Washington Review, December 22, 2017
As the year came to a close, this week in Washington my Republican colleagues focused on passing misguided policies on tax reform and government funding. It is my hope that in the new year my colleagues and I can work in a bipartisan manner to resolve urgent issues, such as reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), passing the DREAM Act, and passing a long-term budget, which have been left as unfinished business as Congress recesses.
Despite the fact that 86 million middle class American families will see their taxes increase once temporary tax breaks expire, Congress voted to pass the final Conference Report on H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, on Wednesday, which has now been signed into law. This one-sided bill has been pushed through Congress at an alarming rate without a single hearing, and will ultimately only benefit a select percentage of the wealthiest. I am disappointed that my colleagues have chosen to explode the national deficit in order to provide permanent tax breaks for corporations and large tax cuts for the wealthy.
In New Jersey alone, the limiting of the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction will impact millions of families, whose average SALT deduction is well over the 10,000 cap. Additionally, this tax plan will trigger an automatic cut to vital programs such as Medicare, which millions rely on, and repeals the individual mandate. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this repeal will result in 13 million Americans losing coverage over the next decade and cause premiums to spike for those who are most desperately in need of care.
Despite the fact that funding for the government expired on December 22, the Majority spent their legislative efforts this week on rushing through a disastrous tax bill that will create undue burden on the middle class. At the last minute, the Majority offered a short-term continuing resolution (CR) which is devoid of critical bipartisan funding priorities such as veterans’ funding, and inadequately extends funding for CHIP and Community Health Centers at the expense of the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). Though this CR will keep the government open until January 19, 2018, it is a rushed, short-term patch that will not sustain these critical programs. Specifically, the CR will authorize $550 million for the Community Health Centers, $15 million for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, and $65 million for the National Health Service Corps for the first and second quarters of fiscal year (FY) 2018. Additionally, this CR will provide $2.85 billion for CHIP for the first two quarters of FY 2018. These programs are supported by redirecting $750 million from the PPHF.
While I agree that it is important to keep the government open, continual short-term funding patches via continuing resolutions is an irresponsible way to run the government and jeopardizes the stability and capabilities of vital social programs that provide crucial services to Americans. Once Congress returns, I hope that both sides of the aisle can come together and pass a comprehensive long-term budget that will bring stability and assurance to our federal agencies and their programs.
As Congress recesses for the holidays, we are leaving a number of critical issues unresolved that should be top priorities for Congress next session. Funding for CHIP expired on September 30, 2017 and many states are going to be forced to shut down the program if Congress does not reauthorize long-term funding soon. This program provides coverage for almost nine million children and has been essential in reducing the uninsured rate of children since its inception in 1997. I have sent a letter to Speaker Ryan, along with my colleagues, urging him to bring CHIP extension legislation to the Floor immediately.
Furthermore, the future of thousands of Dreamers hangs in the balance as Congress continues to not act to codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections. Every day that Congress refuses to act, 122 Dreamers lose their status and risk deportation. These individuals were brought here as children and know no country other than America as their home. They are being forced to live in fear that they will be torn from home because of Congress’s inability to act. I call on Republican Leadership to do the right thing and bring the DREAM Act to a vote immediately.
In 2015 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,281 people died due to an opioid overdose and thousands more will continue to suffer unless Congress can provide communities with the resources they need to combat this growing epidemic. The opioid epidemic is a bipartisan issue that demands our attention and I hope that when we reconvene we can make addressing this national crisis a priority.