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Wrapping up my first session of Congress, ready to get to work in the year ahead

Two years ago, you trusted me with your vote to serve as your United States Senator. Having seen the damaging effects of our overreaching, broken federal government as a business owner, governor, father and grandfather, I was eager to get to work to fix Washington.

While partisan gridlock in Washington still exists, we were able to make progress in several specific areas. We were able to enact the first major changes to our education laws since ‘No Child Left Behind,’ returning decision-making to the local level where it belongs. We also passed a long-term highway bill for the first time in two decades, allowing us to make long-overdue improvements to our roads and bridges.

While we still have work to do on tax reform, we were able to come together to make permanent sales tax deductions as well as deductions for charitable giving and certain educators. We also made section 179 permanent at the $500,000 level, which particularly benefits farmers and ranchers and could increase U.S. economic output by nearly $19 billion over 10 years. This type of tax relief allows South Dakota families and businesses to plan more efficiently and spend more of their money how they see fit.

While the accomplishments of the 114th Congress are a start, I am also aware of the challenges we continue to face. Despite getting 240 bipartisan bills signed into law, we still have a broken budget system, an over-sized bureaucracy, too much red tape and a tax code that is more than 74,000 pages in length.

The regulatory regime alone is costing Americans nearly $1.9 trillion annually, far more than is paid in individual income taxes. These regulatory costs are taking money out of the pockets of hard-working South Dakotans, stunting economic growth in our country and hurting the citizens our government is meant to serve.

While we have made improvements to agencies such as the VA, too many veterans today are still suffering at the hands of administrative bureaucracy. We have an Indian Health System in need of total overhaul, employing twice as many bureaucrats as actual health providers. Meanwhile, tribal members are literally dying awaiting care the federal government has an obligation to provide. We must seek ways to make these and other agencies more efficient.

In the next Congress, addressing our debt crisis must also be a priority. The long-term driver of our debt is mandatory payments and interest on our debt, currently over $19 trillion. Yet Congress does not even debate the merits of mandatory payments, which accounts for more than 70 percent of our spending today. I have been working with a number of other senators to find ways to revise the budget process here in Congress, so we can address our budget crisis. What we have been working on would open up the entire budget to congressional management, including mandatory payments.

As we move forward to the 115th Congress and a new, Republican administration eager to work with us, rather than against us, I am optimistic in our ability to build on the successes of the past two years. But we must also get serious about bringing real changes that will leave our country even stronger for the next generation of Americans.

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