Legislators reflect on progress, look ahead

Courtesy photo/DepositPhotosThe U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C.

Michigan’s two U.S. senators say environmental issues will be a big topic of policy discussion in 2017.

At the same time, U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, who represents Michigan’s 1st District, said he is focused on the budget.

The News-Review asked federal lawmakers about their accomplishments for the first half of 2017, and what they believe will be the big issues they will be tackling for the next six months.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

For the first six months, Stabenow, D-Michigan, said she has been focusing on protecting the Great Lakes and strengthening the health care system.

Stabenow is a co-chair of the Senate’s bipartisan Great Lakes task force. She is focused on doing everything possible to preserve the Great Lakes, including controlling the water quality and invasive species like Asian carp, Stabenow said.

Stabenow said she’s pushing back on President Donald Trump’s budget, which ends all funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to its website, the initiative focuses on cleaning up the Great Lakes areas of concern, preventing and controlling invasive species, reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms and protecting native species.

“(Protecting the Great Lakes is) about jobs, it’s about the quality of life, it’s really who we are in Michigan,” Stabenow said.

Stabenow said she is also fighting back efforts to end the Healthy Michigan Plan, which is a program that gives health care to low-income adults who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

“I am always opposed to eliminating health care for millions of people in Michigan,” Stabenow said. “Instead, I have been focused on lowering the cost of prescription drugs and lowering the cost of health insurance.”

Stabenow hopes two of the bills she has introduced will be debated and passed in the next six months. One bill would give a 50 percent tax credit for the cost of small businesses providing health care for their employees. The other bill is a five-year farm bill, meant to help people and businesses in the agriculture business.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters

In a statement, Peters, D-Michigan, pointed to legislative efforts he has been working on in 2017.

Peters, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a bill meant to help local fire departments. The bill would allow fire departments to use Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants to promote part-time and on-call firefighters to be full time. Currently, the grants can only be used to hire and train new firefighters.

The legislation has passed the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but has not been voted on by the full Senate, the statement said.

Members of the Senate’s Commerce Committee approved Peters’ amendments meant to improve airport security outside screening areas. The amendments would allow airports to use already existing funds to update their infrastructure outside Transportation Security Administration-screened areas, such as baggage claims and drop-offs. For example, airport officials could use the funds for ballistic protective podiums and camera installation.

Peters will continue in the next six months to improve public services and strengthen protections for the Great Lakes and Straits of Mackinac, he said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman

Bergman, R-Watersmeet, said he is proud to have voted for several bills that are now laws. One of those laws is the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Bergman said it gives the VA a streamlined process to fire employees for poor performance. He said employees still have due-process rights.

“Before we did this, it took forever (to fire bad employees), and because of that slowness, the veterans floundered,” Bergman said.

He said lawmakers got rid of many regulations put in place by the Obama administration. Bergman said the reduction of regulations is going to save businesses billions of dollars. He said representatives also increased defense spending.

Bergman, part of the budget committee, said he has been spending much of his time preparing the fiscal year 2018 budget.

“We have too much of the government which on what’s called autopilot spending, that’s the mandatory spending. We can’t continue down a road like that because we are broke at that rate,” Bergman said.

Bergman said he is working on legislation to support the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. He also said he will work on giving more power to the state government and reduce the size of the federal government.

“What might work in Michigan, may not work in Mississippi or New Mexico,” Bergman said.