A Year in Review

As we turn the page on 2015 and look to the future, I welcome this opportunity to share some of the accomplishments of the past year.  Although much work remains to be done, I was able to achieve progress on issues that matter to the people of Maine, whom I am honored to represent in the United States Senate.
 
Growing the economy by encouraging the creation of more jobs was and remains my top priority.  The tax-relief bill passed by Congress late last year contains three key provisions I authored to help provide small businesses – the engine of our economy – with the certainty they need to plan for expansion, invest in equipment, and, most important, to hire new workers.
 
These tax provisions allow small businesses to immediately deduct the entire cost, up to $500,000 of certain newly acquired assets that are purchased or financed during the tax year, and to more quickly recover the costs of equipment that wear out, or depreciates, with use.  One provision of particular importance to Maine’s tourism sector enables restaurants to depreciate the cost of renovations over 15 years, rather than the previous, unreleastic 39 years.
 
Maine’s economy and traffic safety both got a boost with a permanent change in the federal law that previously had forced the heaviest trucks onto our country roads and downtown streets rather than allowing them to use Maine’s federal Interstates.  This permanent provision, which I included in the transportation provisions of the comprehensive funding bill, follows a successful pilot program I authored that has made Maine’s secondary roads and downtown streets safer, saved Maine companies time and money, and reduced energy consumption and emissions.
 
Maine’s economic future took a step forward last year with a significant additional funding I helped to secure for the Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration initiative, which benefits the University of Maine’s innovative deepwater offshore wind project. I am a strong advocate for this emerging alternative energy source that has the potential to create thousands of good jobs here in Maine and make our state the global leader in this promising new technology.
 
The people of Maine are proud of the historic role our state has played in our nation’s defense, and as a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I work to ensure that these contributions continue.  In 2015, I secured $1 billion toward an additional Naval destroyer, which likely would be built at Bath Iron Works.  America’s combatant commanders have outlined military requirements for a considerably larger Navy than we now have, and destroyers remain the workhorses of the fleet. 
 
Modernization projects at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard I long have advocated for were completed.  In addition, I helped to secured $7.2 million for the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing to renovate the base fire and crash rescue station and celebrated the opening of the $14.5 million Maine Army National Guard Readiness Center in Bangor on December 5th. 
 
Victory over bureaucratic intransigence was finally achieved last year when the wholesome fresh potato was finally included in the federal nutrition program known as WIC.  As directed in a law I wrote, the Institute of Medicine evaluated the nutritional value of potatoes, finding them to be a good source of vitamins, fiber, and potassium and further finding that there was no justification for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to exclude this vegetable.  The Department finally relented and now includes whole potatoes, which had been the only fresh vegetable or fruit excluded from the WIC program.  I also secured funding and language on a range of issues important to Maine's farmers and growers, including potatoes, wild blueberries, and pollinating bees.
 
At the beginning of 2015, I became Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, a position I sought for two reasons:  Maine has the highest median age of any state, and the issues facing our nation due to its changing demographics as our population ages deserve more attention.  The priorities we focused on were retirement security, fraud and financial abuses of our seniors, and the need for investing more funding in biomedical research, particularly for Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes.   
 
I advocated strongly for the $2 billion increase in funding approved for the National Institutes of Health, which is the largest increase to the agency’s budget since 2003. This is an investment that will pay dividends, particularly when dealing with costly diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.  As the Senate Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease, I am all too aware of the tremendous personal and economic toll this devastating disease takes on more than five million Americans and their families.  I co-authored the 2011 law creating the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease and sponsored a resolution calling for Congress to devote at least $2 billion per year to research as recommended by the expert federal advisory council established by this law.  Last year, Congress approved a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease research at the National Institute of Aging, bringing the total amount available for Alzheimer’s disease research to $936 million – a more than 50 percent increase and almost half-way to that $2 billion a year goal. 
 
As America ages, the need for care and support increases too.  There are more than 40 million individuals in our nation who know all too well the compassion, commitment, and endurance that it takes to be a caregiver of a loved one.  Family caregivers devote their time and attention, and they frequently must make many personal and financial sacrifices to enable many of our nation’s seniors to remain living in the safety and comfort of their own homes.  I am pleased that the Senate last year passed the Raise Family Caregivers Act I introduced with Senator Tammy Baldwin to develop a national strategy to recognize and support family caregivers in the United States
 
The Aging Committee also continued to focus on the scams and frauds targeting our seniors.  Our toll-free hotline (1-855-303-9470) makes it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and receive assistance and has received more than a thousand calls.
 
Serving on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, I was deeply involved in reforming the flawed No Child Left Behind Act as Congress passed the most significant education legislation in many years.  The new law recognizes that we don’t need a national school board at the Department of Education and empowers states and communities to make important education decisions.  The education reform act also includes an extension of the Rural Education Achievement Program I co-authored that provides additional financial assistance to rural schools and districts. At least 120 Maine school districts have collectively received more than $4 million for the REAP program
 
The $250 above-the-line deduction I authored in 2002 for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies, which has been extended several times, was made permanent last year.
 
As Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, I have made combating veterans’ homelessness a priority.  This year’s housing funding bill includes $60 million for 8,000 new supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.  Since this program began in 2008, the number of homeless veterans nationwide has dropped by one third. Maine has received nearly 200 vouchers to support homeless veterans.
 
A Maine value that always guides me is our unsurpassed work ethic. As 2015 ended, I continued my record of never missing a roll-call vote since my Senate service began in 1997, a tally that now stands at 6,072 consecutive votes.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work on your behalf as your Senator, and I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2016.