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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Congress passed only 31 laws in 2023

    WASHINGTON — Members of Congress spent the past 12 months ensuring that this session would be one for the history books.

    It was punctuated with the first removal of a House speaker, the first interim speaker and the first member to be expelled in more than 20 years.

    There was Republican infighting; and almost physical fighting in a hallway, a committee meeting and even on the House floor.

    But what people won’t remember about 2023 is the long list of legislation passed through the hallowed halls of Congress.

    That’s because it doesn’t exist.

    In fact, only 31 pieces of legislation became law since Jan. 1, making this year one of the most ineffective in congressional history.

    And President Joe Biden signed eight of those bills into law just this month.

    Debt ceiling

    Among the 16 members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation, they sponsored 214 pieces of legislation. Only one member succeeded at having his bill become law: Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Lincoln County.

    McClatchy looked specifically at bills originated by members. That does not take into account that some of the 214 bills may have been added into one of the 31 that became law, or include bills that passed through only one chamber. It also does not include bills they co-sponsored.

    On June 3, Biden signed McHenry’s Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 into law, narrowly preventing an economic collapse, that would have been caused by the country’s failure to meet its financial obligations.

    “This is the most conservative spending package during my time in Congress,” McHenry said then in a written statement. “The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the largest deficit-reduction bill in at least a decade and will fundamentally change the spending trajectory in Washington.”

    The majority of the House and Senate supported the bill’s passage, though North Carolina’s Rep. Dan Bishop, a Republican from Waxhaw, and Sen. Ted Budd, a Republican from Davie County, voted against it. Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat from Raleigh, missed the vote after testing positive for COVID-19.

    McHenry received the gavel used the day the bill passed the U.S. House as a memento of his work on the bill. He announced earlier this month he would not seek reelection after 20 years in office.

    Bipartisan support

    The bill that received the most attention from North Carolina’s delegation honored the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps. Rep Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sponsored the bill directing the Department of Treasury to release a series of coins commemorating the anniversary.

    North Carolina is home to the East Coast’s largest Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune, as well as Marine Corps Air Station New River and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

    Reps. Ross, Chuck Edwards, David Rouzer, Richard Hudson, Greg Murphy, Jeff Jackson and Wiley Nickel co-sponsored the bill. Sens. Budd and Thom Tillis cosponsored a mirroring bill in the Senate.

    It passed both chambers with only the objection of Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie.

    Crime in Washington, DC

    Another piece of legislation that caught the attention of North Carolina’s delegation this year had to do with Washington’s plans to revise its criminal code. The city’s council proposed new rules would lower maximum penalties for most crimes.

    The constitution gives Congress authority over the city’s laws, which means that if enough lawmakers oppose the criminal code revisions, Washington wouldn’t be able to move forward.

    Reps. Murphy, Edwards and Virginia Foxx all signed on as co-sponsors of a bill to block the revisions, with Sens. Tillis and Budd co-sponsoring a mirroring Senate bill.

    Tillis addressed the bill on the Senate floor: “The far left is so out of touch that they want to reduce penalties for violent crimes in D.C. while residents, federal employees, members of Congress, visiting constituents, and even our visiting diplomats are facing greater risk. I hope President Biden proves his commitment to public safety by working with my colleagues and me on commonsense, bipartisan proposals to keep our communities safe.”

    Many members of Congress maintain residences in Washington, while working in the city on behalf of their constituents.

    Tillis has recently said he no longer feels safe walking home at night from the U.S. Capitol. This year alone, a congresswoman was assaulted in her Washington apartment building, a congressman was carjacked after coming home late from the Capitol and a staffer was stabbed leaving a restaurant.

    All of North Carolina’s lawmakers voted to block the revisions except Democratic Reps. Jackson, Ross, Alma Adams and Valerie Foushee.

    The bill passed through both chambers, and Biden signed it into law.

    Veterans’ issues

    So at this point, you may be wondering if any of the bills helped North Carolinians.

    If you’re one the nearly 800,000 veterans living in North Carolina, there’s a strong possibility that one of the bills may impact you.

    Of the 31 bills passed, 11 either helped veterans or commemorated the military in some way.

    Tillis co-sponsored a bill that helps National Guard members facing financial hardships, keeping them from having their higher income from the National Guard used in bankruptcy proceedings, instead of that of their normal jobs. It ended up in the House version, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, that was signed into law last week.

    Other bills that passed, and who sponsored them:

    ▪ Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, sponsored a bill to fund the military’s budget in 2024. The bill included projects and improvements to North Carolina’s military bases.

    ▪ Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from California; aims to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs makes accessing claims or benefits records easier for users. The department is required to create an online system for veterans or their representatives to request documents. The department must fulfill requests within 120 days.

    ▪ Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana; gave veterans a cost-of-living increase beginning on Dec. 1. The increase was for disability compensation, clothing allowance, dependency and indemnity compensation for spouses and children.

    ▪ Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California; helped veterans from South Korea who fought alongside the United States in the Vietnam war to receive health care benefits.

    ▪ Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana; strengthened benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange who then had children born with spina bifida.

    Under this new law, Veteran Affairs must provide lifetime health care, job training and monetary benefits to the children who have spina bifida whose parents were exposed to Agent Orange during the war.

    Health care laws

    The two chambers also tackled issues in health care. One of the first pieces of legislation to pass through Congress ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information about potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and the origin of COVID-19. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, sponsored the bill and it passed both chambers unanimously.

    Less universally accepted was Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar’s bill to end the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Reps. Foxx, Murphy and Edwards and Sens. Tillis and Budd co-sponsored bills in their chambers. North Carolina split down party lines on the bill, with the exception of Democratic Rep. Don Davis, who voted with Republicans.

    Another bill, signed last week, and co-sponsored by Foushee, Jackson and Ross, looks at best practices involving Xylazine, a medication used by veterinarians that when mixed with fentanyl has made the drug Narcan ineffective in reversing some drug overdoses. Under the new law, the National Institute of Standards and Technology must research Xylazine, create rapid detection tests for the drug and create partnerships with organizations that might come into contact with street drugs.

    What’s next?

    Congress ended the year without tackling some major issues like funding Israel and Ukraine or enhancing the nation’s border security.

    It’s becoming routine news, but Congress also returns in January facing down another potential government shutdown if lawmakers can’t agree on how to fund the government.

    Meanwhile, the 2024 election season is underway with a series of upcoming primaries, including North Carolina’s on March 5, meaning everything Congress does will be held to higher scrutiny.

    _____

    ©2023 McClatchy Washington Bureau.

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