After years of gridlock in our nation’s capital, in 2014 the voters chose to end the dysfunction in Washington by electing a Republican Senate. Kentuckians honored me with the opportunity to serve them once again, and as Senate Majority Leader I promised to put the Senate back to work on behalf of Kentuckians and the American people.
A year and a half later, it’s clear the Senate really is back to work. We’ve passed important bills, many of which have become law, to enact a common-sense reform agenda.
The Senate hit the ground running in 2015 by passing into law, among other things, a five-year transportation bill (the longest-term transportation bill to pass Congress in almost two decades), a major education reform bill, a balanced budget, and permanent tax relief for Kentucky families and small businesses. We passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act to help the countless domestic victims of modern slavery. We passed legislation to protect seniors’ access to their doctors through Medicare. We successfully lifted the decades-old ban on crude oil exports.
And we stood up to this president by passing legislation to block the administration’s War on Coal and by putting the first Obamacare repeal bill on his desk. I look forward to bills like these being signed into law by a new Republican president.
As the calendar flipped to 2016, some predicted that election-year politics would slow our output of accomplishments. But under my leadership, the Senate has continued to pass serious legislation that truly addresses America’s concerns. Consider just a few examples.
The Senate passed and the president signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, in response to our nation’s growing prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. This crisis has hit Kentucky particularly hard, with a recent state report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy showing that last year over 1,200 deaths in the commonwealth were caused by drug overdose.
CARA will help reverse the trend of increased drug fatalities by strengthening prevention, treatment, education, and recovery efforts. It will give law enforcement more tools to fight substance abuse and help drug addicts. And it empowers those in the public health and medical fields who are on the front lines in fighting this national epidemic.
The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, also passed by the Senate and signed into law, strengthens security for international flights that arrive at American airports, and augments resources for airport security personnel. It tightens the vetting of aviation employees, and it enhances the ability of airports to react to active shooter threats, in an effort to prevent the kind of terrorist acts we’ve seen at foreign airports from happening here.
The bill also protects consumers by directing airlines to provide refunds for lost or delayed baggage and greater resources for disabled passengers or parents with small children. And these improvements in security and added protections for passengers come without increased fees or taxes.
Kentucky farmers saw a major victory when the Senate passed and the president signed into law a bill to create a national standard for labeling bioengineered food. This bill will prevent confusing laws from one state from increasing food prices for consumers in another, eliminating the prospect of a patchwork of different state labeling laws.
We also passed legislation to reduce or eliminate tariffs paid by American manufacturers, helping businesses here in Kentucky and other states to save millions and stay competitive with foreign firms. We passed the first environmental reform law in decades. We permanently barred taxing access to the internet, helping ensure access for Kentucky families. We passed new, tough sanctions against the regime in North Korea. And we passed major reforms to American customs law to fight unfair trade.
Add these achievements up, and 2016 is on track to be a year of progress in Washington just as much as 2015 was. We got a lot done for the American people last year, and we’ll continue to do so this year.
It’s gratifying to see the Senate back to work just as I promised. Under Republican leadership, many of our successes have been passed on a bipartisan basis. And I’ve been pleased to hear from Kentuckians in my travels across the commonwealth how the Senate’s actions have helped them, their jobs, or their families.
Much still remains to be done. That’s why this fall, when Congress returns to Washington, I’ll keep leading the Senate to fight for your interests and your priorities. Now that the once-broken Senate is working again, I intend to keep it that way. Kentuckians can count on it.
Mitch McConnell, a senator from Kentucky, is the Senate Majority Leader.