Working with my colleagues and President Trump, we have fulfilled our promises to grow jobs and the economy, roll back regulatory overreach and enact significant tax reform.
A key reason Americans voted for change in 2016 was to improve our economy. We’re off to a great start. More than 1.7 million jobs were created in the first 11 months of 2017, dropping the unemployment rate to the lowest mark since 2000. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Growth topped 3 percent in both the second and third quarters and the New York Federal Reserve predicts 4 percent growth in the fourth quarter.
The tax cuts signed this month by the President will further spur job creation, and Idahoans will keep more of their money, helping families meet expenses and make crucial investments. Another boost will come from regulatory reform. This year Congress repealed 14 last-minute Obama Administration regulations, eliminating $35 billion in compliance costs, according to the American Action Forum.
We also made progress on restoring common-sense management on public lands. I supported the Trump Administration’s rescinding overreaching policies on sage grouse habitat and the scaling back of national monuments to reflect local concerns. We must respect the right of average Americans to make a living.
We also had a productive year doing work that doesn’t make headlines, providing constituent service to Idahoans dealing with the federal bureaucracy. My office handled about 1,000 constituent service cases in 2017, with more than half of those involving veterans.
Among the hundreds of veterans we helped was a 73-year-old diabetic from Hayden who was down to a single day’s supply of insulin. We made sure he got his life-saving medication on time.
We also assisted a soldier from Caldwell, whose husband was killed in Iraq, secure the education benefits she deserved. In Council, a veteran with heart problems was anxious about delayed payments for covered medical expenses. We helped him solve the problem. In Nampa, we sped up a VA loan application for a retired couple buying their dream home.
For other constituents we cut through red tape at the IRS, Social Security Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board, helped obtain passports, assisted legal immigrants and much, much more. By year’s end, we recovered $2.3 million in benefits, including retroactive pay, reimbursement for medical expenses, new benefit awards, disability claims, pensions and more. That was up significantly from 2016, when we recovered $1.6 million.
One case we’d been working on for years wound up having national impact in 2017. In 2013, I met Navy Capt. Edward and Heidi Hill. Their daughter, Shauna, died at 16 in an automobile accident. The Hills tried to transfer veterans’ education benefits to their surviving child, but were told it was impossible. We sought an administrative remedy, but discovered current law prohibited the transfer. So, we set out to change the law.
In February, I introduced the Shauna Hill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Transferability Act, which permits reassignment of benefits for veterans’ families. President Trump signed the bill into law as part of a larger veterans’ education bill in August. Be sure to watch a KTVB-TV story, which includes an interview with the Hills.
Another idea brought to me by Idahoans is moving through Congress. In 2014, I met two loggers, Tim Christopherson of Kamiah and Mark Mahon of Council. They suggested extending to the logging industry an existing provision for agricultural workers that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work on family-owned operations. In November, the House approved my bill, the Future Logging Careers Act, as part of a larger forestry bill.
In addition, as the new chairman of the House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, I am keeping my promise to put the needs of the American people first. I’ll have more on our efforts to work with President Trump on immigration reform in a later newsletter. But let me assure you, I’m committed to strengthen our borders, improve interior enforcement and bring our immigration system into the 21st century.
I’m also working hard on four other pieces of legislation important to Idaho. Two have passed committee: my bills to boost exploration of clean and renewable geothermal energy and name the Payette Post Office for baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Two others await committee action: a constitutional amendment to establish term limits in Congress and a bill adding a third U.S. District Judge for Idaho.
As I reflect on these successes, I am thankful to the hard-working people who make Idaho great. More than 2,000 of you took the time to attend my town halls in Meridian, Nampa, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene, asking tough questions and enlivening our democracy.
The Idaho Statesman’s Robert Ehlert covered the Meridian meeting. “If I had my way,” Ehlert wrote, “everybody would conduct town halls the way Raul Labrador does. No scripts. No dodging or discarding written questions that you don’t want to answer. Nobody casting suspicious eyes at you when you walk in. Nobody following you around. Come one, come all.”
I made national news with one of the comments I made in a town hall meeting that was misinterpreted by the liberal media and misrepresented by my political enemies.
I had a colleague tell me that he didn't do town hall meetings precisely because he wanted to avoid moments like that. That's a shame! I will continue my fight for conservative principles and am optimistic we’ll make more progress in 2018. Meanwhile, I wish you and yours a happy and prosperous New Year.