- Special Projects
Late December often prompts reflection about the year that has passed, and resolutions for the year to come.
For Hawaii’s representatives in Congress, there were some big 2013 disappointments. Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform or extend long-term unemployment benefits that are set to expire for nearly 1.2 million people. They are also impatient for federal recognition for Native Hawaiians similar to the recognition already granted to Alaska Natives and Native American tribes, and to pass legislation aimed at ending military sexual assaults.
Looking ahead, Hawaii representatives have a slew of policy goals, along with some personal ones — Sen. Mazie Hirono wants to “de-clutter” her home, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa wants to re-connect with old friends, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard resolves to squeeze more surf and yoga into the coming year.
Schatz: After a lot of hard work to finally reach a two-year budget compromise that rolls back the sequester and moves our country forward, we were unable to find agreement to extend long-term unemployment benefits. I find it stunning and disappointing that the House of Representatives left DC to go home for the holidays, and that Republicans in the Senate repeatedly blocked Senate Democrats’ work to pass an extension of these benefits. We tried multiple ways to extend these benefits before the holidays and Republicans would not agree.
Hirono: The top of the list is comprehensive immigration reform… But I was happy to hear that (Wisconsin Republican Rep.) Paul Ryan recently in Chicago said that he supports comprehensive immigration reform. Coming out of the budget compromise between him and (Washington Democratic Sen.) Patty Murray, I’d say having Paul Ryan weigh in and say we need to get this done, that’s a good sign. There are 11 million people in the shadows, undocumented, who need to come out of the shadows.
Hanabusa: What we were hoping to accomplish was the issue of federal recognition, at least getting it moved along, but there were all different kinds of issues associated with that. I was very disappointed. The other issue — which is something that I personally wanted — doing away with sequestration. I wanted to see it repealed. Sequestration was one thing we were told would not happen but, in essence, it happened, and we haven’t been able to get rid of it. In the budget bill they were able to reduce it but… it’s just not acceptable.
Gabbard: One bill I’m disappointed didn’t come to a vote in either the House or Senate is the Military Justice Improvement Act. I introduced this bill to get to the heart of the issue of sexual assault within our ranks by removing the decision of whether or not to prosecute from the chain of command, and putting it into the hands of trained military prosecutors. (Editor’s note: Gabbard is a co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced in the Senate.) I have worked hard with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and a bipartisan group of supporters to tackle this issue head on, gaining support both in Congress and the military for this reform. While I was encouraged by the progress we made this year, both in raising awareness and including meaningful change in the Defense bill that passed, we will continue to push for a vote on our bill next year.
I am also looking forward to building awareness and additional support for the USA Freedom Act, which I sponsored with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the architect of the original USA Patriot Act. (Editor’s note: Gabbard is a co-sponsor of the act, which was introduced by Sensenbrenner and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.) We are working with a bipartisan group of House members to address the surveillance overreach occurring within the NSA and target reforms to the Patriot Act to ensure that innocent Americans’ personal data is protected. This is a generational issue with our civil liberties at stake, and the American people deserve a solution that both protects their right to personal privacy while ensuring a strong national defense.
Gabbard: From my first day in Congress, I have made it a priority to build relationships with my colleagues from across the spectrum. This effort has been critical in my work on issues important to Hawaii and our country, including the passage and enactment of the very first bill I introduced (the Helping Heroes Fly Act). It is also important as I continue my work to build support for proposals like the MJIA and the Freedom Act among my colleagues who may be on the fence. For example, I met with several of my Senate counterparts this fall to support Sen. Gillibrand’s effort to gain co-sponsors and add the MJIA to the Senate version of the Defense bill. While it unfortunately didn’t receive a vote for procedural reasons, we built support for our proposal and laid the groundwork for future action.
Hanabusa: We have to stay the course (in seeking federal recognition for Native Hawaiians) until we hear otherwise. We need to hear from the White House before we can chart the next steps. There are three ways you can achieve federal recognition: One is through Congress, the other is what you’re hearing about now, which is executive orders; and then the third is judicial, which in my opinion would require the state to take some kind of action. I think that whatever the course may be, it’s going to be something that the entire delegation pools behind… We have to hear from all the players, primarily the executive branch. It’s in their court.
Hirono: I continue to talk with immigration advocates. We are in touch with them all across the country. These are people for whom this is a top issue. It affects so many companies, families, every state. I also have been meeting with DREAMers both in Hawaii and across the country— the DREAMers are the young (undocumented) people who get here before they turn 16. I am proud of the fact that the UH board of regents took the step to offer in-state tuition to DREAMers in Hawaii… We also worked really hard on making some important changes with how we deal with sexual assault in the military. I’m hopeful that as we go forward we’ll bring forth the Gillibrand change to the Military Justice Act.
Schatz: Democrats are united in the Senate to make (extending long-term unemployment benefits) our first order of business in January and we will have a vote before January 7 to extend unemployment benefits.
Hirono: The ones I actually may keep? From the work standpoint, of course, I’m going to continue to focus on immigration reform. I view that as closing what I call the “opportunity gap.” Middle class families are really having a much harder time.
And then, personally, I want to continue to de-clutter my house in Hawaii. I made a start during the Thanksgiving period to do that. I’m something of a keeper-of-all-things, so it’s quite the challenge to go through basically 30 years of curio from my political life… I’m not throwing away, but I’m recollecting as I go through boxes and boxes of stuff. One other thing I’m going to continue to do — part of the balance in my life is to do art, so I want to continue to work in clay. I recently did a mosaic mirror triptych.
Schatz: My central mission as Hawaii’s Senator is to help middle class families make it in Hawaii. Too many families feel stretched thin, and they just need a little help to make ends meet. I’m dedicated to helping families enter the middle class in Hawaii, and also making sure they can stay in the middle class. As part of that mission, I’m working with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on what we are calling the Opportunity Plan. This plan would: ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, raise the minimum wage, establish universal pre-K, expand access to quality, affordable day care, and create family and medical leave insurance so workers don’t have to choose between their job and caring for a sick loved one.
Middle-class families also need to be able to afford college – which is why I’m introducing legislation to make college more affordable… As we all know, generations take care of generations in Hawaii. That’s why I worked with one of the most senior members of the Senate, Tom Harkin – the powerful Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – to introduce legislation to enhance Social Security and extend the life of the program. It would increase the average beneficiary’s Social Security check by $65 per month, helping make sure our seniors have the dignity and security they deserve in retirement.
I believe in the principle that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead in this country. And the best way to do that is for me to fight to support families in Hawaii and across the nation, giving them every possible opportunity to succeed.
Gabbard: More yoga and more surf! I want to expand my work on issues of innovation, growth and technology. So many of the challenges we face are tied to the need to enhance growth in our economy. Primarily, I am focused on identifying creative ways to bring innovation and common sense into the government, and create an environment that supports and enhances entrepreneurship and job creation here in Hawaii and across the United States. This is critical as we look to support everything from American economic competitiveness in the global market, to the educational opportunities our keiki have on all of our islands.
Hanabusa: One of the most important things in my resolutions has to do with one of the most critical issues for me — that has always been the pivot to the Asia Pacific… What I would like to see is a very clear strategy. What does it mean to pivot to the Asia Pacific? The pivot to is not just a military pivot, it is everything else. The most important thing that we know that we do there — people really want our presence — humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We also have issues of safety and security in the region. So that whole strategy, what it means for us to pivot, I really want to see us come up with a clear statement. And some of that will happen within the QDR, the quadrennial defense review.
And on a personal level, I’m going to make this a resolution: The fact that it is so important to stay in contact with your friends and it’s so important to remember to touch people and to say, ‘Thank you.’ I like to think that I’m not bad at that, but… I want to be better at it. Those relationships are very important. Just being in the Christmas parade in Waianae and having so many people that I know their faces, saying, ‘Welcome home.’ My resolution is never forget where you’re from.