Looking back on 2016, a turbulent year for sure in politics, we often saw the biggest rivalries and the loudest pundits take center stage. All along, my main focus was always working hard on behalf of Florida’s 12th District. We accomplished some important legislative wins for our communities, with 16 initiatives I wrote being signed into law this year.
While there’s still much work to be done, a unified Republican government come January will give us a strong foundation to solve the largest problems facing Florida and the entire country.
One of my top priorities continues to be ensuring Veterans get the care they have earned and deserve, and in 2016 a number of my initiatives to support Veterans became law. Two major bills I introduced, the COVER Act and the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, will ensure Veterans get personalized care when it comes to dealing with their physical and invisible wounds.
I also wrote a bill to officially dedicate the Elfers Post Office after local Purple Heart hero Private First Class Roger Fussell, who was tragically killed serving in Vietnam. To make sure our heroes are getting the most out of the benefits they are promised, I led initiatives to expand opportunities for disabled Veterans to fly on military aircraft and improve Veterans’ education assistance programs.
Going forward, we need to make the transition process better for our men and women who serve. While our military spends on average six months to a year preparing soldiers for their assignments, we only spend three to five days preparing them to reintegrate to civilian life. Making sure veterans have a robust support system for returning home would help with a whole host of problems like homelessness, unemployment, and substance abuse. I will be making this a priority in the coming year.
After three years of work, the 21st Century Cures Act finally crossed the finish line in December. This legislation is a game-changer for millions of patients and families who are affected by diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, and more. Importantly, Cures includes my initiatives to create a national database for neurological diseases and streamline FDA regulations to get medical products to market faster. In Florida, I met with doctors, patients, researchers, and advocates about how government can become an ally—not an obstruction—to medical innovation. Proudly, much of their input is now reflected in the final law.
Additionally, we passed legislation to help seniors better identify out-of-pocket costs under Medicare, and combat the opioid abuse crisis across the nation. While this work does not always dominate national headlines, it can truly improve lives and make a difference in our communities. In 2017, I plan to hit the ground running to continue these efforts.
At the top of the agenda is repealing and replacing Obamacare. Under Obamacare, costs have nearly doubled for working families, millions of people have been kicked off the insurance plans they like, and insurers have fled the market, leaving people with less options for their health care. Our health care system should be affordable, personalized, and offer the best quality care possible.
We also need to overhaul the tax code, and ensure it is focused on maximizing growth and competitiveness for American businesses. The tax code should make it easier for businesses to create jobs and raise wages, not harder. Our system should be simpler and fairer for hardworking families, too.
None of the successes of the past year, or the goals set for the year ahead, would be possible without the folks of Florida’s 12th District. Your voices will continue to guide me as your representative in the People’s House. I pledge to keep working hard to solve our problems here at home in Florida and around the U.S.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 2006.