Last June I was elected to represent the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate. As a kid growing up in Malden, I never could have imagined that I would have such an incredible honor bestowed upon me. I am humbled by this responsibility and I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon my experience thus far with the readers of Blue Mass Group.
What many people will remember about Washington in 2013 will likely be negative, and for good reason. Tea Party extremists shut down the government for two weeks. They brought our nation to the brink of default. They blocked gun control legislation following Newtown. They refused to extend unemployment insurance, even though millions are looking for work. Climate change legislation, equal pay for women, workplace protections for LGBT people, all stalled or stymied.
No wonder Americans are frustrated with Congress.
Yet despite the fact that in the Tea Party world where chaos is the new compromise, I found that there are still victories to be had on behalf of the people of Massachusetts. Since I was elected to the Senate in June, I have been fighting alongside our entire Massachusetts congressional delegation to represent the interests, priorities and values of the Bay State.
When low-income groups said that Massachusetts families were going to lose their heating assistance benefits in the middle of this cold winter, I worked with Senator Warren to get the Obama administration to release $450 million in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program. Massachusetts will get its share – $18 million – to help save lives and support families struggling to make ends meet.
When Massachusetts fishermen were crushed by a perfect storm of economic and environmental pressures, I fought shoulder to shoulder with our entire delegation to secure $75 million in disaster relief money to help our fishermen and their families during these difficult economic times.
When tainted steroid medications produced at the New England Compounding Company in Framingham triggered a deadly meningitis outbreak that killed more than 60 people and sickened hundreds more in 2012, I was the first legislator in Congress to bring this health threat to the public’s attention, introducing a bill in the House of Representatives to crack down on these abuses. Within weeks of becoming a Senator, I was proud that the Senate passed, and President Obama signed into law, a bipartisan compounding pharmacy reform bill that contained many of the provisions in my legislation to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.
And when coastal homeowners and businesses from Marshfield to Marblehead said that unaffordable price spikes in flood insurance rates would send them financially underwater long before the rising tides, I worked with Senators from New Jersey to Louisiana to protect homeowners and businesses from these catastrophic costs. Just last week, we passed a bill that will delay these rate hikes until a full affordability assessment is done.
These are just a few examples of how government can still respond to the needs of the American people, and how I and the rest of the Massachusetts delegation are working to represent our Commonwealth in Washington.
And I’m just getting started.
Massachusetts is already a leader in the innovation economy, including our commitment to unleashing a clean energy revolution. The first bill I introduced in the Senate would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and quadruple America’s clean electricity production, all while saving consumers billions of dollars through energy efficiency. It requires that a minimum of 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2025. We can cut the pollution that is driving climate change while creating jobs that can’t be outsourced even as we make the products that we can export.
Natural gas consumers in Massachusetts are just starting to get what will likely be their largest bills of the year due to price spikes in January. After my office released a report showing how outdated, leaky natural gas pipelines cost Massachusetts ratepayers $1.5 billion over 10 years for gas they never received, I introduced legislation to promote the modernization of our nation’s natural gas infrastructure, creating jobs, lowering costs for consumers and fixing the leaks that contribute to global warming pollution.
I introduced legislation this week to protect the open nature of the Internet that has made it the most successful commercial and communications medium in history. The Internet was born in Massachusetts and our economy is fueled by the companies that make it their home. The Internet’s vitality and openness drives competition, innovation and job creation and we need preserve net neutrality to ensure a level playing field for consumers and innovators in Massachusetts and throughout the world.
And this fall, my legislation to preserve and reform our national helium reserve, legislation I crafted on a bipartisan basis in the House and voted for in the Senate was signed by President Obama. This isn’t about filling balloons for birthday parties; it’s about protecting jobs in high-tech industries key to Massachusetts. Helium is used in MRI machines, computer chip manufacturing, and scientific research labs that are indispensable for creating jobs and curing the deadly illnesses that plague families across Massachusetts and around the country.
And there is so much more work left to be done.
We need to extend emergency unemployment insurance for our workers. We need to raise the minimum wage so that everyone can provide for their families and have a ladder into the middle class. We need to link community college students to jobs in Massachusetts’s high-growth industries to help prepare them for good jobs while they are still in school. We need to help cities and towns rebuild their crumbling infrastructure with skilled union members.
More than a year after Newtown, gun violence plagues our nation, and our neighborhoods. Nine Bostonians were killed by a bullet in January, the highest total for that month in years. We owe our neighbors and every man, woman, and child cut down a renewed effort to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, increase research into this deadly epidemic, and provide effective mental health care to those who need it.
Gun control, immigration, and comprehensive climate change legislation are all generational challenges that we must address — not just for us but for our kids who dream of safe streets and schools, of a path to citizenship, of a planet free of fossil fuel pollution.
We can achieve all of these things and so much more if we reject Washington’s persistent pessimism that has made passing even the most modest measures seem insurmountable.
Because what matters in 2014 is what mattered in 2013: a quality education for all of our children; a good job at a fair wage; affordable health care for everyone; equal rights for all; and keeping our planet safe from climate change.
I am going to continue to work together with any partner who wants to achieve what matters, and move beyond the games and the Tea Party tactics that lead nowhere and only divide our country.