The Moore American

January 1, 2014

Looking back and looking ahead

By Congressman Tom Cole
The Moore American

MOORE — It’s hard to believe that 2013 already reached an end. While Congress didn’t solve everything we could’ve hoped for this year, there were numerous victories for the country. Most importantly, I was encouraged to watch both sides work together on several occasions to find common ground and display true bipartisanship. It’s a reminder that when we start where we agree, we can function in divided government.

We started off the year on the verge of a “fiscal cliff,” caused by the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Without any congressional action, all Americans would have experienced a tax hike and doctors would have seen severe cuts to reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid patients. In addition, sequestration, across-the-board spending cuts on every program in government, regardless of merit or efficiency, was scheduled to take place. I was pleased that we were able to pass the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which made the Bush tax cuts permanent for 98 percent of taxpayers. It also delayed devastating military cuts for two months and prevented other damaging tax policies. I wish we could’ve achieved more, but this agreement was a major victory for American workers and for the economy.

In mid-January, just a couple months after Hurricane Sandy, I supported legislation that would provide relief assistance for victims of the storm. At the time, the vote was a no-brainer, especially given our own state’s history and risk for severe weather. Little did we know, a few months later, Oklahoma would experience a horrific round of tornadoes that leveled entire neighborhoods, claimed precious lives and shook several communities, including my hometown of Moore.

In the days that followed the disastrous tornadoes in Oklahoma, never once were we lacking assistance. Oklahoma felt the immediate support and prayers of individuals across the nation — a reminder that, in times of crisis, Americans of all parties and political points of view come together to help their fellow Americans. The same night that Moore was hit by the deadly storm, I was contacted by the president, who directly offered and issued assistance from FEMA. Shortly after that, President Obama, Homeland Secretary Napolitano and FEMA Director Fugate personally came to Moore to survey the damage, offer support and ensure Oklahoma received adequate recovery aid. In addition, colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House extended their condolences and offered assistance in relief efforts.

Throughout the entire emergency, state and local officials led with great skill, strength and compassion. I am thankful for Gov. Mary Fallin, Civil Emergency Director Albert Ashwood, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis, Moore City Manager Steve Eddy, Newcastle Mayor Karl Nail and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, whose tireless work pulled us through a nightmare.

As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, I was especially proud to support reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) earlier this year. This legislation, which passed through both chambers and was signed into law by the president, preserves the existing authority of tribal courts and allows them to have jurisdiction over non-Indian sex offenders on Indian lands. I am pleased that VAWA helps tribal women see justice served more quickly.

Since the beginning of the year, problems with Obamacare have been numerous, causing even more Americans to doubt the president’s so-called plan for affordable healthcare. Not one House or Senate Republican voted in favor of the law, and since its passage, House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal the law partially or completely. In fact, seven of these bills passed the Senate and were signed into law by the president. Unfortunately, as long as the law’s namesake is in the White House, full repeal of the Obamacare is unlikely.

I’ve never been supportive of Obamacare and have remained a constant critic of the law, and as we’ve noticed especially in the last few months with its website failures, it was and is not ready for primetime. Even the Obama Administration has admitted that the law is unworkable by choosing to delay key portions of it.

Earlier this fall, in a worthy effort to help Americans, some Senate and House Republicans proposed we refuse to pass a government funding bill if it included funding for Obamacare. While I supported the desire to stop the unworkable and unfair law, I warned against this doomed tactic that would surely lead to a government shutdown and still not solve anything. Unfortunately, due to the expiration of appropriated dollars, government shutdown occurred on Oct. 1. While I wish shutdown would’ve been avoided in the first place, I was relieved when both sides eventually agreed on a short-term funding measure to reopen the government and protect the full faith and credit of the United States.

Along with the short-term funding agreement, 29 lawmakers from both chambers were appointed to a budget conference committee and tasked with reconciling two very different budgets by Dec. 13. As a member of the conference, I was encouraged by the willingness of Chairman Paul Ryan and Chairman Patty Murray to negotiate real reforms. But most importantly, I was pleased to watch both sides reach across the aisle, focus on areas of agreement, rather than disagreement, and ultimately restore regular order.

After weeks of discussion with each other and with the input of other conferees, Chairmen Ryan and Murray announced a two-year budget deal on Dec. 10. The Bipartisan Budget Act passed both chambers with strong, bipartisan support and was signed into law by the president. When I remember the pain caused by the recent shutdown, I am encouraged that this conference was able to reach a deal that finds savings, eases sequester, brings down the deficit and removes the threat of shutdown in the near future. It doesn’t solve all our fiscal problems, but it brings promise of future reform.

I also was pleased to see both chambers work together in reconciling their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation that funds our vital military and ensures they have the resources they need to defend our country. This year marks the 52nd consecutive year that the NDAA has passed Congress and been signed into law by the President.   

Overall, this has been a productive year. Through the fiscal cliff agreement at the beginning of the year and the recent bipartisan budget deal, I am pleased that lawmakers showed they can work together and find common ground with each other and the president. I hope that this willingness to negotiate and find real reforms will continue into 2014, even in the midst of divided government.