I took a strong role in the bipartisan negotiations and helped to get the Farm Bill and Energy Bill passed in the Senate in late 2007. Both contain many needed and deserved benefits for South Dakota's farmers and ranchers, as well as our state's ethanol industry. Both include provisions that I've personally worked on for years, including a streamlined implementation of Country of Origin Labeling (a huge win for South Dakota), a structured approach to agricultural disaster, and significant incentives that promote the use of alternative energy sources.The Farm Bill also includes a provision that would ban meatpackers from owning livestock in unfair competition with family producers.
As Chairman of the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (VA) Subcommittee, I fought for and secured a record $43.1 billion needed for the VA – $3.7 billion over the President's budget proposal. This money, which the President recently approved, fully funds veterans' health care for the first time in many years, and provides the necessary resources for the key emerging needs of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, including treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health services.
As a senior member on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, I was also able to secure more than $100 million in funding for important South Dakota projects.
As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I also worked to pass the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Modernization Act, which addresses the subprime mortgage crisis currently affecting more than two million homeowners across our country. And, I'm proud that I worked to pass the bipartisan Alternative Minimum Tax relief legislation that stopped a tax increase on nearly 13,000 South Dakotans and 19 million Americans.
After years of fighting to increase wages for South Dakota's working families, thousands of South Dakota workers finally received a raise in July, when the federal minimum wage was increased for the first time in ten years.And, our brave servicemen and women will receive a 3.5 percent pay raise when the Defense Authorization bill that I fought for and helped pass in the Senate is signed by the President.
These achievements are certainly to be celebrated, but looking ahead we have a lot of work left to do. Since September, I have worked to sponsor or co-sponsor over 35 pieces of legislation, and in 2008, I plan to use my seniority and experience in the Senate to continue to ensure that South Dakota gets the programs and resources we need to compete. This includes continuing the fight to:
- Provide the necessary resources for Ellsworth Air Force Base and our National Guard. As Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs, I'm going to make sure our veterans receive the funding and programs they so richly deserve.
- Ensure that the many positive provisions in the Senate approved Farm Bill remain through conference and are signed into law by the President.
- Protect South Dakotans from high energy costs. I'm supporting legislation that would create new federal fines and criminal penalties for price gouging, and ban manipulation of oil and gas markets.
- Expand the opportunities for our children to get quality higher education by improving scholarship programs for first generation college hopefuls.
- Pass my Native American Small Business Development Act – legislation designed to create new private sector jobs and increase prosperity in Indian Country.
- Protect our seniors from skyrocketing health care costs and improve access to rural health care for all South Dakotans.
In short, there is a lot to do, but the greatest honor and opportunity of my life has been serving the people of South Dakota. I look forward to continuing that honor and working with and for all of you in 2008.