Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part series focusing on initiatives Congress has passed and continue to work on.

U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, made several stops in Carter County on Tuesday, including one at The Ardmoreite to discuss what Congress has done this year and areas of focus going into next year.
“It’s actually been a very productive Congress,” Cole said. “Most people don’t believe that, but it’s the first Congress since 2001 that both the House and the Senate passed the same budget and lived by it.”
In addition to the budget compromise, Cole listed off a number of things they’ve been able to accomplish.
n Overhauling K-12 education since 2002, which saved Oklahoma more than $20 million by reducing testing and putting decision-making back at the state level
• A multi-year highway bill was passed for the first time since 2005. “So the next five years we know what Oklahoma and every other state can get and frankly, it’s all paid for,” Cole said
• Overhauling the veterans system for the first time in over a dozen years to both put more money behind veterans, as well as enhance power for the secretary to discipline people who aren’t providing services. Also, providing a Veterans Choice Card so if a veteran is more than 40 miles away from a facility, they can get things taken care of locally
• Passage of a cybersecurity bill for the very first time, “and it’s on a bipartisan basis,” Cole said
• Passage of human trafficking legislation that is “by far” the most extensive of its kind to ever be passed
• The first Congress since 2006 that all appropriations bills, both last year and this year, have moved through the appropriations subcommittee

“You can go on, it’s a lot of legislation. It’s been a productive Congress,” Cole said.

And there’s still several big issues he said they need to resolve before the end of the year, listing off three major initiatives. Number One is government funding for next year.

“While all the bills have gone through the appropriate committees, they haven’t all gone across the floor of the House and the Senate and there’ll probably be a larger negotiation after the election,” he said.

The second is tax extenders. Cole said parts of the Tax Code are only for two years at a time. For instance, the Indian’s tax land credit, which is a major benefit for Oklahoma, has not yet been extended. However, he said that usually comes late in the year.

Number Three is Zika funding. The House has already passed two different bills and the Senate has a majority in favor of one, “but, it’s down to Democrats don’t want to pay for it and Republicans do, and that’s really the big issue there,” he said.

However, productivity of Congress is slowing down as Election Day nears.

“The pace of Congress is slowing down simply because nobody knows who the next President’s going to be and you don’t start major issues at this point in the cycle,” he said, adding if you started something now, no Cabinet member would be there to finish it because the President they ran under wouldn’t be there to push it along.

The Congress is also going to change after the election.

“You wait and let the American people make their decision about what President, and frankly, what the distribution of the power in Congress is,” he said.

Congress’ next session, he said, will depend a lot on what’s popular with the new President. That aside, he still has a list of things he hopes they accomplish next year.

1. Tax reform. “There’s a bipartisan appetite for simplifying the tax code, getting rid of a lot of the deductions and loopholes and lowering the rates,” Cole said.

2. Entitlement reform. “You’re never going to balance the budget if you don’t meaningfully deal with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” he said.

Right now about 70 percent of all federal spending are on those three programs, plus interest on the debt and food stamps, Cole said. With Presidential campaigns in full swing, one of the disappointing things he’s noticed is that neither candidate has advanced entitlement reform.

“If they don’t, they’ll have a rise in deficit every year they’re in office. So it’s something that Congress needs to come to grips with,” he said.

3. Restoring Regular Order. “That is moving appropriations bills through the process one at a time where they get the maximum time to amend them and examine them, get rid a lot of wasteful spending,” Cole said.

4. Continued, increased investment in the National Institute of Health and Center for Disease Control. “Getting biomedical research going again, if you will,” Cole said. “It’s been flat for about a dozen years.” The congressman said it is extremely important and could help cure cancer in the longterm. Congress doubled what the President asked for last year and they increased it again this year.

5. Solving the federal budget. Cole cited an example of Alzheimer’s funding. While they spend millions, they ultimately save billions by reducing the amount of time that people need care and are working to find a cure, which could make a big dent in the deficit.

“We had the largest increase in history in Alzheimer’s funding last year and we moved it from about $550 million to about $950 (million). That’s a lot of money, but we spend $170 billion a year on Alzheimer’s care through Medicaid for patients who have it exhausted their own resources,” Cole said.