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Congressman's View: Election year or not, Congress has to work for the American people in 2018

Dave Granlund/Cagle Cartoons

Congress has a historically bad habit of not accomplishing much during election years. It's time to break that tradition, get to work, and insist that President Donald Trump keep the promises he made to the American people during his campaign — promises to reform our spending priorities; create jobs; expand high-quality, affordable health care to all Americans; protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; change the way we do politics; and take care of our veterans, pensioners, and dreamers.

I'm ready to work with President Trump and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish these goals.

We have to stop the tragic waste of blood and treasury on endless wars in the Middle East. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us $8 trillion. Think about it. For $1 trillion, we could have rebuilt our public infrastructure. For another trillion, we could have invested in life-saving medical research for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other life-threatening diseases. For another trillion, we could have graduated every college student in America debt-free. And we'd still have $5 trillion left for other priorities like tax cuts and deficit reduction. The time is long overdue to stop the tragic, wasteful spending on wars.

Creating good-paying jobs with good benefits for middle-class Americans will always be my top priority. In the last five years, the unemployment rate in Northeastern Minnesota dropped by 5 percent, more than 1,200 miners and thousands of other service and business-related employees went back to work, and shipments out of the port of Duluth hit a 10-year high.

In addition, with careful attention to protecting our environment, we are making steady progress toward opening the Iron Range to the mining of strategic minerals. This new, 21st-century, high-technology mining will, over the years, produce thousands of good-paying jobs, advance our green economy, and help create renewable energy to address climate change. The House just passed my legislation to facilitate the Obama Administration-approved PolyMet land exchange by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 309-99. My goal is to see the land-exchange bill pass the Senate and arrive on the president's desk in 2018.

Americans are still waiting for President Trump's promised $1 trillion to fix our crumbling infrastructure and create an estimated 13 million jobs. This bill must include my legislation to expand high-speed rural broadband to 22 million rural Americans. It's time for the president to send a detailed infrastructure bill to our House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure so we can begin working on it immediately in 2018.

In addition, we have to keep up the pressure against illegal steel dumping by China and other trade-cheater nations — preserving the tariffs and taxes we secured of up to 520 percent on low-grade, foreign government-subsidized steel products. American workers can compete and win against anyone in the world when we're on a level playing field. Establishing that level playing field is what these tariffs and taxes are all about.

I've always believed the ultimate solution to health care in America is a Medicare-for-all system that provides everyone with affordable, top-quality health care. Next year, I'll continue to push Medicare-for-all legislation that Sen. Bernie Sanders and I are championing in the House and Senate.

I'll also fight this year against the powerful forces trying to cut and privatize Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. I introduced legislation to ensure no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, a promise President Trump himself has made. These programs are a fundamental part of the American promise, and they help support millions of middle-class families and retirees across our nation.

Let's be clear: Our precious land, air, and water are a big part of the reason we all live in northern Minnesota, and I am absolutely committed to protecting them. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, including my work as an original co-sponsor of the legislation that established the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Moreover, we've got to continue to protect and restore the Great Lakes. Last year, I led a bipartisan push to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Sea Grant Program. We must also protect our waters from invasive species. This past year, I increased funding to $1 million to battle invasive zebra mussels.

In 2018, I'll keep fighting against any Trump administration-proposed cut to the Environmental Protection Administration. This year, I helped lead the effort to defeat the Republican/Trump administration plan to cut overall EPA funding by over 30 percent and EPA enforcement funding by 40 percent. We cannot allow a half century of environmental progress be rolled back by outrageous budget cuts and policies that would allow polluting corporations to run wild with our precious air, land, and water.

In the new year, we also must meet our sacred obligations to our nation's military veterans, who have put themselves in harm's way in defense of our freedoms. Congress must create a new patient- and provider-friendly veterans-choice program that provides rural veterans with top-quality, local health care. I'm also sponsoring legislation that would require the VA to provide better mental health care, create more good-paying civilian jobs for veterans, and put an end to veteran homelessness. If our nation can afford to send our best young people into harm's way all around the world, we can afford to take care of them when they return home.

More broadly, in future budgets, we have to start fixing the pension crisis in our nation. Millions of hard-working Americans who contributed into their pensions are now at risk of seeing them eliminated or severely reduced because of sheer corporate irresponsibility. That's outrageous. Finding an immediate solution must be a top congressional priority in 2018.

It's also time for President Trump and Republican leaders to honor their promise to help pass the DREAM Act. We need to end the threat of deportation for some 800,000 "Dreamers," men and women of great promise who were brought to America as minors by their undocumented parents. I co-sponsored the DREAM Act to give these Dreamers the opportunity to stay in America, earn citizenship, and use their talents to move our nation forward.

Last but far from least, President Trump must keep his promise to change the way we do politics in America. The simple fact is, the political and economic systems are rigged for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. In 2018, I will continue my work to advance legislation to take dark, negative money out of politics by reversing the disastrous Citizens United decision. The legislation includes restricting the campaign-spending period and eliminating partisan gerrymandering.

Though 2018 is an election year, there's no reason we can't accomplish all these goals by embracing bipartisanship, holding President Trump's feet to the fire, and getting our priorities straight. The American people are depending on us. So let's get to work.

Rick Nolan

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is a Democrat who represents Northeastern Minnesota's 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House. He wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

About this series

The News Tribune Opinion page asked community leaders to look into their crystal balls and to share their insights into what the new year might bring.

Monday: City of Duluth

Tuesday: St. Louis County

Wednesday: Duluth school district

Thursday: Minnesota Legislature

Friday: Northland economy

Saturday: Downtown

Sunday: Washington, D.C.

Monday: Tourism

Join the conversation: What do you see in your crystal ball? Letters to the editor can be directed to letters@duluthnews.com.

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