E-newsletter: Creating a Transportation System for the 21st Century

Dec 17, 2015

 Creating a Transportation System for the 21st Century

I am very proud of the role we played in crafting the landmark transportation legislation that passed the House 359-65 and was signed into law by President Obama on December 4, 2015.  After months of intense negotiations, the final version of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 will provide more than $305 billion in funding over the next five years to update and modernize our nation’s transportation infrastructure, including highways, bridges, and transit.

Since the founding of the United States, our transportation system has been vital to our local, regional, and national economy.  Under the FAST Act, New York State will see an increase of $1.5 billion, allowing for repairs to existing roads, bridges, and highways while also investing in new projects for the future.  From this funding, New York City is slated to receive $500 million that the MTA can use to continue operating the subways, buses, and other means of public transit that New Yorkers depend on every day.  For our railroads, the FAST Act also provides funding for safety and reliability improvements to the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily trafficked Amtrak rail corridor in the country.  I am especially proud of the new funding program for critical regional and national freight projects, which has long been one of my priority issues.  The Cross Harbor Freight Rail Tunnel would be eligible to directly benefit from this new federal funding, which is important as New York is the only major city in America not directly connected to the country’s rail freight network.  Connecting NYC to the national freight rail network would take tens of thousands of trucks off of our streets, and bring significant benefits for the environment, our national security, and our regional and national economy.

 Speaking Out Against All Forms of Terrorism

Last week, President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the tragedy in San Bernardino and the broader threat of terrorism.  Terrorism is not something unique to the United States; it is not a threat exclusively experienced by Americans, or something specific to Islamic radicalism.  In recent months, we have seen American victims in Paris, Mali, and Beirut, where ISIS has indiscriminately killed men, women, and children.  Nohemi Gonzalez was studying abroad in Paris when she was murdered, while Anita Ashok Datar was an American aid worker murdered in Mali.  In recent months also, we have seen more than 90 separate terrorist attacks by Palestinians targeting innocent civilians in Israel.  Palestinian terrorists murdered Ezra Schwartz, an American teenager who was spending his gap-year studying at yeshiva, in the same wave of violence that killed Richard Lakin, an American-Israeli educator who moved to Israel in the 1980s, and wounded a 70 year old Palestinian man who was mistaken for an Israeli by two Palestinian teenage girls with scissors.  Such acts of terror deserve a full condemnation, as nobody should ever have to live under the threat of violence carried out by those who feed on fear and foster ideologies of hatred.

These are acts are terrorism: whether committed by ISIS in Paris, by Palestinians in Israel, by racists in South Carolina, by anti-abortion extremists at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, or by radicalized individuals who gun down 14 people in San Bernardino.  All Americans share in the pain of such loss, which is why none of us can be silent when terrorism—no matter its target, form or origin—attacks the foundations of freedom and peace.  No explanation to justify terrorist attacks against civilians because of government policy, ideology, or religion is acceptable, and there must be universal denunciation of all such violence. 

 Our Seniors Deserves a Raise: Increase the COLA

Many of us were shocked to discover that the Social Security Administration will not be awarding a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2016, meaning that 65 million seniors will not see an increase in their social security checks for the third time this decade.  Many rely on their monthly social security check to cover basic costs, but still come up short.  No cost of living adjustment will only exacerbate the problem when the metric fails to reflect how seniors spend their money, and I believe this needs to change.

That is why I am co-sponsoring the Seniors Deserve a Raise Act. Each month, seniors face living costs very different from younger generations.  Unfortunately, Social Security COLAs are currently calculated using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which reflects the living expenses of younger Americans, still paying off student debts, buying their first homes, or raising children.  Instead, the Seniors Deserve a Raise Act would require the Social Security Administration to use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E), which more closely tracks how seniors actually spend their monthly income.  Using the CPI-E would ensure that seniors see an increase in their social security check when their real expenses go up.  No senior should ever have to stretch their budget so thin that they must choose between food and lifesaving medication, which is why I will continue to fight in Congress to pass the Seniors Deserve a Raise Act.

 Raising the Issue of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries in Congress

In 2008, I introduced a bill—H.Res. 185—recognizing the importance of Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries as an issue central to any Arab-Israeli peace settlement.  The bill had wide, bi-partisan support, and was passed unanimously in the House.  Since then, however, the continued violence has undermined any prospect for peace, making it harder to achieve the two-state solution that both sides say they seek.  Yet the issue of Jewish refugees cannot be forgotten as it remains a key component to any agreement.

That is why I am leading a new House Resolution urging equal attention and commitment from the United States in addressing the displaced Jewish and other refugees of Arab countries.  The bill urges the President to instruct our representatives to the U.N. and other international bodies to make certain that references to the Palestinian refugees are matched by similar references to Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.  It also requires the President to annually report to Congress on actions the Executive Branch has taken related to this issue and makes sure the interests of all refugees displaced as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Arabs, Jews, Christians, and other groups, are considered in any final settlement.  I look forward to raising this issue as we introduce the legislation in the coming Congressional session, and hope it sparks a wider conversation and awareness of Jewish refugees as part of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.