The conventional Washington wisdom is that almost nothing of substance gets done in an election year. With media outlets focused on a rough and tumble primary season and the back and forth of the general election, there was little room for reporting on some of the very real bipartisan success stories of this Congress.
Far from the shouting matches on cable television, there was real work being done on Capitol Hill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee led the charge, passing five major pieces of bipartisan legislation. Much more needs to be done, but I believe we can build on these achievements.
The success that I am the most proud of is the smooth passage of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. Right from the start of my chairmanship of the Health Subcommittee, I focused on building a bipartisan bill that would renew and expand FDA programs that review new drugs and medical devices.
The United States is the world leader in medical innovation. In Pennsylvania alone, nearly 60,000 work in the pharmaceutical and medical device fields. Without timely and predictable review of new products, these jobs would be at risk.
In fact, as we held hearings to construct the legislation, we found that the process for approving medical devices had become cumbersome and costly. New investments were moving overseas. House Republicans introduced ten separate bills to reform the medical device process. Almost every single one of these bills was included in the final package.
While the existing legislation didn't expire until the fall, we worked swiftly on the replacement. By the end of May, the House passed our version of the bill with 387 "yes" votes and only five "no" votes.
On the day of House passage, my Democratic counterpart on the Health Subcommittee said on the House floor, "This is a great example of what we can do, not only in the Energy and Commerce Committee, but in general in this House on a bipartisan basis when everyone works together for a common goal." By July, we had passed a compromise bill with the Senate and sent the bill to the White House for the President's signature.
Early this year, President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act. The law will help prevent pipeline spills from occurring and steps up penalties for offenders when spills do happen.
With our nation increasingly taking advantage of our own natural gas and oil resources, we need to safely expand our pipeline infrastructure. We need new pipelines between the U.S. and Canada and throughout areas of the country where we are developing shale gas. Pipelines are already the safest way to transport these resources, and the new law will make sure we are using the latest and safest technology.
The Energy and Commerce Committee worked to include new vehicle safety provisions in the larger transportation bill, the Surface Transportation Extension Act. These provisions simplify compliance with federal regulations, give more flexibility to publicize new safety features, and strengthen federal authority to crack down on unsafe imports.
Contained within this year's Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act were provisions to manage the airwaves in order to open up more opportunities for mobile devices. The auction of electromagnetic spectrum will bring in more than $26 billion to the government. Some of this money will be used for public safety communications and the rest used to fund this year's payroll tax reduction. Recent studies show that the new opportunities opened up by this spectrum auction could create more than 300,000 jobs.
Finally, the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act replaces an old paper-based system with a new electronic one. Companies are required to maintain records of hazardous waste, but up until this year everything was kept on paper. Moving to the new electronic system could help save more than $100 million annually.
Even in a politically rancorous year, the Energy and Commerce Committee came together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass real reforms that will keep us safe, create jobs and save money. Moving past the election, we can build on this cooperation to do even greater things to help our nation. We may disagree on many things, but we can come together and find common ground.