Wicker Points to Bipartisan Accomplishments in Lead-Up to New Congress As Republicans Prepare to Take Control, a Lesson in What Worked in 2014
The 113th Congress ended the year and its term with a couple of important victories, many of which were long overdue. The “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA), for example, provides an outline of America’s military priorities and national security interests. Its recent passage marked 53 consecutive years of bipartisan cooperation on America’s major defense policy.
Like many of my colleagues, I am hopeful that the new Congress will find ways to work across party lines in pursuit of more legislative achievements like NDAA. This term often fell short of that goal, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used procedural tactics to prevent regular order and debate. There were, however, exceptions to the frequent gridlock, and these accomplishments serve as an appropriate starting point for moving forward.
Legislative highlights of 2014 include:
• A long-awaited upgrade for America’s ports and waterways. In May, Congress passed the final version of the “Water Resources Development Act,” a comprehensive bill to ensure navigable waterways and modernized ports. The legislation, which had not been reauthorized in seven years, is a big win for Mississippi, supporting improvements to our state’s water infrastructure as well as restoration projects along the Gulf Coast. It also increases the funding available for maintenance dredging, which is urgently needed at ports across the country.
• Important reforms to veteran care. Following reports of widespread misconduct at VA hospitals across the country, Congress passed legislation to improve veterans’ quality of care and restore accountability. The new law allows veterans to seek medical care outside the VA system if they cannot get an appointment within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. It also empowers the VA Secretary to demote or fire employees for wrongdoing or poor performance.
• Support for a highly skilled and competitive U.S. workforce. With 9 million Americans unemployed, job training and education programs are critical to matching employers’ needs with skilled workers. Congress enacted the “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act” with this in mind, reauthorizing effective “one-stop” career assistance centers across the nation. The legislation also eliminates ineffective or duplicative federal job training programs, streamlining the system and reducing government waste.
• A stronger fight against muscular dystrophy. As the author of the original “MD CARE Act” in 2001, I was thrilled when the “MD CARE Act Amendments of 2014” became law in September. The legislation, which I introduced with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), builds on the progress we have made by allowing researchers to focus on multiple forms of muscular dystrophy. It also removes restrictions on pediatric research, enabling medical professionals to address the needs and challenges of older patients.
• More stability for America’s farmers. Mississippi is home to more than 42,000 farms, supporting an industry that remains the state’s largest job creator and a massive part of our local economy. The new “Farm Bill,” officially titled the “Agricultural Act of 2014,” will help our farmers and ranchers stay competitive by providing certainty about the nation’s agriculture policy over the next five years. It also makes sensible reforms to the food stamp program, cutting government spending by billions of dollars.
The 114th Congress has an opportunity to build on these successes and learn from past mistakes. After years of political brinkmanship, Americans expect responsible governing from their elected officials. With the economy still weak and national priorities in need of constructive solutions, the coming year needs to be one of action.
By Senator Roger Wicker