Vail Daily column: Getting things done
In 2015, the American people suffered through more of Washington’s partisanship and dysfunction. In contrast, Colorado continued to demonstrate that we can move beyond the special interest politics that are designed to divide us.
Outside of Washington, people want the parties to work together to solve problems. During our joint tours of the Eastern Plains and the Denver Public Schools, Sen. Gardner and I heard over and over from Coloradans that what they want from their leadership is a commitment to tackle the issues important to their communities. What they don’t want is bipartisan rhetoric without seeing real action. That’s why this past year, as we have each year since serving in the Senate, we have focused on getting things done and improving the lives of Coloradans.
Our Colorado delegation was able to work together to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility in Aurora will be built after years of gross mismanagement led to delays and cost overruns. And, by working with veterans across the state, we were able to improve access to health care for Colorado veterans in rural areas of the state by making common sense changes to the VA’s Choice Card program. Now, veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility will be able to access non-VA care closer to home.
We also made progress this year in our effort to fix No Child Left Behind. This month Congress is expected to pass a bill that addresses many of the problems with No Child Left Behind. As part of the education committee that wrote the bill and the conference committee that finalized it, I applied the lessons learned in the Denver superintendent’s office and from the families, principals, teachers and kids we’ve visited at schools all over the state. This new, long overdue bill will roll back No Child Left Behind’s massive federal overreach and re-empower those closest to our kids to make the decisions they believe are best.
As we work on K-12 education, we’re also fighting to make college more affordable and accessible for Colorado families. We introduced a bill to cut the FAFSA from an unmanageable 108 question, 10-page form to a postcard with just two questions. And following our urging, the administration announced that next year families will be able to use tax information from an earlier year when applying for federal financial aid. Instead of scrambling to complete their taxes and fill out their FAFSA, parents and students will be able to fill out their FAFSA forms earlier and can learn how much aid they are eligible to receive before they actually apply to colleges — allowing them to better plan and select the right school.
Our office also worked closely with local governments and Colorado’s business community on a number of economic development issues, including fighting to renew the Export-Import Bank. More than 100 Colorado businesses have used the Bank to facilitate the sale of their products overseas, generating $815 million in exports since 2007. The administration also produced the final framework for the crowdfunding law we passed several years ago. It will provide a new avenue for small businesses and startups in Colorado to generate capital.
To help support our economy and our environment, we worked with Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, to put liquefied natural gas on equal footing with diesel fuel. The law we passed updates the tax code to tax LNG on its energy output rather than per gallon. This eliminates a disincentive to using LNG, which is cheaper and cleaner than diesel. LNG is a growing part of Colorado’s diverse energy economy, and this bill will help grow its market.
These are a few examples of our work this past year. But we are the first to recognize there is still so much more to do. Among our priorities for the year ahead are better supporting working families. We can help by increasing the child tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit. We also need to find a long-term solution for funding our roads and highways and fix our broken immigration system.
These are all pressing issues that will only be solved by working across the aisle to get things done. In the year ahead, our office will remain committed to working with any Republican or Democrat who put problem solving ahead of politics to provide more opportunity for the next generation.
Michael Bennet is the senior U.S. senator from Colorado.