As the first session of the 113th Congress ends, year-end performance reviews are under way. Public opinion of Washington is remarkably low. The mismanaged roll out of the federal health insurance website and broken promises from the President have frustrated many Americans. A shortsighted decision by the Senate Majority Leader to trample on minority party rights has likely poisoned the well for sweeping bipartisan achievements in the U.S. Senate.
Still, rank-and-file lawmakers in Congress continue working on the people's business that affects the lives of ordinary families, workers, farmers, students, soldiers, veterans and retirees. From keeping rural health care and higher education accessible to hardworking Iowa families; to championing renewable energy that's good for consumers, the environment and economy; balancing intelligence-gathering with privacy rights; or, challenging the administration's decision to sweep the trafficking and sale of illicit drugs under the prosecutorial rug, I'm working to make sure the nation's public policies square with the principles of good governance and proper stewardship of tax dollars.
As a member of the Senate Budget, Agriculture, Finance committees, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the International Narcotics Control and Foster Youth caucuses, I've participated this year in scores of congressional oversight, nomination and legislative hearings to advance economic and social policies that build upon America's landscape of opportunity, mobility and prosperity. Whereas many in Washington seem to believe that redistributing wealth and raising taxes magically will solve income inequality, cure global warming and achieve world peace, the fact is that Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Washington needs to take less so that Americans can do more spending and investing with their hard-earned money to create jobs and prosperity.
It's frustrating this Congress busted the spending caps agreed to in August 2011. Although Washington won't face a government shutdown after the New Year, it's irresponsible to raise an additional $63 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, but spend it all over the next two years. These kinds of budget agreements contribute towards the $17 trillion national debt hanging over the taxpaying public's head.
Here are a few items of business I'm working on to try to make a difference in how government serves "We the People."
Strengthening whistleblower protections. Washington can't afford to weaken incentives that encourage civil servants and private sector contractors to come forward with information about waste, fraud and abuse. Congress needs to step up oversight as tax dollars flow throughout the federal bureaucracy and the courts need to stop diluting whistleblower protections. A provision was included in the National Defense Authorization Act to protect military whistleblowers from retaliation. Much more needs to be done, including passage of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's bipartisan bill to root out sexual assault in the military.
Vetting nominees. Whether it's the IRS, Homeland Security or lifelong appointments to serve on the federal bench, members of the U.S. Senate have the constitutional duty of advice and consent. Scrutiny of these nominees is an integral function of our republic's system of checks and balances that demands more than rubber-stamp approval.
Promoting sibling connections and beefing up child support enforcement. I'm working to secure bipartisan legislation that would help siblings retain ties with one another when a child is placed in foster care or parental rights are terminated. Moreover, the bill moving through Congress would give states more tools to recover money that family courts have determined is owed to custodial parents.
Championing renewable energy. It's disappointing the Obama administration has proposed rules that would roll back the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2014. From rental income earned from wind farms to the market value boost for Iowa commodities, policies such as the wind energy and biodiesel tax credits and the RFS have helped foster job creation and economic growth to the rural economy. I'll continue beating the drum in Congress to scuttle Big Oil's efforts to dismantle America's renewable energy policy.
Reforming farm payment system. My efforts to install payment caps that limit how much individual farmers may receive per year were included in the Senate and House versions of the farm and food bill. Reasonable limits are needed to keep the farm safety net defensible, especially as Congress considers sizable savings in nutrition assistance spending.
Cracking down on patent trolls. A legislative remedy is necessary to curb the prevalence of abusive patent litigation. The budding patent troll phenomenon is forcing businesses to divert scarce resources towards settlement or litigation that would otherwise be channeled towards innovation, research, development, job creation or expansion. I'm working on legislation that would strengthen the integrity of the U.S. patent system that has allowed innovators and inventors to flourish and prosper for generations.
Securing access to rural health care, increasing oversight and expanding transparency of Medicare payments. During committee mark-up of a must-pass Medicare physician payment bill, I secured bipartisan amendments that would make permanent a payment index that helps Iowa providers receive fair reimbursement relative to medical providers in other parts of the country; continue the Medicare-dependent hospital program to recognize the valuable service these hospitals serve in their low population areas; beef up independent investigation and oversight of Medicare spending; and establish a free, searchable Medicare payment database.
Regardless of the overall record of the 113th Congress, my work in the U.S. Senate is full steam ahead as the new year begins. My nose is to the grindstone in Washington, and I'm launching my 34th annual 99-county road trip for meetings with Iowans.