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  1. Opinion

It’s been anything but a do-nothing Congress | Column

Rep. Charlie Crist enumerates the House’s accomplishments this year.

While the news has been consumed with impeachment proceedings, it’s understandable many Americans believe Congress hit pause on its legislative work on behalf of the people this year. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the House of Representatives, we’ve passed 275 bipartisan bills that sit waiting for action in the Senate. One of our first acts in 2019 was legislation strengthening gun background checks to help keep guns out of the hands of people who by law shouldn’t have them. We raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, giving 33 million Americans a raise. We passed legislation to protect Dreamers, young people brought to the U.S. by their parents as kids, who only know America as home. We expanded benefits for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. We protected the LGBTQ community from discrimination. We restored the Voting Rights Act to protect people’s right to the ballot box. On the international front, we recognized the Armenian genocide for what it was. We strengthened Russian sanctions and called China out for its crushing crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the imprisonment of over one million Chinese ethnic Uighurs.

It’s been anything but a do-nothing Congress.

And even as the impeachment charges were being drafted, we tackled one of the biggest issues on voters’ minds, the high cost of prescription drugs. Last week, the House passed the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act,” which would require Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies – just like the VA does. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that over 600,000 Pinellas residents would see their prescription drug costs plummet if this legislation is signed into law. An added bonus – the bill caps out-of-pocket annual drug costs at $2,000 annually and creates new dental, vision, and hearing coverage for seniors on Medicare.

On the trade front, House lawmakers have been working to level the playing field for American workers, successfully negotiating transformational improvements to NAFTA under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA). These include big wins for Florida farmers and manufacturing workers, enhancing labor protections to stop other countries from undercutting American workers, and a provision that will bring generic biopharmaceutical drugs to market more quickly. The agreement we passed this week also restored important multilateral environmental protections for clean air, healthy oceans, and endangered species. It sets a new, high bar for all future trade agreements to follow.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I was proud to use my position to put the Sunshine State first, doubling the federal budget for red tide research and providing $125 million to harden our schools against gun violence. We provided a record $216 billion for the Veterans Administration, $140 million to eradicate mold in military housing, and $23 million to strengthen and expand Veteran Treatment Courts which provide a hand up to non-violent veterans facing the criminal justice system, instead of jail time – putting Veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and their families first. My legislation with Republican Sen. Martha McSally to authorize Department of Justice support for Veteran Courts is also on track to be signed into law.

Americans are rightly focused on their health, families, and wallets. We’ve delivered in 2019 on those fronts. In the coming year, it is crucial that the People’s House continues to make kitchen table issues Americans care about most, our top priority.

Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, represents St. Petersburg in the U.S. Congress.

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