THE BLOG
11/03/2014 01:03 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

The Day After Tomorrow: What Congress Needs to Accomplish This Year

Tomorrow, the election will be over, and while the next Congress is still two months away, we have a massive amount of work that remains for us before the end of the year. During this period, I will focus on issues that should be moved forward quickly, and which don't need to be partisan.

Here at home, the mounting transportation infrastructure crisis in our country, with bridges and roads in severe disrepair and traffic congestion costing the average American family $1,700 a year, needs to be immediately addressed. Falling oil and gas prices represents a unique opportunity. We can raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation and meet the challenges of our failing infrastructure without increasing the financial burden on American motorists, who are enjoying a dramatic reduction in gasoline prices.

Passing my legislation to raise the gas tax in the lame duck session would solve our problem, jump start the economy, and demonstrate our resolve to invest in our future.

We can also improve Americans' lives by reforming our archaic drug policies. If, as I hope, Oregon becomes the next state to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, it represents a signal for Congress to move toward reforming federal marijuana policy in a rational and thoughtful way. Medical or recreational marijuana is now legalized under state law for almost half the nation's population.

Congress should take simple steps such as allowing legal marijuana businesses to deduct their business expenses from their taxes like any other small business, and giving marijuana businesses access to banking services so they are not dealing all in cash - a sure way to lead to more fraud, waste, and crime. Nothing is served but with punitive levels of taxation and forcing it to be an all-cash business.

There is a strong, bipartisan effort expand American global leadership by passing "Water for the World" legislation that I introduced with Rep. Ted Poe. Nothing is more fundamental to global health than access to clean water and sanitation. This bill would take an enormous step toward ensuring sustainable and equitable access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene for the nearly 800 million men, women and children who don't have it, and the 2.5 billion without even the most basic sanitation services. This spreads disease with terrifying quickness and lethality and can contribute to outbreaks such as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

A lack of clean water has a disproportionate effect on women and girls, who, in developing countries, walk an average of 3.7 miles every day to get water. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 40 billion working hours are lost each year in Africa alone to gather water. A study by Doctors Without Borders found that 82 percent of women treated for rape in West and South Darfur were attacked while gathering water, firewood, or thatch. This bill has broad support from both parties in the House and Senate. It is time to act.

Another important part of sustaining our global leadership and ensuring national security is protecting our allies. We have the opportunity to build on modest success earlier this Congress to make sure we are not leaving behind Afghan and Iraqi translators who bravely served US forces to suffer torture and execution at the hands of the Taliban, Al-Qaida, or ISIS. The Special Immigrant Visa program seeks to provide safe refuge for Iraqi and Afghan men and women who have provided "faithful and valuable service" to the U.S. Government and face an "ongoing serious threat" as a consequence of that service. However, we're in serious danger of running out of visas by the end of the year.

Backlog and delay means not just weeks or months, but years, for those who risked their lives to help the U.S. mission. They live in fear and hiding, knowing they or their families could be killed at any moment. We need to authorize more SIVs and make sure the ones that we have are getting out in a timely manner. We can't wait any longer.

Our allies in other war torn regions, specifically the devastated areas around Gaza, require our immediate attention. The water and sanitation infrastructure in the region is severely damaged, and the continued pumping of rapidly depleting ground water from wells has set the stage for another humanitarian crisis. This one will occur in a matter of months, not years.

This water crisis poses a threat not just to 1.7 million people in Gaza, but to Israel. Raw sewage flowing into the Mediterranean will contaminate the water Israel uses for desalinization. Outbreaks of disease won't be confined to national borders. The same cooperation we have seen by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians with the restoration of the open sewer that is the Jordan River, can be replicated in Gaza. It won't be easy, but the United States can and should play a constructive role in saving lives while helping with the peace process.

None of these items are particularly controversial, but represent simple ways that we can save lives, save money, and make laws fairer. It's too early to call it quits for the year -- it will be even more difficult to get anything done next year with half of the Senate running for president. And maybe, just maybe, if we can make progress on some of these issues in a bipartisan, rational way, we can carry that momentum into the next Congress.