The Year in Review in Congress

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Washington, December 19, 2017 | comments

The first session of the 115th Congress is coming to a close. While it is unacceptable that so many things were left to do, there were a few legislative achievements.

First on that Must-Do list is passing a measure to protect the Dreamers. It is unconscionable that young people and their families live in fear of deportation when they have demonstrated their commitment to be model citizens.

While we were able to protect the Affordable Care Act from repeal, we could have reassured millions of American families with the enactment of bipartisan legislation to stabilize healthcare markets. 

In my district, Community Health Centers (CHC) provide services to more than 200,000 low-income patients. The failure of Congress to reauthorize CHC programs puts this vital source of care in serious jeopardy. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is in similar danger, leaving access to healthcare for 9 million children in question.

Real tax reform that addressed our human capital investment could have been transformative. Currently, Republican tax plans are unacceptable and will hurt middle-class families. I voted against the House bill but will continue to push my colleagues for a bipartisan approach that truly creates middle-class prosperity.

Unfortunately, common-sense gun safety has not seen the light of day despite tragedy after tragedy. Even worse, the House passed a concealed carry bill, which I voted against, that undermines California’s gun laws.

While greatly disappointed by the above action taken by the majority, I was proud to achieve a number of legislative victories for San Diego.  As your representative, I want to update you on some bills you may not hear much about. 

The House passed my bill to train school staff to spot the signs of sex trafficking. School districts would receive federal aid to establish a training program or to expand an existing program.

Advocates and survivors always tell me it is important to punish traffickers, but we also need to focus on prevention.

At the start of the new Congress, I was honored to become the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. The Higher Education Act is in desperate need of upgrades if our students are going to compete in the global economy. We also need to ensure our job training programs are meeting the needs of our workforce.

The Republican’s long-awaited bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) was recently unveiled. Their bill is not student-centered so I look forward to making improvements to it.

One effort will be in the area of Pell grants. I introduced legislation to make the Pell program more sustainable by increasing the purchasing power of the Pell grant and give low-income students access to higher education.

We also launched a national discussion in Congress on the importance of expanding apprenticeships in our country. San Diego is home to many incredible programs where young people can earn while they learn for a promising and fulfilling career.

As we move forward on HEA, these policies areas – as well as many others – will be the focus of my attention.

One area of bipartisanship continues to be the National Defense Authorization Act.

As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, I am able to play a key role in shaping policy to meet our national defense needs and take care of our military families.

I was proud to include a number of provisions to the NDAA, such as:

  • Extending survivor benefits for 63,000 widows of servicemembers who died on active duty. This benefit, which these families paid into, was set to expire next spring.
  • Securing $41 million, an increase from $25 million last year, to support women serving in the Afghan National Security Forces. Empowering the young women of Afghanistan is essential for the security of Afghanistan and essential for America’s security. Having traveled to Afghanistan for over 10 years and meeting with Afghan women, I am always inspired by their resilience and determination to rebuild their country and ensure peace for the Afghan people.
  • Providing flexibility to military families when it comes to their frequent moves that interrupt a spouses' job or education, their children's education, and exceptional and chronically sick family members.

There was also an unparalleled citizen engagement this year. My constituents are letting their voices be heard. Mail and calls to my office are on the rise and over one thousand people attended my town hall meetings this year.

A few legislative days remain on the calendar and I hope we can cross more items off our nation’s Must-Do list. The American people put members of Congress there for a reason and that’s to address the needs of our nation. 

This editorial first appeared in the San Diego Uptown News
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