It’s hard to believe we’re already a month into 2014, but it has indeed been a busy first month! Before we go too much further, just as businesses give their shareholders an annual review of their performance, I wanted to share an “end of the year” review of all that we worked on in the months we have had in Washington.
Here are a few of the debates and issues that have marked our time in DC since May:
• The Ryan-Murray budget deal: In December, Congress passed a budget deal which was followed by an omnibus spending bill just a few weeks ago. Both agreements removed tools for financial discipline that were already in place, while increasing spending now and promising to pay for it later. I wasn’t convinced that this was the best approach, and opposed both pieces of legislation.
• The government shutdown: The shutdown was in many ways the biggest news story in Washington over the last couple of months. I laid out my concerns with the broken budget process in Congress and the constitutional implications of the way the Affordable Health Care Act was being implemented in a few newsletters (which you can read here and here). I also objected to Congress writing the White House a blank check for raising the debt ceiling, and spoke on the House floor about my concerns that the executive branch was overstepping its authority in a number of ways during the shutdown.
• The NSA and civil liberties: As information has trickled out over the last few months about ways the National Security Agency is overstepping their Constitutional limits, I took action and introduced a bill with over 30 of my colleagues that would bring reform to the NSA. I also joined the fight to protect civil liberties by signing on to an amicus brief requesting the release of secret court opinions regarding surveillance requests, and co-sponsored the LIBERT-E Act and the USA Freedom Act.
• The Farm Bill: Over the summer, the House took up a new Farm Bill which sought to eliminate direct subsidies to farmers, but the resulting crop insurance program could end up costing taxpayers a whole lot more because crop prices are at historic highs – when they drop to the average from here, taxpayers will be on the hook. In the first few weeks of 2014, Congress again took up this issue, and I wrote here about why I still don’t think this final version of the Farm Bill went far enough in addressing this and other problems.
• Flood insurance: Many in the Lowcountry have contacted me regarding how reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program made by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 are going to affect them. In most cases, the changes in premiums have been sudden and drastic, leading myself and others in Congress to work towards reforming the program. While Biggert-Waters was well-intentioned, I think the government needs to give people time to adapt to these sorts of changes. To this end, I co-sponsored the Homeowner’s Flood Insurance Affordability Act because it provided a path to continue the conversation about how to mitigate these effects while still bringing needed change to the NFIP.
• Syria: When questions arose over the use of force in Syria in early September, I spoke out against it (click here and here to see those interviews) and signed onto legislation that would require the executive branch to consult with Congress before taking any military actions.
• WRRDA: I supported the Water Resources Reform and Development Act because it took important steps not only for infrastructure, but for ensuring that Congress, not the executive branch, is in charge of determining spending priorities. The bill passed without earmarks and was a good first step toward building a strong system for developing and funding projects like the harbor deepening at the Port of Charleston.
• Local Issues: Though it’s been a point of some contention over the last few weeks, I ultimately think the idea of representation means hearing from the people you work for and being active and vocal on the issues they care about. As such, after hearing overwhelmingly from people all around the Lowcountry, I voiced my opposition to removing the trees on I-26 and to giving special treatment to one business over others as we’re seeing with the proposed Bass Pro Shops in North Charleston.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the many things we worked on over the last few months, I think it touches upon some of the particularly relevant issues to the Lowcountry. There are many issues we’ll be grappling with ahead, many of which the President touched on in his State of the Union last Tuesday night. While I was encouraged to see that we share some common themes, I wrote here about my concerns that the President is taking all too short a view of our nation’s financial future.
Ultimately, however, that’s a conversation for another newsletter! In the meantime, if you have thoughts on what we’ve been working on or any questions or concerns, please reach out by emailing me here. Also in this year, I want to do a better job of connecting with the people I represent, and for that reason, I’d hope that you’d forward this newsletter along to your friends or family who may be interested! If this newsletter was passed along to you, you can sign up to get my monthly newsletter by clicking here.