With an average approval rating of just 14 percent in 2014, it isn't hard to find fault in what Congress has -- or hasn't -- done in the last year. In true holiday spirit, however, let's take a break from complaining about the 113th Congress to reflect on some of the positive things that have come out of Congress in 2014.
On December 13, the Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep the government running with a 56-40 vote. While Congress shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back for doing their job, this is an improvement from last year’s debacle, which cost the government $24 billion. While there are questionable, shady, and outrageous provisions in the spending bill, at least Congress didn't shut the government down.
Embedded in the 1,600-page federal spending bill lies a provision that effectively bans federal drug agents from raiding medical marijuana operations in the 32 states that have legalized it already. “It’s a real game-changer,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“For the first time ever, both parties in Congress recognize that states should be setting their own medical marijuana policies." - Read More Here.
In response to the growing controversy surrounding the treatment of veterans at VA medical centers, Congress passed the "Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014," or the VA Reform Bill, in August 2014.
"It was outrageous. And working together, we set out to fix it and do right by our veterans across the board, no matter how long it took,” President Obama said in a statement.
While the mistreatment of veterans should not have been going on in the first place, the bill acts to right some of the mistreatment by improving the scheduling system for health care appointments, improving training and hiring for health care staff, and expanding survivor benefits and educational opportunities and improve care for victims of sexual assault and veterans struggling with traumatic brain injuries.
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or the DATA Act, passed unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
"The DATA Act will turn federal spending information into open spending data – a valuable new public resource that strengthens democratic accountability and spurs innovation,” Data Transparency Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister said of the bill.
The act makes information on federal expenditures more accessible by requiring the Department of Treasury and the White House Office of Management and Budget to make U.S federal spending documents open, standardized data, and to publish that data online.
The House allocated $17.9 billion of the 2015 budget to NASA - $435 million above the president's 2015 request and $250 million above its 2014 level.
Shortly after the bill's passage, NASA revealed that the Curiosity Rover detected methane twice on the Martian surface.
"Life is one of the few hypotheses for the formation of methane on Mars," announced John Grotzinger of CalTech, a Curiosity project scientist.
We ran out at number five. But remember -- with the new year comes a new Congress!