There is an overabundance of titles that pundits pinned on the year of 2019. Some may describe the year as one of “disaster and destruction.” Natural disasters caused major damage and uncertainty over trade created anxiety for Nebraskans. But I think a better label for last year is “reveal and resolve.”
In the wake of disastrous storms and record-setting flooding, the kindness and character of Nebraskans were revealed. And even through the immense challenges and distraction, we continued to work together on the pressing issues at hand. In turn, we secured critical legislative wins for the good of Nebraska’s present and future.
In response to the extreme weather, we acted quickly to bring in significant relief for our affected communities and secured hundreds of millions of dollars for Nebraska’s flood recovery. The Department of Transportation issued to Nebraska $68 million to repair our damaged roads and $25 million to reconstruct highways and bridges. What’s more, Congress passed legislation to offer Nebraskans more opportunities for tax relief and provide payments for our ag producers who saw their planting acres destroyed.
Through my chairmanship of the Senate Armed Service Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, we worked hard across the aisle to ensure that Congress did not lose focus on its first objective: to provide for the common defense. The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act awards our service members with the largest pay raise in a decade. Congress also approved more than $400 million of disaster relief funding for Offutt Air Force Base and Camp Ashland, which was a result of an effort I championed. Nebraska’s military installations need this funding to recover from the natural disasters last spring and restore full military readiness.
We secured several essential trade deals for Nebraska and the Heartland in 2019.
A trade agreement with Japan expanded major export markets for Nebraska’s world-renowned ag products by lowering tariffs on our state’s beef, pork, ethanol, wheat and more. And after more than a year of negotiation, the House passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. In 2020, the Senate will take up this deal, which will maintain access for Nebraska producers to our two biggest markets.
The EPA’s finalization of year-round E-15 sales was another victory for Nebraska’s ethanol producers. But the fight for corn country did not stop there. I sponsored the bipartisan RFS Integrity Act to stop the EPA’s abuse of the Small Refinery Exemption process in the Renewable Fuel Standard. This bill, along with pressure from my colleagues and me, prompted the administration to release a rule that we hope will more accurately account for volumes lost to SRE in years to come.
While dealing with the current issues, Congress acted to invest in the future. I was an original co-sponsor of the Building Blocks of STEM Act, which President Trump signed into law. This bill will ensure that children, specifically young girls, have more opportunities to study science, technology, engineering and math through the National Science Foundation programs. By expanding across both age and gender barriers, this bill takes crucial steps to equip the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow.
Looking forward, there is no doubt that this year will be filled with distractions and new challenges. But 2020 will be what we make of it. I’m excited about the progress we can achieve by refocusing on issues that impact the daily lives of Americans by working together in this new decade.