As we enter into 2017, I would like to extend warm wishes for a happy New Year.
I recently had an opportunity to share my perspectives on the year ahead and the beginning of the new 115th Congress through an op-ed piece in the Morning Call, which I encourage you to read at your convenience. I have high aspirations for a productive Congress over the next two years. Despite the noise and fractious nature that came to dominate our airwaves as a result of the Presidential election, I am proud of the bipartisan accomplishments that were produced throughout the previous Congress over the past two years. It is my hope that the 115th Congress, which was convened in Washington last week, will maintain the spirit of cooperation that allowed us to advance legislative achievements that included:
- 1,186 bills and resolutions passed by the House of Representatives, and 328 bills signed into law
- UNPRECEDENTED LEVEL OF SUPPORT FOR OUR VETERANS: It has been an honor to serve as an advocate for our veterans and military families through my role as Chairman of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. In this capacity, I have exercised meaningful oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense. To honor the promises that our nation has made to care for our veterans, I drafted – and led the passage of – the only appropriations bill to be signed into law to date for Fiscal Year 2017, which was also the first funding bill to be passed by both chambers of Congress on time since 2009. My FY17 bill provided a 9% total increase for the VA to provide care for approximately 7 million patients, treat over 50,000 veterans who are suffering from Hepatitis C, and guarantee that important services like mental health care and suicide prevention treatments, support for homeless and unemployed veterans, and veteran caregiver programs can continue without interruption. My bill also provides greater security for those troops in the Lebanon community who train at Fort Indiantown Gap by funding a new $20 million security perimeter at the base.
- MAINTAINING A VIGILANT NATIONAL DEFENSE & PROVIDING FOR OUR TROOPS: In December, our troops were provided with the largest pay raise in six years (2.1%) as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA provides our troops and their families with the resources that they rely on to carry out their missions safely and successfully. This bipartisan legislation will improve our military’s readiness, bring efficiency to the Department of Defense, support our allies, and improve the health and livelihoods of our service members.
- PROVIDING TREATMENTS & CURES TO COMBAT NATIONAL DISEASES: Within the past year, crucial legislation was passed and signed into law that will bring new cures to patients for some of the worst diseases we face. In June, I was part of a joint House and Senate Appropriations Conference Committee that worked to provide resources to stifle the Zika virus before it could become a national epidemic. I was honored to be a part of that negotiation, which was the first formal Conference meeting to take place between the House and Senate since 2011.
In addition, the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act was also enacted into law. This legislation provided an additional $4.8 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $1.8 billion of funding for the Cancer Moonshot, additional investments into the BRAIN initiative to increase our knowledge of neurological diseases, and a $1.5 billion investment in the Precision Medicine Initiative. This legislation, that I was proud to support, also focuses on a sensible regulatory model to bring cures to patients in a faster, safer way by modernizing clinical trials, putting patients in the forefront of the regulatory process, and incentivizing the development of drugs to cure and treat pediatric diseases.
- IMPROVING OUR DOMESTIC INFRASTRUCTURE: As a result of bipartisan cooperation, measures to enhance our national air, rail and highway, and water infrastructure were enacted that will improve safety for American families and allow for domestic investments. Specifically, authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was extended until late 2017 along with security enhancements to improve air travel, and a new five-year surface transportation bill was enacted to maintain and improve our network of highways, bridges, railroads, and public transportation systems. Further, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act was enacted to authorize investments to improve America’s ports, channels, dams, and other infrastructure that supports maritime commerce and provides flood protection for communities. The strength and safety of our nation’s water infrastructure and resources are critical to support our economy and protect the health of Americans, and the WIIN Act will ensure access to safe drinking water by addressing lead-related issues and protecting our water reservoirs like the Delaware River Basin. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to protect and restore the Delaware River Basin, which provides drinking water for fifteen million people and supports $25 billion in economic activity through commerce, agriculture, tourism, and sporting activities. The WIIN Act will create a voluntary, non-regulatory framework to award grants to carry out conservation efforts to preserve the Basin for future generations.
- ADDRESSING SYNTHETIC DRUG & OPIOID ABUSE EPIDEMICS: I have been working for several years to bring attention to the very serious threat that synthetic drugs pose to the health and safety of communities in Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole. The House recognized the severity of this issue, and rose to action by passing my Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act. Many of these drugs possess similar or even more harmful effects than other illegal drugs, like heroin or PCP, but they can be deceptively distributed through legal channels on the basis that their specific chemical compounds are not expressly prohibited. This bill will expand the chemical compounds listed under the Controlled Substances Act to get the ‘worst of the worst’ offenders off the streets and will grant the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency greater authorities to stop these synthetic drugs from being sold, distributed, and abused. In addition, I supported legislation to provide a comprehensive approach to the national opioid epidemic that has tragically and personally affected families here in Pennsylvania and beyond. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) combines the education, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement tools necessary to help those currently suffering from addiction and curb the spread of this national emergency.
- TREATING & DESTIGMATIZING MENTAL HEALTH: I was glad to see the “Helping Families in Mental Crisis Act,” which I cosponsored, enacted into law to provide necessary, sweeping changes to America’s mental health system. This bill will provide commonsense reforms, streamline and improve care, increase the amount of resources available to help those suffering, and continue care for those already receiving help from a mental health professional. This bill will finally help parents by allowing them greater access to working with doctors and mental health professionals in the treatment of their loved ones.
While these measures represent just a small sampling of the hundreds of important policies that were drafted and acted on by the House of Representatives over the past two years, they demonstrate the broad scope of activity that I have been proud to work on as the representative for Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District. Rest assured, I am entering into 2017 and the 115th Congress with a renewed energy to continue to bring the voice of Pennsylvania’s families and communities to the halls of Congress here in Washington. I look forward to continuing to work on your behalf, and encourage you to contact my offices if you have questions about any federal policies or services.
Happy New Year!
Representative Charlie Dent (PA-15)