There’s definitely nowhere greater to be in the United States in August than the First Congressional District of New York on the East End of Long Island, and this past district work period was no different. It’s been an honor to listen and speak to those from all across our great district during my mobile office hours, “Coffee with your Congressman,” town hall forums and one-on-one and small-group meetings.
Time and time again, I hear the hardworking men and women of my district concerned that in the midst of political fighting, the issues most important to them are drowned out — a sentiment shared by Americans around the country. It’s important for elected officials to remember that Washington, D.C. oftentimes couldn’t be more removed from the realities found in the rest of our nation, and, as we head back to Washington, it’s critical that every representative take this lesson back with them.
There are times when we have to uncomfortably confront and debate important issues where there is disagreement and that’s okay, but where we can find common ground we should be more than eager to do so. According to the Lugar Center, last Congress I was one of the top 50 most bipartisan Members of the House —because, I believe, there is so much more that unites us than divides us. While the beginning of this Congress marked great bipartisan victories, such as the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, we face no shortage of great challenges, ones that can only be addressed with bipartisan action.
As the next long-term highway bill is negotiated this Congress, we must focus on continuing to secure critical funding and push state, local, and federal agencies to complete essential work, which includes repairing and improving highways and local roads and boosting federal aid for locally owned infrastructure like bridges and overpasses. Furthermore, we must bolster our maritime infrastructure, ensuring our waterways, seaside communities and coastal economy are protected.
Across our great nation, law enforcement is faced with the rise of the heroin and opioid abuse crisis, human trafficking, and transnational gangs, such as MS-13. We must make sure law enforcement is provided with the equipment they need to protect themselves and the laws in place that help safeguard our neighborhoods. When it comes to those battling addiction, we must provide our communities with the tools and resources to increase treatment, recovery, education, enforcement and prevention services.
We must serve those who have served us, ensuring every veteran has access to the resources they have earned no matter what corner of our country they call home. This means expanding access to VA resources through Community Based Outpatient Clinics and other alternatives that allow them to receive the care they need with local convenience.
As Americans, it is also our responsibility to provide the next generation with the tools they need to succeed and this means improving the quality of education they receive. We must shift the focus from over-testing to teaching and boosting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs to prepare students for jobs in the 21st Century workforce. In response to the student debt crisis, we must replace the current broken student loan system with an individualized loan repayment program tailored to our students’ needs and expand Pell Grants for higher education. A recent study has shown that the average graduate in New York has over $32,000 in student debt; this crisis must be swiftly addressed.
These are just a few of the many challenges we face as a nation, and as I head to Washington for our first week back in session, I hope all of my colleagues have spent time on the ground listening to the everyday Americans they serve and are returning with the same mentality and focus.
Rep. Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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