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Much has been written about the tax bill, but Congress took action on a great deal more in 2017. From overhauling the GI Bill to modernizing the nation’s weather forecasting system, lawmakers passed substantial legislation in 2017.
The numbers by volume are low. Halfway through their two-year session, the 115th Congress has passed 97 laws and is on track to be the least productive in at least four decades, according to Politico. Then again, the number of laws is a crude measure of productivity because a single bill can make huge changes. The tax bill, for example, will impact almost every American.
There is no doubt that Congress took significant actions in the last year, and there is much still to come. As Congress looks ahead to immigration, disaster relief and a final spending bill for 2018, here are some bills you may have missed in 2017.
The “Forever GI Bill” eliminated the 15-year window that veterans had to exercise their educational benefits. There is now no time limit. The bill included many other initiatives, including expanded education benefits for Purple Heart recipients and veterans who pursue a degree in science, technology, engineering or math, commonly referred to as STEM programs.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration received its first reauthorization in almost seven years, which included a requirement that the agency create a plan (with cost estimates) to enact a manned flight to Mars by 2023. The bill included other requirements, including prioritizing its own launch equipment over that of foreign countries and preparing a report on the danger that asteroids pose to Earth.
Okay, perhaps you heard about this, but it belongs on the list because it was a big one — and one of few major bipartisan actions. In an almost unanimous vote — there were only five dissenters in both chambers — Congress imposed sanctions on Russia as punishment for interference in the 2016 election and for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine. It required congressional consent to remove them. There are 12 types of sanctions, including freezing assets and revoking U.S. visas. The sanctions can apply to high ranking Russian officials as well as people or organizations that conduct various actions with Russian entities. The bill also gave President Trump more latitude to sanction Iran and North Korea.
Congress authorized the first major overhaul to the nation’s weather forecasting system since the 1990s, dedicating roughly $170 million in investments to help weather prediction and tracking, storm planning and disaster response. It also encourages federal agencies to work with private sector companies to improve weather data. Despite its significance, one could be forgiven for missing the bill. It passed with little fanfare, not even a signing ceremony.