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John Cornyn, guest columnist: A look back at congressional accomplishments of 2017

John Cornyn, guest columnist: A look back at congressional accomplishments of 2017

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Before memories of 2017 fade, it’s worth taking stock of the past 12 months in Washington. The holidays always help put the year into perspective. Think, for example, of the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Taking a cue from Clarence and George Bailey, I’d argue that, even when faced with challenges, we’ve done better than the pundits would have you believe.

In January, the nation was called to order by the gavel of the new administration. As one of his first actions, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate in April — and then we quickly filled other vacancies. All told, we confirmed 19 men and women to the federal bench in 2017, setting a record for appellate judges confirmed during a president’s first year in office. Two of them — Jim Ho and Don Willett, both exceptionally qualified — will serve in Texas.

And after eight years of federal overreach, hundreds of burdensome rules passed under President Obama, some during the waning days of his presidency, were suspended or repealed. As summer began, we passed a funding bill with Texas priorities. It funded NASA programs at Houston’s Johnson Space Center that will advance space missions — hopefully one day taking humans to Mars. It allowed the Department of Homeland Security to hire additional agents, improve checkpoints and add immigration court judges.

Then, in August came Harvey. Texas was pummeled by the most extreme rain event in the history of the United States, devastating more than 28,000 square miles along the coast. Along with the entire Texas congressional delegation, I helped secure some $30 billion for recovery efforts. As Texans tore out sheetrock and molded carpets from their living rooms, federal resources helped piece disrupted lives back together.

Texas was dealt a second blow just two months later, when a man opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs. With multiple convictions and a history of mental illness, the individual should never have been able to purchase a gun. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Fix NICS Act to ensure existing laws are enforced and convicted felons don’t exploit our background check system by “lying and buying.”

The week before Christmas, we completed comprehensive tax reform — a historic overhaul of the code and the first in over three decades. Importantly, the bill signed by the president repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate, a tax on poor and middle-income Americans. It also reduces taxes for all income brackets and boosts the standard deduction and child tax credit. It will allow businesses to add jobs, raise wages and re-invest in the United States from overseas.

Yet other legislation was signed into law with little fanfare but significant impact. This includes a bill I championed called the Protect Our Children Act, which reauthorizes task forces combating child exploitation online. Other bills I sponsored that will be law tackle elder abuse, reauthorize rape-kit audits, prioritize the training of pediatric nurses handling sexual-assault cases and assist police in hiring military veterans. These bills don’t always grab big headlines, but they chip away at problems and were passed on a bipartisan basis. The job of men and women like myself is to serve the folks who elected us. This year we made important strides, but our work is just beginning.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

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