2019 in Review
As 2019 comes to a close, I’ve had time to reflect on the past year. As a state, we celebrated the commissioning of the USS South Dakota, a Virginia-class nuclear submarine designed to fulfill 21st century mission requirements. We also worked to secure Ellsworth Air Force Base as the location for the first two B-21 Raider bomber squadrons - the training squadron and the operational squadron - solidifying Ellsworth’s long-term role in our national security. We were also hit hard by Mother Nature this year as tornadoes, flooding and late-winter storms wreaked havoc across the state.
On a personal level, our family experienced its most difficult challenge to date, as Jean began cancer treatment for a malignant high-grade aggressive tumor near her sciatic nerve. Thanks to her highly-talented team of doctors and our extended South Dakota community who has continually supported us, we are on a path to recovery.
Looking back on what we’ve accomplished in Washington, we’ve scored some significant victories. On the health care front, the CREATES Act was included in the end-of-year spending package. This legislation, which I cosponsored, will help lower the cost of prescription drugs by fast-tracking the approval process for generic drugs, thereby enhancing competition in the prescription drug market.
We also fully repealed the Cadillac Tax, which is an Obamacare tax that threatened to raise healthcare premiums even higher by imposing a 40 percent tax on certain employer-sponsored healthcare plans. I led this effort in the Senate with Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, and our bill to repeal the Cadillac Tax had 64 cosponsors. Now that it is repealed, it no longer threatens to raise the premiums of over 400,000 South Dakotans who get their health insurance through their work.
The Senate has also continued to confirm a record number of judges to federal courts. In the past three years, we’ve confirmed 187 judges, nominated by President Trump, to serve lifetime appointments on the federal bench. These judges are committed to upholding the rule of law and not legislating from the bench.
We also saw year-round sales of E-15 for the first time this year. E-15 is 15 percent ethanol blended with 85 percent gasoline. As South Dakotans know, corn and corn ethanol production are vital components of our economy. The corn ethanol industry supports thousands of jobs in our state and contributes a significant amount of revenue to our local communities. The decision to allow year-round sales of E-15 is a huge win for our state.
We were also finally able to enact legislation to make sure thousands of “Blue Water” Navy veterans can receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after their exposure to the dangerous pesticide Agent Orange while fighting in the Vietnam War.
More recently, we passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, which includes a number of South Dakota priorities. In addition to fully funding the B-21 Raider bomber program, it includes my legislation to create a cyber consortia for certain universities, including Dakota State University in Madison. The consortia will provide an opportunity for schools designated as National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security Centers of Academic Excellence to lend their cybersecurity expertise to the Department of Defense. In addition, the NDAA includes the largest pay raise for our troops in a decade, continues to rebuild our military, gives our service members additional resources to meet new challenges and takes care of military families.
When it comes to trade, we’ve made significant progress. The administration secured a unilateral trade deal with Japan this year that will cut tariffs and pave the way for more sales of American beef and other ag products to Japan. And the Trump administration is closing in on a phase 1 trade deal with China that they say seeks to increase ag exports to $40 or $50 billion. Additionally, the House finally passed the USMCA trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and we expect to take it up in the Senate soon into the new year.
As we look ahead to 2020, we are hopeful for the future. Jean will begin radiation treatment in January, the final step in her cancer treatment. We appreciate the continued prayers during this time. In the Senate, I’ll continue to bring South Dakota values to Washington so we can further grow the economy and improve the lives of hardworking families.