As I travel around California's North Coast, I am often asked, "What can we expect from Congress in the new year?"
I recorded a video to share my reflections on 2013—my first year as a Congressman—and my predictions for 2014.
Watch it HERE or read the transcript below.
"Happy New Year. It’s Congressman Jared Huffman and it's early January here in Washington, D.C. So far as I travel around my district in 2014, the thing I hear most is, “What can we expect from Congress in this new year?” So, I’m going to accept that invitation to look ahead.
Frankly, it’s more hopeful than looking behind at 2013 because it was a frustrating year—by most measures the least productive year in Congress in American history. And those frustrations include the fact that we weren’t even able to bring to a vote in the House of Representatives a bipartisan-supported comprehensive immigration reform bill. We weren’t even able to bring to a vote a bipartisan, common-sense background check bill to help address our gun violence problem in this country. We weren’t able to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill like every Congress before us. And, of course, all of it culminated in a sixteen day government shutdown that accomplished nothing, but cost the economy billions of dollars and impacted millions of lives.
So, it was a year of a lot of frustrations. But, even in that difficult climate we got some things done in 2013 and I’m proud of what we were able to achieve. I worked with colleagues in both parties to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and that was very, very important. I was part of the bipartisan majority that helped finally end the government shutdown. And, in the eleventh hour, came up with a budget deal and finally put a federal budget agreement on the books.
I was also really proud to do something most freshmen members of Congress haven’t been able to do, and that is to pass a bill. My bill to expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on the Mendocino County coast passed with strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate, and I am extremely hopeful that we are going to make that happen, an important piece of land conservation for my coastal district.
And then, I was able to work across the aisle and build a coalition in support of addressing the problem of trespass marijuana grows on public and private land. It’s affecting my district and many other districts in the west in a big, big way, causing major environmental problems. So, as we work to reform marijuana policy, I’m glad that we’ve at least got a bipartisan coalition working on increasing penalties for these environmentally-destructive trespass growing operations.
In 2014, looking ahead, job number one is to extend unemployment insurance benefits. We have 1.3 million job seekers in this country right now that have lost their benefits because Congress let them expire at the end of last year. And, these are not handouts, these are vital lifelines for people who have worked, who want to work and are struggling to find jobs in an economy that is not yet turned around and is still not providing the number of jobs that we need. 72,000 people per week are going to be affected by this problem, this lack of benefits, unless Congress steps up and acts.
So that, I think, is job number one in early 2014. It’s a bipartisan issue historically: under President Bush it was always extended, and in fact going back fifty years when unemployment, long term unemployment was anywhere close to where it is today, there’s always been bipartisan support in Congress to provide these type of benefits. So I’m hopeful we can get that done.
I think we need to stay the course in 2014 on healthcare reform. I know the Affordable Care Act has been politicized, has been made, I think, more controversial than it needs to be. But the truth is we are getting some numbers that are extremely positive about this health care reform. We are holding health care inflation to the lowest rate of increase in 40 years. That, in fact, is having enormous benefits to our deficits, our long term debt, and our overall economy. So, as we go forward, I think there is going to be more and more good news from the Affordable Care Act and I’m hoping we can get to a point where, on a bipartisan basis, we can look ahead and try to make the Affordable Care Act work instead of having all of these pointless attempts to try to repeal it.
Immigration reform will remain a huge priority for this country. It’s the right thing to do for our values, for our traditions. It’s hugely important in our economy, and independent economists will tell you it will help with our deficit and debt. So we’ve got to get that passed this year, we have a great coalition in support of it. I’m not giving up hope that we can do that because there’s a bipartisan vote that we could have any time in this House of Representatives to pass that bill, we just need to build the political pressure to bring it to a vote.
We need a Farm Bill, as I mentioned before, that protects nutrition programs, protects land conservation, and also provides stability to farmers. I’m optimistic that we can get that done early in 2014.
We have come so far on discrimination and equality, but there is still some unfinished business. That includes a bill called ENDA, which would end employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender workers in the workplace. It’s really important. Again, there is bipartisan support if we can get it to a vote in the House, and I’m going to do everything I can to try to make that pass in 2014.
And finally, as tough as it is in this House of Representatives, I’m going to do everything I can to keep climate change on the national radar. It is, as I’ve said many, many times before, I think one of the imperatives of our generation is to step up to this challenge and show some leadership on it. So, I’ll be pushing for a clean energy economy, for clean energy incentives. One of the other very important things we can do on it is to end the tax breaks and special subsidies we have been extending many, many years to the oil and gas industry. That’s not only the right thing to do for a clean energy policy; it’s the right thing to do for our deficit and our debt.
I know our politics are divided right now in Congress and I know we’ve just finished a year that was very frustrating in many respects. But, I never give up, I know you won’t let me give up, and you’re not giving up. So we’re going to keep slugging away in 2014. I hope we can make all of the reforms I just mentioned happen in the coming year. It’s my job to do everything I can to make them happen. I’ll keep working to find other bipartisan common ground on all sorts of issues. But even if we can’t pass all the different reforms that I have mentioned, we are going to draw some very clear lines in 2014, and we will let the people see the differences of opinion heading into the 2014 election and let the people of America decide what they think about that.
Thanks for a few minutes to reflect on the year we just concluded and share some thoughts on the year ahead.”
Member of Congress