It is during these cold winter months that we get the opportunity to slow down, spend time with our families, and reflect on the year behind us, while also making goals for the year to come. As I look back at 2016, I can say I am proud of what we have accomplished together. Here are some of my favorite highlights:
Serving Those Who Serve Us
Putting Our Veterans First
Just two weeks ago, I was reminded that Christmas miracles can happen to real people and real families. Spike George, a veteran and former member of law enforcement, is terminally ill with scleroderma. While the VA was covering the medical costs of this debilitating disease, his repeated requests for disability benefits were denied. Mr. George feared that when he passes his family would be left with nothing. After six months of covering Mr. George’s case, KOMO News contacted my office asking if there was anything we could do. My team and I went to work and to my great pleasure, Mr. George was granted 100 percent of his disability benefits.
To learn more about Mr. George’s story, watch the KOMO News report, HERE.
Mr. George and his family got the Christmas gift they had been praying for this season, but there is still work to be done to ensure all our veterans receive they care they have earned. This year, we took several important steps toward achieving that goal.
In the Continuing Resolution enacted on September 29th, Congress provided $52.8 billion for VA medical services, including critical funding for mental health, suicide prevention, and services for homeless veterans. We also provided $156 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals to handle the claims and appeals backlog. In an effort to address the opioid epidemic impacting our veterans, this bill also requires the VA to publish reports on the additional services and care given to veterans with opioid addictions, and a review of VA’s prescription practices and addiction treatment protocols.
To all the current and former members of the military at home and abroad this holiday season, thank you for your service and I remain committed to working on your behalf in the New Year.
Protecting Our First Responders
This past year has been especially difficult for those who do the most to keep our local communities safe. We have seen a spike in targeted law enforcement deaths because of unresolved tensions between those who wear the badge and the people they serve.
The deteriorating trust and the increasing violence was not something I could watch from the sidelines. As a 33-year law enforcement veteran, I not only understand the grave sacrifices our men and women in law enforcement make on our behalf, but also that strong community-police relations are critical to maintaining the safety of our communities.
Throughout 2016 I served as the co-chair of the Law Enforcement Task Force and worked with my colleagues to hold community roundtables around the country and hearings in Washington, DC to listen to all sides of the issue and have honest and open conversations.
These conversations have continued with the Policing Strategies Working Group, which was created in July. The Working Group consists of six Republican House members and six Democratic members of the House Congressional Black Caucus. Together, we have traveled to Detroit and Atlanta to meet with community leaders of all backgrounds and have sent an open letter to the American people calling all Americans to remember our shared goals of protecting the safety and wellbeing of our loved ones.
I was also proud to write a joint-OpEd with Democrat and civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis. Despite the obvious differences in our backgrounds, we both understand that the American people are one team and one family.
Through hosting a visit to the Capitol for families that attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s memorial service during Police Week in Washington, DC to attending an Honor Guard training graduation, I have gotten to know many of the families that have lost loved ones in the line of duty. It is for them, all current and former members of law enforcement, and the safety of everyone in our neighborhoods that I will continue to make police-community relationships a priority in the New Year.
Honoring a Local Champion of Conservation
This year, it was also a privilege to introduce legislation that became law to honor one of Washington’s greatest champions of our natural heritage – former Washington governor and U.S. senator Dan Evans. Washington’s 8th District is blessed with many breathtaking natural treasures, from Mt. Rainier to Snoqualmie Falls, and beautiful Lake Chelan. We cannot talk about the beauty of these areas without thanking the man who’s been instrumental in maintaining and protecting so many of our parks and wilderness areas for future generations. From the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act to the Washington Park Wilderness Act of 1988, Senator Dan Evans’ initiatives have had a lasting impact on every person who had or will get the opportunity to experience the many gifts Mother Nature has bestowed on Washington. I am proud my colleagues in Congress joined me in recognizing his contributions by passing the Daniel J. Evans Olympic National Park Wilderness Act, which was signed into law on December 14th.
Growing Jobs and Strengthening Our Economy
As Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, I have been proud to champion important initiatives that will help grow jobs and expand opportunities for farmers, business owners, and workers in our region.
Last February, President Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill that I fought for, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act. This bill removes barriers for American importers and exporters and provides Customs and Border Protection officers with the tools they need to enforce our trade laws.
Additionally, in May the overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that I championed, the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016, became law. Simply put, this is a jobs bill. It helps us cut taxes on American manufacturers allowing them to produce more American-made products, create and keep more jobs here in the U.S., and lower prices for American families.
With the new Congress and administration fast approaching, I am optimistic about the future of trade and the role I can play as a Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee. Recently, I met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence to discuss the critical role trade plays in our economy and in protecting our national security. I look forward to working with the new administration in the New Year to advance our many shared pro-growth, pro-job creation goals.
Caring for Others at Home and Abroad
21st Century Cures
We need healthcare solutions that will spur innovation in health technology, promote life-saving research, protect providers from harmful unnecessary costs, address mental illness, and combat the opioid epidemic sweeping Washington State and the nation. I am proud Congress recently enacted bipartisan and comprehensive legislation that will move us toward this goal, the 21st Century Cures Act.
This legislation includes a $4.8 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and updates the FDA regulatory process to help spur innovation and the discovery of new life-saving treatments and medical devices. It also incorporates much needed reforms to our nation’s mental health system – reforms I fought for and supported through the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This newly enacted law will address the shortage of mental health providers and psychiatric beds to finally get families the care they deserve. It also provides specialized training to law enforcement and first responders to recognize individuals who have mental illness and how to properly intervene.
I’m also proud a provision I fought for on behalf of cancer patients in Washington State was included in this package. Specifically, it ensures designated cancer hospitals, like Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, will not be subject to harmful payment cuts and limitations on their ability to expand and continue to deliver life-saving care to patients throughout the state.
Click HERE to learn more about the 21st Century Cures Act.
Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
Opioid addiction is a tragedy that knows no distinctions of political party, religion, income level, or race. In Washington State we have seen a surge in opioid and heroin addiction that if not addressed will only continue to escalate and take more lives. The good news is that Congress has come together and recognized the urgent need to act to get this crisis under control. This year, we enacted the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that will better educate doctors about how to prescribe opioids and will strengthen our nation’s drug laws to help end the illegal flow of opioids throughout our region and the country.
This is an issue that is personal to me. I have two grandchildren who were born drug addicted and were adopted by my daughter following exceptional care from the Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC) in Kent. Earlier this year, I sat down with KIRO7 News to discuss my involvement with PICC and the important work they do to support mothers suffering with drug addiction and to ensure that their children can grow into healthy and strong adults.
Lymphedema Treatment Act
We should be enabling seniors who suffer from lymphedema to have the best possible access to necessary treatments for their condition. I am proud to be the lead sponsor of the Lymphedema Treatment Act, which ensures Medicare coverage of compression garments to help the millions of Americans who suffer from this condition effectively treat and manage the disease. This bill received an impressive 290 cosponsors from both chambers on both sides of aisle. I am committed to getting this important legislation to the President’s desk in the new Congress.
Global Food Security Act
Imagine waking your child in the morning with no breakfast to give them and sending them to school on an empty, growling stomach. Unfortunately, with 159 million chronically malnourished children around the world, this is not an uncommon story. I am proud this year the Congress enacted legislation I cosponsored, the Global Food Security Act, which will give farmers in developing nations the tools to build self-sufficient farms so they can better provide for families and help end hunger and malnutrition.
From meeting with Chambers of Commerce to Rotary Clubs and touring local businesses in all corners of the district, to attending the opening of a new fire station in Ellensburg and witnessing a naturalization ceremony at Mt Rainier National Park, this year was full of countless memorable moments that make me incredibly honored and humbled to serve this great region. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for giving me this incredible privilege.
Happy New Year's Eve and I will see you in 2017!