Completing Critical Year-End Work
This week marks the official start of the 117th Congress, including the swearing-in of newly elected members in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, although the new Congress is already beginning to take shape, it was just several days ago that lawmakers completed critical legislative work for the American people. While I wish the year-end action had come sooner, I am encouraged that the prior Congress came together at all to fulfill its key functions – such as delivering critical full-year funding for the federal government, providing additional coronavirus aid and enacting the National Defense Authorization Act.
Passed by both chambers of Congress and recently signed into law by President Donald Trump, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 is a comprehensive and bipartisan piece of legislation with numerous goals. First, the legislation fulfills the annual funding that Congress must responsibly provide to keep the government open and operating. This function is achieved through the passage of 12 separate funding bills for the fiscal year. As you might know, these annual “appropriations” support government programs that touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives as well as various facets of the economy – including national defense, operating national parks, law and immigration enforcement, health care research and a host of other activities.
As the former Chairman and current Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services, I have always supported incremental funding increases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I was particularly proud of the increased funding devoted to the NIH this year, helping further support biomedical research and pandemic preparedness, which must remain a priority for years to come. I was also encouraged that it provided the funding and resources for our nation’s defense to tackle the evolving challenges of our day, such as cybersecurity attacks and serving on the frontlines of pandemics. It also included support for the Fourth District’s Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City and Fort Sill in Lawton to continue their ongoing missions.
In addition to fully funding the government for fiscal year 2021, the legislative package finally delivered much-needed and targeted coronavirus relief that should have happened months ago. Sadly, Speaker Nancy Pelosi intentionally stalled meaningful progress in those negotiations – notably by refusing to agree on anything until agreement existed on everything. However, it seems more likely that Speaker Pelosi thought withholding aid would sway the results of the November election. Either way, the American people needlessly suffered as a result.
Fortunately, critical and bipartisan aid negotiated by congressional leaders in both chambers with the Trump Administration is on its way at last to communities. This includes the reopening of the Paycheck Protection Program, a highly successful and key lifeline for struggling small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, it renews unemployment insurance for those suffering from pandemic-related job losses, and it provides for a second round of stimulus checks for most Americans. Although the Senate did not act on President Trump’s requested increase of the amount on those forthcoming checks, I was proud to have the opportunity to support his request through a separate measure that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Particularly important to restoring our way of life, I was encouraged that the targeted coronavirus relief piece of the legislation included vital funding to support vaccine distribution. As more lifesaving vaccines become available in the United States, this is critical. Indeed, this funding will help those in even the most rural areas of our state receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Finally, although I disagreed with the president’s decision to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I was encouraged that Congress could still see to its enactment. The NDAA is vitally important to supporting and strengthening our common defense and ensuring our service members have the resources they need to keep us safe. As the representative for the area including Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill, I could not vote to sustain the president’s veto of the NDAA. If Congress did not enact the NDAA for fiscal year 2021, it would have cost military families their extra combat and flight pay, effectively giving them an undeserved pay cut for Christmas and shamefully disregarding the selfless sacrifices they make daily to ensure our shared safety and security.
While I understand the president’s concerns with certain provisions, I believe that the enacted NDAA, in its entirety, makes essential progress in meeting our national security objectives. In fact, Oklahoma’s own Senator Jim Inhofe helped negotiate the bicameral NDAA. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, he understands the needs that must be fulfilled and prioritized today to build and strengthen the defense we need in the days and years to come. To be clear, Congress can and should still address the president’s valid concerns in other legislation, but I could certainly not jeopardize the important missions at Tinker and Fort Sill or the brave men and women who carry them out.
With a new year ahead and a new Congress coming together, I am hopeful that lawmakers will build on the momentum and cooperation on display during the last days of 2020. The American people are counting on their elected representatives to work on their behalf, and I remain committed to doing just that for the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma.