U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

December 24, 2022

Epic Accomplishments – Part One

At the start of the 117th Congress, with a 50-50 Senate and a slim Democratic majority in the House, many predicted that gridlock would remain the norm on Capitol Hill. As we near the end of the 117th Congress, I am pleased to report that not only did we overcome gridlock; we achieved tremendously important things for this country.

Some of these successes came from Democrats strategically using our majority to advance key initiatives when Republicans would not join us on the path to progress. But far more resulted from our diligent efforts to build bipartisan consensus behind legislation that addressed shared national priorities. The result has been a Congress that achieved remarkable, impactful, and even historic wins on behalf of the American people.

The investments made by Congress over the last two years are investments in our communities and the American people. Overall, we have navigated this nation through the unprecedented repercussions of a global pandemic, we brought our economy back from record job losses, supported our small businesses, mitigated supply chain disruptions that had jolted nearly every sector, and supercharged global investments in American manufacturing. We also reduced the number of children in poverty, increased access to life-saving prescriptions and care, and put our nation back on a path towards cleaner air and water. All of this was done while being fiscally responsible and reducing our national deficit at a historic rate. There is more work to be done, but Maryland and the nation are emerging from these two years in much stronger and more stable positions than we started.

As 2022 ends, I wanted to share with you a sampling of what I have been able to help achieve as your representative in the United States Senate:

Emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic are when government can best bring together the resources that will make a positive difference in people’s lives. Among its many provisions, the American Rescue Plan Act provided $1,400 per person in economic relief payments to millions of low- and moderate-income households. It extended a lifeline for those whom the pandemic left jobless, without health insurance, food insecure, behind on utility bills, rent and mortgage payments, and struggling to make ends meet. This package provided timely resources to state and local governments and our courageous front-line workers who worked around-the-clock and often placed themselves at great personal risk to keep our communities safe over the last year. For our families and students, we delivered the resources needed for adequate childcare and we tackle the infrastructure repairs and upgrades needed to reopen schools safely and supplement online learning programs. The increase to the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 and the expansion of eligibility lifted families out of poverty and gave them a fighting chance to recover from the pandemic.

When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, the fear of women and LGBTQ individuals was palpable. Based on the writings of Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the threat to marriage equality was very real. I am proud that Maryland had state-level protections in place to preserve the sanctity of same-sex marriage, but Congress had to ensure that such fundamental rights are respected at the national level. In December 2022, Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide.

It took more than 150 years, but in 2021, Congress finally recognized Juneteenth, a day marking the end of slavery in the U.S., as a federal holiday. And this December, thanks to legislation I wrote with Congressman Steny Hoyer, Congress officially approved removing from the Capitol the bust of former Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, author of the horrific Dred Scott decision. In its place, we will honor a different Marylander, Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American to sit on the Supreme Court. Both hailed from Maryland, but Marshall was a beacon of hope for racial equality. His uplifting voice of equality and opportunity is exactly what our nation needs at this moment.  

As Chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, one of my highest priorities is to ensure that our nation taps into the entrepreneurial spirit that is sweeping our nation to build a fairer and more just economy for all.

I fought to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer programs. These programs represent the best of government-industry partnerships—harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of American entrepreneurs to solve our nation’s most pressing public health and national security challenges. The reauthorization is a victory for the State of Maryland, which ranks at the number one state in the nation in research and development spending due to the presence of federal government and academic research institutions.

I was proud to help create the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which also was part of the American Rescue Plan enacted in March 2021. The program helped more than 100,000 eligible entities with grants equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million and no more than $5 million per location. While there are still many struggling restaurants, who I will continue to fight for, the RRF played a vital role keeping thousands of community restaurants afloat during an unprecedented crisis. I also helped create a fund for Shuttered Venue Grant Operators – museums, theater and concert venues and the like – who saw their business drop overnight during the pandemic. The program provided support for job retention to more than 10,000 venues nationwide, including more than 120 in Maryland like the Children’s Theater of Annapolis, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens, Tri-State Community Concert Association, and others.

There are so many positive components to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act but codifying the Minority Business Development Agency and elevating the agency to have an Under Secretary, as well as increased authorized appropriations – up to $110M – is among the investments that will pay dividends long into the future. In Maryland, we also increased the number of Women’s Business Centers from one to four, strengthening our ability to provide services for entrepreneurs, students and potential federal contractors. We also have our first Veterans Business Outreach Center, which is based at the University of Maryland, College Park. This is “one-stop shop for transitioning or active duty service members, veterans, National Guard or reserves, and military spouses.” And I was honored to partner on the inaugural TEDCO Tech Fair, which brought together over 500 underserved small businesses with nine technology companies to share resources and know-how.

For decades, one of my passions has been working to find reasonable ways to encourage more Americans to save more for their future. This week, as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (FY23 Omnibus), Congress approved a package of retirement and savings reforms called SECURE 2.0. Nearly half of the reforms in this section were identical to or based on legislation I have been working on with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio). We make significant improvements to help Americans save more for retirement, encourage small businesses to offer retirement plans, expand access for low-income Americans and provide more certainty and flexibility during retirement years. Every person should have the opportunity for a dignified and secure retirement.

Health care and prescription costs are too high in this country, and I have been working with my colleagues to help lower out-of-pocket costs for Americans, families and, especially, our seniors and most vulnerable individuals. The Inflation Reduction Act took a major step forward in this regard by extending the premium subsidies that began with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and were enhanced in the American Rescue Plan Act. This one provision will save median income Maryland families about $2,200 annually. Further, the law caps insulin prices for Medicare beneficiaries at $35 beginning January 2023. Insulin is not a choice but a necessity for so many Marylanders, and seniors will now have peace of mind and predictability of the cost.

Rolling out over the next few years, the more than 1 million Maryland Medicare beneficiaries also will see lower prices as the Department of Health and Human Services uses its new authority to negotiate lower drug prices. Estimated to save about $100 billion, we fought to ensure that Medicare patients get the best deal possible on high-priced drugs. The law also will cap out-of-pocket costs for thousands of Maryland seniors at $2,000 a year for Part D prescriptions beginning in January 2025.

Prescription drug shortages are a persistent problem, leading to diminished access to vital medications and potentially worse outcomes for patients. Shortages of essential drugs may be worsened because short expiration dates require the discarding of drugs that exceed a labeled shelf life. My legislation, which was included in the FY23 Omnibus, would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue or revise guidance to ensure drug manufactures can update their product’s shelf life to the longest scientifically supported expiration date. Safe and effective drugs should not be thrown out unnecessarily, causing or exacerbating drug shortages.

Telehealth services have been essential tools, and a lifeline for many, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was proud to have authored many provisions to make this widely available. Telehealth has bridged the gap for Marylanders and other individuals facing barriers to care and it has helped address health disparities. After working to ensure telehealth services included in early pandemic relief legislation, I am now working with my colleagues to permanently extend Medicare telehealth services nationwide and further improve access to care wherever a patient needs it. The FY23 Omnibus extends our telehealth provisions until the end of 2024, giving time to further demonstrate the incredibly value of these services.

Gun violence has been a longstanding crisis in this country. For decades, we’ve remained at an impasse, unable to move forward any substantial legislation to protect citizens. In response to the horrific shooting in May 2022 that took the lives of 19 elementary school students and two adults in Uvalde, Tex., Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that will help states ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others. It also strengthened background checks for people under 21 who try to buy a gun and provided significant investments to mental health programs and crisis centers.

Fentanyl has left a mark on communities across Maryland and nationwide. Two-thirds of the opioid-related deaths in Maryland in 2021 were connected to fentanyl. In an effort to target the countries providing the source chemicals needed to produce this deadly drug, I worked with colleagues on legislation that labels countries like China that are significant sources of these “precursor chemicals” as major illicit producing countries. This designation will increase the U.S. capacity to track illicit drugs like fentanyl, saving lives as we aim to stem international distribution of these illegal narcotics and provide resources to support individuals with substance use disorders recover.

At home and overseas, the work we do in Congress to defend human and civil rights and strengthen democratic institutions is an investment in our national security and freedom globally.

Included in the NDAA is the first comprehensive State Department reauthorization in 16 years. As Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee with oversight for State Department operations, I played a key role in drafting provisions that will modernize and prioritize the training and professional development of our diplomats and civilian foreign policy workforce. I also authored a provision that establishes new requirements for post-employment restrictions for certain Senate-confirmed officials because U.S. foreign policy is not for sale and no one should anyone have reason to think it is.

The first days of this Congress were defined by the violent, illegitimate events of Jan. 6. Instead of giving into fear and losing focus, we channeled our energy into sealing any perceived “crack” in our legal system that emboldened the bad actors. As a member of a bipartisan working group, I was deeply involved in developing legislation that modernized the Electoral Count Reform of 1887 Act. Approved this week as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY23, we made it easier for Congress to identify a single, conclusive slate of presidential electors for each state, reduced the likelihood of frivolous objections against electors and reiterated the purely ceremonial role the vice president has in this process.

A free media is one of the pillars of American democracy, although journalists have been under attack recently both figuratively and literally across America and around the world. Too many, including five innocent souls lost in the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis in 2018, gave everything they had in defense of democracy, transparency and freedom. For this reason, I was honored to lead the Senate effort to create a National Memorial for Fallen Journalists. The new, privately funded memorial will be constructed on federal lands near the National Mall, across from the Voice of America. It will honor the lives of those who died reporting the news and supporting the media on behalf of the American people. Congress approved the final location in the FY23 Omnibus passed this week.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have constituted crimes against humanity and can only be described as genocide. In December 2022, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved my resolution calling Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war exactly that. Congress also has provided emergency funding to support the Ukrainian people and their fight in defense of democracy and sovereignty and we expedited our nation’s approval of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. I was honored to escort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky onto the House floor this week for his address to a joint session of Congress – his only travel outside of Ukraine since Russian began bombarding his country nearly one year ago.

As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation I authored called the Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative (HAITI) Act will help identify persons involved in human rights violations and significant acts of corruption in Haiti and hold them accountable for their actions.  Also in NDAA, I helped write legislation that supports democracy activists in Burma and provides resources to aid those investigating crimes against humanity and other humanitarian efforts. I’ve worked with my colleagues on passage of other legislation to assess the state of human rights in Iran and increase sanctions against corrupt leaders in Nicaragua.

In support of the strongest democracy in the Middle East region, the Congress approved my legislation, the Israel Normalization Act, as part of the FY22 funding agreement. The bill builds upon the success of the Abraham Accords, the peace and normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. It encourages other nations to normalize relations with Israel and provides guidance to ensure that existing agreements produce tangible security and economic benefits.

Ten years ago, working with my partner Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), I authored legislation that would change the way individuals who commit human rights abuses or engage in significant corruption can be held accountable when their home country willfully turns a blind eye. Our original Russia-specific legislation grew into the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act, and it has been used to sanction dozens of bad actors around the world by blocking their entry into the U.S. and seizing property. This year, in the same legislation that suspended “normal” trade relations with Russia and Belarus for the unlawful war in Ukraine, the Global Magnitsky Law was made permanent just months before it was to expire.

In April 2021, I was part of a movement that lobbied for President Biden to increase its formal target for refugee admissions after allotments were slashed by the previous administration. This action was critically needed after our military withdrew from Afghanistan, creating a sharp increase of Afghans seeking asylum. With the aid of my colleagues, this policy was revised, allowing for 62,500 refugees in FY 2021 and 125,000 in FY 2022.

Additionally, we worked with President Biden to use the “temporarily protected status” liberally, allowing for around 143,800 immigrants from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Ukraine to seek asylum here. This allows them the opportunity to apply for time-limited permission to live and work in the United States while avoiding potential deportation.

Let me be clear that Congress must finally come together to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Our immigration and border security system is broken. We cannot continue to tinker and patch. We must ensure that our borders are secure, while at the same time honoring America’s long-time commitment to providing refuge to those seeking asylum as they flee and persecution in their home countries. Compassion is an American value that should be an essential part of immigration reform in this country.

All citizens deserve respect and dignity, but it’s paramount that we protect vulnerable populations and their families from violence, crimes, and mistreatment. This Congress saw a wide range of legislation that will make this country safer, while also sending a message that hatred and intimidation will not be tolerated.

In March 2022, lynching became a federal hate crime for the first time in this country’s history. It is named the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, after a 14-year-old who was murdered in 1955 by a racist lynch mob in Mississippi. This law provides another tool for the criminal justice system to hand out appropriate punishments for a heinous crime.

The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were monumental to strengthen protections for people who have experienced trauma and domestic violence. The Victims of Crime Act provides victims and their families with financial and legal assistance. We were able to prevent any cuts to the program in Maryland. Reauthorization of VAWA creates and supports comprehensive, cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

Fair prosecutors and judges who represent and understand their communities are vital to the criminal justice process. During this Congress, President Biden took my recommendation to appoint the first African American U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in our nation’s history, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. We saw this pattern of historic diversity throughout Congress as we confirmed three women to the federal bench in Maryland, making it half women – the first time in Maryland’s history. This includes the first Black woman to preside over the court.

As a senator, one of the most important responsibilities I have under the Constitution is whether to provide my consent to a president’s nomination to the Supreme Court. This April, I cast my vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court because she is one of the most qualified individuals ever nominated to this lifetime position. She has sterling legal credentials, immense integrity and is the first public defender and first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Justice Jackson already is making a difference as she works to preserve and protect the Constitution, and ensure that all Americans are treated equally under the law. 

Unfortunately, in 2021-2022 antisemitic and Asian hate crimes were on the rise. Speaking up and calling out hatred is a start, but we needed a solid “all-of-society” approach to combat the issues. In November 2022, in my capacity as chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I convened a high-level working group with representatives from the White House, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and civil society to address antisemitism. Our efforts were followed up by President Biden’s creation of White House task force to develop a national strategy to end antisemitism. Over the last two years and longer, I have worked closely with my congressional colleagues to increase funding for programs that counter antisemitism and hate, as well as support Holocaust education and Holocaust survivors. We also have expanded assistance to houses of worship amid the rise in threats against religious communities. My work as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial Council has provided an additional opportunity for me to address the increased need for education about the Holocaust and antisemitism in this country and worldwide.

Due to misinformation and flagrantly racist language by the former president about the origins of COVID-19, hate-based incidents against Asian Americans in the U.S. spiked during 2022-2021. In May 2021, President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which makes reporting hate crimes more accessible by boosting public outreach at the state and local level and ensuring that reporting resources are available online in multiple languages.

With pride, I can tell you that there is much more to this list, and I will have more to share next week about wins for the Chesapeake Bay and infrastructure across Maryland. You also can find more on my website at cardin.senate.gov.

Throughout my years serving on Capitol Hill, I cannot recall another as consequential as the 117th Congress. We have managed to do more for Maryland and this country than most thought thinkable, much less doable.

Please feel free to respond to this email with your thoughts on what has been most important to your family or business over the last two years, or on any other topic you would like to share.

Happy holidays from my family to yours!