This piece appeared in Kentucky Today, Richmond Register, Anderson County News, Winchester Sun, Jessamine Journal: 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, Congress deputized the financial services industry, including banks, credit unions and financial technology lenders, to swiftly deliver assistance to struggling small businesses throughout the country.  I am a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and saw firsthand the importance of ensuring small businesses were able to access credit during the time of stress.  Over 5,000 lenders participated in the Paycheck Protection Program to keep small businesses afloat as states and localities implemented COVID mitigation strategies that kept people home and shuttered businesses.  In the Commonwealth alone, small businesses received over $7.8 billion in forgivable loans to keep their doors open and paychecks flowing to workers and their families. 

 

As the economy continues its rapid recovery, businesses are reopening with floods of customers and people are going back to work, it is important that we reflect on the trials and triumphs of the last 15 months.  The government assistance to small businesses wouldn’t have been possible without a strong partnership with financial institutions, especially local community banks.  

 

That is why I am proposing legislation to empower community banks with the flexibility to continue leading the charge in providing access to capital for individuals, homeowners and small businesses in rural communities, which is the key to economic growth and prosperity for all.  Community banks are built on relationships between bankers and their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.  Unfortunately, recent years have seen many bank branches close and a dramatic decline in new, or de novo, community bank formation, largely due to increasing compliance costs, ballooning capital requirements and competitive market pressures from a trend in bank mergers and acquisitions.  The disappearance of local banks in communities around the country often times leaves a void that hits its citizens hard.

 

Since the 2008 financial crisis, de novo formation has slowed significantly. There were 181 charters granted in 2007; but between 2010 and 2019, fewer than ten new banks opened, on average, per year. A recent Federal Reserve study shows that 51% of the 3,114 counties in the U.S. saw net declines in the number of bank branches between 2012 and 2017.  These declines in bank branches disproportionately hit rural communities.  A total of 794 rural counties lost a combined 1,553 bank branches over the five-year period, a 14% decline.  The negative financial impacts on rural counties of branch closures are perpetuated by the continuing difficulties, due to burdensome regulations and other roadblocks, of de novo community bank formation. While these trends leave residents of rural counties without access to much-needed financial services, they also have negative downstream impacts on the communities.

 

The Federal Reserve report identified 44 counties considered “deeply affected” by trends in bank closures and consolidation, which it defines as counties that had 10 or fewer branches in 2012 and lost at least 50% of those branches by 2017.  89% of the identified “deeply affected” counties are rural counties, including Nicholas County, Kentucky.  

 

Recent studies also suggest that citizens in rural communities are much more likely than people in urban or suburban areas to do their banking in-person at a branch. The advances in mobile and online banking are often out of reach for much of rural America due to substandard or non-existent broadband access. Without a branch nearby, our neighbors in rural counties are increasingly unable to access traditional financial services.  Rural community banks need commonsense regulatory relief to combat the trend in closures, consolidation.

 

To address these issues and boost de novo bank formation, I introduced the Promoting Access to Capital in Underbanked Communities Act.  The bill permits new banks to phase in some of the costly compliance burdens over the course of three years, which gives them a good launching pad without compromising their safety and soundness.  It also makes it easier for banks to open in underserved rural communities, like those highlighted in the Federal Reserve report, and removes outdated regulations that limit how much business a bank can do with local farmers and ranchers.  

 

Additionally, the bill also makes it easier for lenders to lend to agriculture businesses in their communities.  Under current law, lenders are limited in how much they can lend, as a percentage of total outstanding loans, to certain sectors, including agriculture.  This bill removes those limits.

 

I am hopeful that my bill will receive bipartisan support in Congress.  It’s a simple and straightforward legislative proposal to help solve a very real problem that is facing our rural communities today.  Through passage of the Promoting Access to Capital in Underbanked Communities Act, Congress can promote equity and financial inclusion, and prevent rural America from being left behind.  

By U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) and U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND).  This piece appeared on Townhall.com on Wednesday, May 26. 

Cancel culture is spiraling out of control in the United States. Once treasured and protected American rights and ideals like freedom of speech, religion, capitalism, and the free marketplace of ideas are increasingly under siege. In finance, it threatens the survival of lawfully operating businesses in the United States and even the ability of Americans to exercise constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In a nod to this increasing political pressure, some financial firms have announced they will not do business with certain legal -- but politically targeted -- companies. Last fall, JP Morgan Chase declared it would refuse financial services to coal producers, and Bank of America began a politically-motivated effort to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its financing activities by 2050, an effort directly targeting producers of reliable American energy.

These efforts impact coal, oil and gas producers, the firearm and ammunition industry, as well as many other law-abiding businesses which employ millions and supply our citizens with goods and services they need. These decisions are not based on the creditworthiness or financial soundness of the customer. They are driven by open pressure from far-left environmental progressives like John Kerry, anti-gun groups financed by people like Michael Bloomberg, liberal activists who use tools like proxy voting at shareholder meetings, and the whims of corporate leaders.

Cancel culture is extending into the world of finance, forcing lenders to consider the reputational risk of doing business with a firm that is out of fashion with the vocal liberal elite. Congress can and should take action to combat this. Large financial service providers are able to play such an essential role  in the economy in part because their insurance on deposits is backed by the federal government and paid for by the taxpayer. That gives us the right to ensure they operate in a safe and sound manner and to take action if they are not. Lending decisions should be dependent on wholly objective, risk-based underwriting standards. They should not be dependent on whether a business is in conformity with the politically correct standards of the day, which threaten jobs and compromise the viability of entire industries based solely on the woke opinions of a select few.

Operation Choke Point, orchestrated by the Obama Administration, sought to cut off legally operating businesses by restricting their access to banking services. Members of Congress were right to balk at this blatant disregard for the rule of law and abuse of power. Unfortunately, political pressure is being reasserted today, and some banks are obliging. American industries are arbitrarily being denied access to capital simply because of partisan pettiness, and workers are going to pay the price.

The Trump Administration recognized this problem and took action. In January, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks finalized the Fair Access Rule, which required banks to provide equitable access to financial services on risk-based metrics. Under the rule, covered banks would not be able to inject political or public relations considerations into their lending decisions, or engage in total avoidance of an entire category of customers. They would instead be required to base lending decisions on the creditworthiness of the borrower.

This rule would have kept cancel culture out of finance and ensured our financial industry operates in a sound manner. But shortly after taking office, the Biden Administration blocked it.

That is why we are teaming up in Congress to lead the Fair Access to Banking Act, a bill to codify the Fair Access Rule and guarantee fair access to financial services for lawful and legally compliant businesses under federal law, regardless of politics. A difference in political views is not a valid reason to deny a business fair access to capital, yet that is what banks and financial institutions are doing. Our bill builds on the OCC’s Fair Access to Financial Services rule and makes it clear unjustifiably discriminating against entire industries will not be tolerated.

Now is the time to push back against the politicization of access to capital. The Biden Administration has made it clear it intends to leverage the full powers of financial regulators to tackle unrelated social goals and carry out its progressive political agenda. 

The greening of the financial system under the guise of safety and soundness supervision is not only a thinly veiled effort to placate radical activists, it threatens jobs and economic recovery amidst one of the greatest health and economic crises in a century.

Left-wing politicians, radical anti-gun activists and politically motivated financial regulators should not be allowed to intimidate lenders into picking which businesses should be able to operate legally and which should not. Congress has the constitutional authority to make new laws and change existing laws. But there is one law even Congress cannot change. This is the law of supply and demand, which in a free market determines which businesses succeed and which fail, as opposed to the opinions of the cancel culture elite.  

Our bill is not about politics. It is about protecting fundamental American principles and its equal application to all businesses -- from oil companies and private prisons to payday lenders and firearms dealers. In America, the customer is king, not the bank, and certainly not the political class. It is time Congress affirms that access to financial services should be tied to the creditworthiness of applicants, regardless of their perceived political leanings.  

By U.S. Congressman Andy Barr and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell

The Kentucky Derby is called the most exciting two minutes in sports. This week, fans from around the globe will turn their attention once again to the Bluegrass State as the Derby returns to the first Saturday in May. As elected representatives of the Horse Capital of the World, we will also celebrate our progress toward preserving this cherished sport with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

Thoroughbred racing has faced intense criticism in recent years. Tragedies on the tracks, doping scandals in the stables and an unworkable regulatory framework have marred its storied legacy. Even the Washington Post's editorial board called for an end to the sport altogether.

Such a misguided move would inflict widespread damage on spectators and cities across the country. The American horse racing and breeding industry generates almost $40 billion annually for its communities. Horse racing's TV viewership was on the rise at this point last year, even as other sports suffered. Watching even one heart-pounding photo finish is enough to understand why.

Despite the sport's challenges, we refused to simply walk away from our commonwealth's signature industry and the more than 60,000 Kentucky workers who support it. Instead, we went to work.

While other sports are governed by a central regulatory authority, thoroughbred racing relied on an inconsistent patchwork across 38 separate jurisdictions. Disjointed standards and medication policies at legendary tracks from Kentucky to New York to California left gaps ripe for cheating, manipulation and abuse. More had to be done to protect horses and jockeys and to give every competitor a fair shot at the winner's circle. To save the sport, we needed reform.

Thoroughbred racing deserves a set of uniform, national standards, just like any other major sport. We introduced bipartisan legislation after last year's Kentucky Derby to replace the inconsistency with a single Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The new governing body would be tasked with enhancing safety protocols for equine athletes with a single medication program and national standards for competition.

Reforming a sport with so much history and cultural significance would never be easy. The equine industry supports around a million jobs nationwide. In Kentucky alone, families have operated stables and trained champions for generations. So, we opened up plenty of seats at the table. We drew input and support from horse racing's top organizations, Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers, leading veterinarians, industry associations and anti-doping and animal welfare advocates.

The eagerness among industry stakeholders to reach an outcome fueled our efforts in Congress to preserve and strengthen the sport.

We teamed up with our Democratic colleagues from other thoroughbred racing states, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Paul Tonko of New York. Together, we built the industry's most consequential reform in 40 years. Despite our political differences, each of us understood the need to begin writing a new chapter for horse racing. The House passed our bill with no recorded opposition. In the Senate, we wrote it into the year-end government funding package passed in December and signed into law.

As the authority begins to take shape over the coming months, its members can start designing practices and standards for tracks across the country. Of course, there's still more to do as we strengthen thoroughbred racing's future. But solidifying its rules under an independent and transparent regulatory body puts its traditions on the inside track. We're proud our bill will help fans enjoy safe and fair racing for generations to come.

Last year, the pandemic delayed the Kentucky Derby for the first time since World War II. But not even the coronavirus could defeat the longest continuously-held American sporting event. This Saturday, our home state will once again put its best foot forward as the world's top thoroughbreds enter the starting gate at the 147th Run for the Roses. Fans will cheer as hooves thunder down a mile and a quarter track. With the new life breathed into this beloved sport, everyone can take pride in what we see.

This past year brought uncertainty and change for every American as families and communities grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately, many experienced tragedy and loss.  For me and my family, our world forever changed on June 16, 2020, when I tragically lost my beloved wife Carol to sudden cardiac arrest.  She was only 39 years old. Carol’s greatest legacy is our two beautiful daughters, Eleanor (age 9) and Mary Clay (age 7).  She was the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend anyone could ever have. 

The medical examiner and Carol’s doctors told us that her fatal heart attack was likely brought on by a ventricular arrhythmia.  At a young age, Carol had been diagnosed with an underlying condition called mitral valve prolapse (MVP), or floppy valve syndrome—a typically benign condition that results in sudden cardiac death in only .2% of cases. 

As we recognize American Heart Month and as people across the nation work to raise awareness for heart disease this February, I am honoring my wife’s legacy by fighting back against the disease that took her life.  On February 22, Heart Valve Disease Awareness Day, I introduced the Cardiovascular Advances in Research and Opportunities Legacy (CAROL) Act. 

The CAROL Act addresses the gaps in understanding about what risk factors make valvular heart disease a potentially life-threatening condition.  Specifically, the bill authorizes a grant program, administered by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), to support research on valvular heart disease, including MVP.  Many Americans who suffer from MVP or other valvular heart diseases do not know they are at serious risk. 

Investments in modern day medicine and research can change that.  Our bill will encourage the utilization of technological imaging and precision medicine to generate data on individuals with valvular heart disease.  Critically, this research will help identify Americans at high risk of sudden cardiac death from the disease and develop prediction models for high-risk patients, enabling interventions and treatment plans to keep these patients healthy throughout their lives.

Additionally, the legislation will convene a working group of subject matter experts to identify research needs and opportunities to develop prescriptive guidelines for treatment of patients with MVP.  It will also instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase public awareness regarding symptoms of valvular heart disease and effective strategies for preventing sudden cardiac death.   

We must take on valvular heart disease directly to save lives at risk of being taken too soon.    Underdiagnosis and undertreatment of heart valve disease contribute to over 25,000 deaths each year in the United States.  Predictors of sudden cardiac death, however, are poorly understood and indicators of high-risk individuals are hard to pinpoint.

For example, the specific condition that Carol was diagnosed with, MVP, is a common heart valve disease that has an estimated 2.4% prevalence in the general population.  Though most cases are thought to be benign, reported complications such as severe mitral regurgitation can result in sudden cardiac death.  Medical research has found an association between MVP and sudden cardiac death, which predominantly affects young females with redundant bileaflet prolapse, with cardiac arrest usually occurring as a result of ventricular arrhythmias.  Despite several studies, there is still not sufficient data to generate prescriptive guidelines for care of patients with valvular heart disease, including MVP.

Carol Barr dedicated her life to the future of our daughters, serving others, and making a positive difference in her community.  So turning this unspeakable tragedy into something that can inform others and save lives is exactly what she would have wanted.  The CAROL Act will provide the resources needed and generate the awareness required to reduce the 25,000 deaths related to valvular heart disease every year, saving young women like Carol from leaving us too soon.  If you would like to support our legislation, please call or write your Congressman and join our cause.  Together, we can help other families avoid the tragedy that has so profoundly impacted mine.

 

U.S. Congressman Andy Barr (KY-06) is in his fifth term in Congress, representing the Sixth Congressional District of Kentucky.  Congressman Barr serves on the House Financial Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees. 

After a year of unprecedented challenges for small businesses owners and their employees, I have good news to begin the new year: economic relief is on the way. In Congress, I fought for and secured $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds in the year-end COVID-19 relief bill passed in December. PPP provides forgivable loans to small business owners in the Commonwealth and across America. From family restaurants and bars to small manufacturers and farmers in Central and Eastern Kentucky, this new round of PPP funds will be a lifeline.

PPP was a lifeline for Steven of Lexington. When he reached out to my office, Steven was unsure if his 16-year old business was going to make it through the pandemic. After applying and receiving a forgivable PPP loan, Steven’s business and the five workers he employs were saved. Steven is one of over 500 small businesses assisted by the Small Business Response Team that I established in my office back in April, during the first round of the PPP. Since that time, almost $1 billion in forgivable loans have been given to small businesses right here in the Sixth District. If your business needs help navigating the PPP process, please reach out to my office at 859-219-1366.

Additionally, this package delivers on the push I led in Congress to provide more assistance to the hard-hit hospitality industry. PPP will expand eligibility, making destination marketing companies like VisitLex eligible to apply for PPP funds. Also, PPP will allow restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses the ability to apply for a PPP loan that is 3.5x monthly payroll as opposed to 2.5x for other applicants.

The relief bill doesn’t leave small businesses that already received PPP funds behind either. For months, I have heard concerns from Sixth District small business owners about the complicated PPP loan forgiveness application. Many feared having to hire expensive outside accounting or legal help to complete the complicated application. I responded to these concerns in Congress by organizing a bipartisan group of approximately 100 lawmakers to push for a simplified, one-page forgiveness application. As a direct result of this advocacy, small businesses that received loans of $150,000 or less in value, which accounts for 86% of all PPP loans approved, may now complete a one-page application. Lastly, small businesses that received loans will also be able to deduct PPP loans from their federal taxes, a change that I advocated and will effectively provide a much-needed tax break for hard-hit businesses.

While all of this relief is necessary and will make a huge impact, many small businesses may be unable to operate normally until the COVID-19 virus is defeated. To that end, I voted in support of $10 billion towards Operation Warp Speed at the beginning of the pandemic. Because of this investment and the incredible work of scientists, researchers and American innovators, we generated three COVID-19 vaccines within a year. To speed up vaccine delivery to the American people, I voted in support of $48 billion for vaccine distribution to schools, small businesses and healthcare providers, and $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines that will make the vaccine available at no charge for anyone who needs it.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy in Kentucky and throughout the country. A staggering 47% of Americans work for a small business. I pledge to continue listening and responding to the needs of small businesses during this Congress. Above all, I will live up to the “Guardian of Small Business” award given to me by the National Federation of Independent Businesses in 2020 by opposing proposals by the new Administration to raise taxes, impose crushing regulations or pass a national minimum wage hike that threatens to financially ruin more small businesses as many fight for survival.

The Federal Reserve’s recent announcement that it will join the Network for Greening the Financial System, a consortium of central banks intent on using financial regulation to combat climate change, should raise concern for those observing a troubling trend in the politicization of financial supervision.

European regulators have begun injecting ill-defined climate metrics into their supervision of regulated firms and U.S. lawmakers on the far left are urging our financial regulators to join them.

Radical climate activists and their enablers on Capitol Hill are incapable of passing the Green New Deal through the legislative process because the American people know it would crush jobs, increase the cost of food and fuel, and have lasting negative impacts on American competitiveness and economic exceptionalism.

As a result, they want to use financial regulation as a backdoor to achieve their ill-conceived objectives. This effort is less about predicting financial stress from climate change and more about causing financial stress for industries that climate extremists hate.

Question of authority

The greatest risk to financial stability is not an insufficient focus on climate change.

It is an extreme policy agenda that would weaponize financial regulation to discriminate against fossil energy — the most affordable, reliable source of energy that has powered the American economy and American energy independence.

Senate Democrats, in a recent partisan report, openly call for regulators to discourage financial firms from extending credit to industries that “amplify climate risk,” such as coal, oil or natural gas.

Lost on the authors of this report is the fact that managing climate risk is outside the primary authority of financial regulators and that such actions would increase the costs for Americans to heat their homes, fuel their vehicles or feed their families — all amidst a once in a century health and economic crisis.

Earlier this month, I led a letter with 46 of my House Republican colleagues to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, urging the Fed to proceed cautiously when deciding whether to incorporate climate change scenarios into supervisory stress tests.

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The letter raises concerns about many methodological challenges with inserting ill-defined, subjective climate metrics into its tests and urges the Fed not to simply import climate supervision criteria from European regulators via the NGFS if those tests would disadvantage U.S. banks or American industry.

Despite some media claims to the contrary, it is important to note that the letter doesn’t deny the existence of climate change or the potential financial impacts of changing weather patterns. It simply suggests that the topic deserves thoughtful, well-reasoned discussion based on objective data rather than a knee-jerk reaction to calls from radical activists.

The letter also points out that ill-defined climate stress metrics may drive banks to accelerate the recent trend of politicizing access to capital and “de-banking” certain industries that are unpopular with vocal policymakers.

Corporations being bullied

Over the last several years we have witnessed banks publicly commit not to do business with certain legal companies in politically unpopular industries. These decisions were not based on the creditworthiness of the borrowers. They were based purely on politics.

The de-banking of politically unpopular industries is just one example of how U.S. corporations are responding to the bullying from the far left to be agents of social change at the expense of long-term economic growth.

Leaders of the nation’s largest companies recently ceded the primacy of shareholders to so-called “stakeholders.”

“Stakeholder capitalism,” or the left’s ideals for it, takes for granted the laws of the supply and demand, and discounts the market forces that govern businesses’ success or failure.

Shareholder primacy is not about elevating the select few. It is about establishing metric-based accountability for corporate leaders to ensure they are operating efficiently and effectively.

That efficacy and productivity then, in turn, benefit employees, communities and suppliers. In today’s market, a company cannot be successful without a focus on these other constituencies. But it must first and foremost make a profit to be viable.

Caring about broader social concerns, treating employees, suppliers and customers well and engaging in philanthropy within the community may all engender social support for a corporation, and in that sense may advance long-term shareholder value maximization. But that is not the paradigm those on the far left are urging the business community to adopt. Instead, they want a new paradigm that subordinates the interests of shareholders to the whims of “stakeholders.”

Fortunately, some current regulators are pushing back against the politicization of access to capital.

An independent Fed

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently issued its Fair Access Rule, which prohibits large banks from discriminating against legally operating businesses purely for political or public relations purposes.

The Department of Labor issued a rule to ensure retirement savers are not harmed by asset managers making investment decisions based on environmental, social and governance concerns at the expense of investor returns.

The new administration will almost certainly prioritize using every possible avenue to advance its extreme climate and social agenda. Some corporations, ever worried about fallout and public shaming from the far left, will likely continue to make decisions based on politics and public relations concerns.

That is why it is important the Fed maintain its independence and, along with other financial regulators, resist calls from the far left to pick winners and losers in the capital markets to advance extreme political agendas.

House Republicans made our position clear through our letter. Politicization of access to capital is unacceptable and we will not allow the weaponization of financial regulation to go unchecked.

—Congressman Andy Barr represents Kentucky’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Since March, the COVID-19 virus has killed over 200,000 Americans, shutdown thousands of small businesses, and derailed our day-to-day lives. None of this had to happen. For weeks, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lied about human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus. One study concluded that 95% of global cases would have been avoided had the CCP been transparent with the world just three weeks earlier.

In 2020, the CCP has finally been exposed to all Americans for what it really is: the most dangerous economic, technological, political, and military threat to the United States since the Soviet Union. That is why my work on the House of Representatives’ China Task Force (CTF), which was created by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to examine all of these threats and develop strategies to combat the CCP, is among the most consequential work I have done in Congress.

As a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and former Chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Treasury Department’s implementation and enforcement of sanctions, I authored and passed legislation imposing secondary sanctions on Chinese financial institutions for facilitating illicit trade with North Korea. I also led the successful effort to reform the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to strengthen the U.S. government’s review of malign investment by Chinese firms and state owned enterprises (SOEs) in American companies and critical infrastructure, theft of intellectual property and forced transfer of technology.

Each year, the CCP steals between $225 billion and $600 billion from the United States in research, innovation, and other intellectual property (IP). To put that number in perspective, the entire gross domestic product (GDP) of Kentucky in 2018 was $208 billion. This Congress, as Chairman of the China Task Force Subgroup on Economics and Energy as well as the Subgroup on Competitiveness, I continue fighting back against CCP economic piracy.

Much of this theft occurs at American college campuses and universities, where CCP spies pose as students and professors to gain access to valuable research. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced a string of indictments against CCP agents targeting universities and attempting to hijack missile and aerospace technology as well as COVID-19 vaccine research.

In response to the CCP attempt to steal COVID-19 research, I introduced the NIST COVID-19 Cyber-Security Act. This bill instructs the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to produce standards and resources for American universities researching COVID-19 in order to mitigate and protect against cyber-attacks. I also recently proposed the Higher Education Research Protection Act of 2020. This legislation establishes an initiative at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and tasks 56 FBI agents — one for each FBI field office in the United States — to investigate CCP espionage efforts at American institutions of higher education. Together, these proposals will create massive roadblocks to Chinese espionage operations and will better protect our critical research from being stolen by the CCP.

Although CCP IP theft targets the American economy, the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) preys on the most vulnerable countries in the developing world. The BRI employs debt-trap diplomacy by offering loans with predatory terms and conditions to developing countries in order to finance infrastructure projects like ports, railways, energy pipelines, and highways. Many of these struggling countries, however, will never be able to repay their loans and for the CCP, that is exactly the point. Instead, these loans are a vehicle to gain political, economic, technological and military influence over the newly indebted countries.

Instead, it is time for the United States to provide developing countries an alternative to the BRI before China ensnares another nation’s economy. As such, I proposed the Countering China Through American Export Competitiveness Act. This bill strengthens the American Export-Import Bank’s newly created Program on China and Transformational Exports, which facilitates loans to international development projects as an alternative to China’s BRI. Currently, a minimum of 20% of the Export-Import Bank’s reserves must be used to compete with China; my legislation increases this set aside to 33%. A core mission of the Export-Import Bank must be thwarting BRI influence around the world by supporting U.S. exporters and our allies.

As the CCP’s malign intentions become clear, we have seen companies with ties to Chinese state industrial policies list on U.S. exchanges in order to benefit from America’s free market economy. In Sept., I introduced the Transparency in Chinese Government Investment Act (TCGIA) of 2020. This bill requires the Securities and Exchange Commission, in consultation with Treasury, to look at whether current U.S. disclosure laws effectively require PRC entities listed on U.S. exchanges to disclose material financial support from the CCP, participation in Chinese government industrial policies, and individuals of its leadership who are members of the CCP or Government of China. If the SEC concludes that these additional disclosures are necessary, then it will issue regulations for issuers to disclose this information.

Other efforts of the Task Force include addressing capital flows and leveling the playing field so that Chinese state-owned enterprises that receive subsidies from the Chinese government don’t get an additional advantage by having unimpeded access to U.S. capital markets. There is proposed legislation looking at 5G telecommunications, how to counter Huawei, building out domestic supercomputing and semiconductor manufacturing to secure communications and make sure that China does not dominate global communications networks in a way that would jeopardize our security. My colleagues have taken a wholesale look at the U.S. supply chain and put forth solutions to reduce our overdependence on China with technology, medicines, and protective medical equipment. We obviously learned the hard way that not only did China expose this virus to the rest of the world, it also then weaponized the supply chain against us. We are prepared to present an extensive list of policy recommendations to both Congress and the executive branch to prepare the United States for a multi-decade strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party.

During my time serving on the CTF, I have been encouraged about the ideas and determination on confronting the CCP. When focused on a goal, our nation can achieve anything. We are the country that engineered the world’s first flight, sent a man to the moon and prevailed in two World Wars. However, the United States must be united to take on this challenge. Democrats originally agreed to participate in the CTF, but backed out days before the launch, according to reporting by Josh Rogin of the Washington Post. America won the Cold War because both political parties were committed to defending our freedoms, civil liberties and capitalist economic principles. We now must unite, Republicans and Democrats, to reengage in a bipartisan commitment to counter this present Communist threat and secure our nation’s future for generation to come.

America’s status as “the land of opportunity” is unique in the history of the world. In this country, any individual from any background can start their own company or rise to the top of their chosen career field solely on their own merit, hard work and determination. Anything is possible here, and everyone can achieve their own “American dream.”

As conservatives, we understand that however each dream may be defined, it is based upon two essential ingredients: liberty and opportunity. Both are necessary for people to be able to pursue and achieve their goals — which empowers individuals and strengthens their families and their communities. The open door for upward mobility in our free enterprise system has been key to making and keeping America great.

Unfortunately, decades of often well-intentioned but ill-conceived government policies have gradually restricted liberty and narrowed the door of opportunity for too many. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and its related economic fallout have created even more obstacles.

Before the pandemic began, President Trump and our previous Republican majority in Congress made great strides and enacted policy reforms that produced a record-breaking economy and unprecedented opportunities for all Americans. To return to that prosperity, we must reject the left’s dangerous calls for socialism and instead double-down on our strategy and advance even more conservative reforms.

To that end, the Republican Study Committee’s American Worker Task Force has published a new report entitled “Reclaiming the American Dream: Proposals to Empower the Workers of Today and Tomorrow.” Our report, which is the product of more than a year of concentrated study and collaboration, includes more than 100 policy ideas to accomplish three major objectives — refine existing education goals, refocus labor policy, and reimagine the welfare state. “Reclaiming the American Dream” recognizes that work gives purpose and meaning to one’s life, and it enables Americans to achieve their God given potential and turn their own American dream into a reality.

Our approach will remove more barriers to achievement by reducing government overreach and returning the power of self-determination to the people themselves. In education, for example, we present ideas to better equip students to succeed in a changing economy, recognizing that there are more pathways to success than just a four-year college degree. Instead of allowing millions of students to incur mountains of debt earning degrees that return to them little value, we would shift the strategy to ensure that America’s workforce is prepared more efficiently and effectively for in demand jobs, such as career and technical education apprenticeships and skills based education.

In labor policy, we would eliminate more of the senseless regulations, counterproductive tax policies, and labor laws that suppress the freedom and hinder individual achievement. The status quo is failing the American worker, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our approach would unleash the full potential of the American people by refocusing labor policy to provide workers more control over their own future.

We also believe that reimagining welfare is long overdue. Instead of measuring success by how many people are transitioned into self-sufficiency, our current system defines success by the growth of each government assistance program and the rising amounts of taxpayer dollars spent. This backwards approach has trapped too many Americans in a hopeless cycle of dependency, deprived millions of their true potential, and hamstrung the full power of our economy. The fallout from the pandemic now threatens to ensnare millions more. Our suggested reforms are based upon the belief that each individual has inestimable dignity, value, and potential — and that everyone deserves better than a lifetime of public dependency.

Times of great challenge reveal the character of a nation — and our character is the strongest on earth. The same strength and determination that built this country will bring us back to prosperity after the pandemic. The hardworking people of this country don’t ask for much — just a fair shot at their American dream. We owe them that, and we can ensure that opportunity and expand their freedom by enacting policies that will unleash their full potential. Our report explains how.

By Reps. Andy Barr and Frank Lucas: On May 13, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a notice to all U.S. organizations researching treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines for COVID-19. Chinese hackers, they warned, are targeting universities and health care institutions, attempting to compromise our efforts to combat COVID-19.

 

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) attempts to infiltrate our universities and steal our intellectual property are not new, unfortunately. But because of COVID-19, the urgency to address this theft has grown.

 

CCP theft of our COVID-19 research has significant consequences. Private patient data is stolen, public health data is corrupted, and our progress towards vaccines and treatments is halted, all while lives hang in the balance. And make no mistake – should China use our research to develop a vaccine first, we should not expect it to be shared with us. In fact, given the CCP’s unwillingness to share information, we may not even be able to trust the safety of such a vaccine if we’re prevented from seeing the underlying data. We simply cannot afford cyber-attacks on critical taxpayer-funded research.

 

Recognizing the growing threat from the Chinese Communist Party, Congressional Republicans created the China Task Force to analyze the extent of the problem and propose policy recommendations to keep America competitive. Identifying cybersecurity solutions has been a critical part of this work.  

 

We’re fortunate that the United States has a world-class institution that is already doing exceptional work to strengthen our cybersecurity. While the FBI protects us against foreign cyber operations, and CISA protects the nation’s critical infrastructure, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) sets cybersecurity standards for federal agencies and provides guidance and best practices for private industry.

 

In other words, NIST provides government and businesses the practical tools they need to develop and implement smart and strong cyber protections. This work is done through the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which organizes cybersecurity activities into five broad categories: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover from threats. This framework allows entities to organize information, address weaknesses, and manage risk more easily.

 

In 2018 we passed a law directing NIST to extend their work and tailor this framework to small businesses, which have very different structures and needs than large companies or government agencies. Since NIST launched its framework for small businesses, we’ve already seen widespread adoption and successes. Why does this matter? Because we already know that NIST can identify the unique challenges facing different industries and modify its framework to provide customized support.  

 

Just as small businesses have different cybersecurity needs than government agencies or large companies, so too do universities and research centers. There has never been a more important time to provide these institutions the best available cyber protection tools as China targets them for their work on COVID-19.  

 

We’ve introduced legislation that directs NIST to provide a tailormade guidance based on the gold standards NIST framework for our universities and research centers. This guidance will be not only be specific to the unique needs of our research enterprise but will also provide precise tools that allow institutions to make appropriate plans based on the size of their organization and the sensitivity of the data being used.  

 

Helping to defend our universities and research centers from attacks by China is one of the most straightforward and commonsense actions we can take to support the effort to prevent and treat COVID-19 cases. Moreover, it helps us to protect other valuable and sensitive research being done across the United States.

 

The Chinese Communist Party has made it clear that they plan to become the global leader in industries of the future like artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and advanced manufacturing. Part of their strategy is acquiring our research, either through investment or theft. If they surpass us in these technologies, the consequences will be just as dangerous as if hey surpass us in the fight against COVID-19. It’s our responsibility to protect our research and our data, and fight Chinese hacking and theft.

Andy Barr represents the 6th District of Kentucky and Frank Lucas represents the 3rd District of Oklahoma and is ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Since the end of February, over 47,000 Americans have died as a result of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, the government has shut down wide swaths of the U.S. economy, more than 4 in 10 Americans say they’ve had their wages cut or lost their jobs, and Congress has borrowed nearly $3 trillion to respond in a four-phase-and-counting legislative rescue.  In short, American life has been turned upside down in every way because of this global pandemic.

As we continue to “flatten the curve” and gradually begin to re-open the economy, the American people deserve answers about how this contagion started, how it spread and how we can prevent something like this from ever happening again.

So last Friday, I introduced House Concurrent Resolution 97, legislation that would establish a bipartisan, joint select committee to investigate the origins of and China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.  The committee would be comprised of 20 Members of Congress, 10 from the House and 10 from the Senate, led by two co-chairs, one appointed by the Speaker of the House and one appointed by the Senate Majority Leader.

The focus on China is well-founded.  Just over two years ago, diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a bioresearch laboratory in the Hubei Province.  The American officials were so alarmed by what they saw, they sent a series of sensitive but unclassified cables to the State Department, warning their superiors that Chinese scientists were performing highly risky research into “SARS-like coronaviruses in bats” using deficient safety procedures.  The officials noted that the laboratory “had a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory” and that this could result in human transmission and the potential risk of a “future emerging coronavirus outbreak.”  The U.S. intelligence community is now looking into this laboratory and Congress should as well.

Then there is the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist in Wuhan who sounded the alarm in December in a private WeChat message with other doctors, alerting them of the need to wear protective gear to protect themselves from a new, highly contagious unknown pneumonia-like virus showing up in areas hospitals.  Dr. Li was detained by Chinese Communist Party authorities, questioned and forced to recant his statements.  Dr. Li later died from COVID-19. 

The Chinese government issued denials, in the face of all evidence, of human-to-human transmission of the disease—a falsehood repeated well into January by the World Health Organization (WHO).  The cover-up was aided by Beijing’s successful efforts to sideline civil society organizations, prevent faith-based, humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations from offering assistance, and disallowing foreign governments, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from entering the country to help respond to and contain the outbreak.  The Chinese government’s lies, propaganda and disinformation campaign reached its zenith when the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed without evidence that U.S. military athletes caused the coronavirus, and then in March, ejected journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal from the country.

By silencing whistleblowers like Li, severely restricting freedom of information, shutting down early warnings and actively spreading lies and disinformation, the Chinese Communist Party enabled the virus to spread more quickly, infect more people, and evolve into the worst global pandemic in over a century.  According to one study, the virus could have been “reduced by 95 percent globally” if China had acted three weeks earlier.

China lied from the very beginning about this virus.  They covered up the origins and severity of the disease, they underreported their initial cases, and they manipulated the WHO to spread misinformation about human-to-human transmission.  But as if this wasn’t bad enough, once COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the Chinese Government embarked on an elaborate scheme to vacuum up and hoard personal protective equipment, like medical masks, gowns and gloves and weaponize the global supply chain of critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies against the international community, including the United States. 

The communists in Beijing put us all at risk, and the American people deserve answers about China’s deceptive and destructive behavior.  We cannot prepare for the future or protect the health and safety of the American people going forward unless we uncover the whole truth about the current pandemic.  It’s time for Congress to pass my resolution, establish this select oversight committee and hold China accountable.