes into effect.

    If your TV is connected to cable, satellite or a telephone service provider or if your analog TV have a built-in digital tuner, this transition will not affect you. To determine whether your TV has this tuner built in, check your owner’s manual, consult the manufacturer’s website or check your TV set for an input connection labeled “digital input” or “ATSC.” If you bought your TV set before 1998, it most likely will not have a digital tuner. Sets made after 2004 generally come equipped with a digital tuner and by law, all reception devices (TVs, VCRs, DVRs, etc.) sold in the U.S. must have this tuner. However, stores may continue to sell analog-only sets as long they come with a Consumer Alert that the device will need a converter box.

    Households with analog television have three options: (1) buy a digital-to-analog converter box to hook up to your analog television set; (2) purchase a digital television or an analog television equipped with a digital tuner; or (3) subscribe to cable, satellite, or telephone company television services, which will likely provide for the conversion of digital signals to their analog customers.

    The analog-to-digital converter box program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, will provide up to two $40 coupons to requesting households to help pay for the converter boxes, which are expected to cost between $50 and $75 each. The coupons will be issued between January 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, and must be used within three months after issuance toward the purchase of a stand-alone device used solely for analog-to-digital conversion. Coupons mailed to consumers will list converter box models along with local and online retailers certified to participate in the converter box coupon program.

    For more information and to apply for a converter-box coupon, visit the Federal Communications Commission’s digital TV website,, or call 888-225-5322 (TTY: 888-835-5322)

    If you are an 8th District resident and have questions about either of these issues – or other issues with the federal government – please contact my office toll-free, 1-800-582-1001.