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Congressman Jim Cooper was born and raised in Tennessee and lives in Nashville. His wife of nearly 36 years, Martha, passed away February 4, 2021. They have three children and one grandchild.
He represents Tennessee’s 5th Congressional district, which consist of Nashville and Dickson and Cheatham counties. He is chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees the nation’s nuclear installations and satellites and a member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Committee on Budget, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A lawyer by training, he also taught health policy at Vanderbilt University’s business school for two decades and is a recognized budget expert.
A New York Times columnist called him “the House’s conscience, a lonely voice for civility in this ugly era” and a “tart-tongued moderate” who “seeks bipartisanship on fiscal matters and other issues in a polarized political climate.” USA Today named him one of the “Brave 38” of a “tiny band of heroes” in Congress for his work on a bipartisan budget plan.
He is a strong advocate of voting rights. In recent years, he has worked to increase voter registration in Tennessee, a state that’s consistently ranked last in voter participation.
Budget and Economy
As you know, I’ve spent decades talking about these issues. Nobody wants to admit how bad our financial situation is. I try to be honest and tell people where things really stand. In fact, I’ve been called everything from “A Budget Cassandra” to a Fiscal Hero to “Mr. Fiscal Responsibility” and “Dr. Doom” because I am such a fierce advocate for balanced and honest federal budgeting.
The federal government doesn’t even use real accounting. Washington is the only accounting-free zone left in America. I have been talking about this for years and even wrote a foreword to the Treasury Department’s 2005 Financial Report.
I was one of the first Members to reject earmarks. I’ve also introduced bipartisan bills to eliminate wasteful spending and prevent agencies from duplicating programs that already exist. The main ideas behind my No Budget, No Pay Act, which would stop paying Congress if it fails to pass our budget and spending bills on time, became the law of the land in early 2013. It was only temporary but it worked. We need to make it permanent law.
Even though we are piling on unbelievable debt right now, this is no time to count the pennies. It’s really unprecedented that Congress responded so quickly and so unanimously by passing four bills to address COVID-19, including the largest relief package ever. This is what is needed to help America recover and begin healing–even the Federal Reserve Chairman has said we need additional relief, which may be costly but worth it to avoid long-term economic damage. The only thing that matters right now is defeating a dangerous virus, helping the people and small businesses that are hurting and financially at the end of their rope, and rescuing our economy.
Climate Change and the Environment
I believe in climate change. It is the greatest threat facing our planet and we have to stop it. I fully support President Biden’s act to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and the steps he is taking to help us tackle the devastating climate crisis. We have a lot of work to do in that regard, though. Most of Tennessee’s congressional delegation doesn’t believe in climate change.
I was a leader on climate well before others. I was the author of the 1990 cap-and-trade policy that regulated sulfur dioxide emissions and curbed acid rain. I am also a cosponsor of the Green New Deal, the 100% Clean Economy Act, which implements many of the Green New Deal’s initiatives, and the Climate Action Now Act. With old-fashioned American innovation and ingenuity, I believe that we can find new, clean solutions for the 21st century and I have long supported research and investment in clean alternative energy development.
I have one of the strongest environmental records in the South and consistently receive high ratings from groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. I have a long history of supporting legislation to strengthen the Endangered Species Act, protect our public lands and national parks, and defend the Clean Air Act against partisan attacks.
Defense and Armed Services
We have the greatest military in the history of the world. My job is to keep it that way. Providing for our servicemembers and their families is extremely important, and I will continue to support legislation that maintains their readiness and health. It’s an honor to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, where we work on issues involving our national security. I’m the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal and space programs.
I believe that a world without nuclear weapons is safer for everyone. But nuclear weapons do exist, and it is also true that our strategic arsenal and the threat to use them help prevent conflicts. Unless we are the strongest nation on earth – and that means nuclear weapons – we won’t have a nuclear deterrent, which means they will never be used. This deterrent is critical to keeping crazy leaders with access to nuclear weaponry or biological or chemical weapons in check. Keeping the world safe is a heavy responsibility for us, but America is the beacon of freedom and hope for the entire world.
I have long been a proponent of forming a Space Corps along with my colleague Mike Rogers (R-AL). Now that the US Space Force has stood up, it is critical that we in Congress continue to oversee its implementation to ensure we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Maintaining space superiority while minimizing bureaucracy and keeping the force agile are critical objectives for this nascent branch of the military.
We can never repay our veterans. They deserve the benefits they have earned. I have supported keeping TRICARE copays and payments low and increasing benefits. I was one of the first members of Congress to call for an investigation of long waiting lists and rogue employees at veterans’ hospitals. My office also has a long track record of cutting through the red tape to help veterans get the benefits they have earned. Call my office anytime and we will do everything we can to help you.
I focus extensively on government reform issues. My “Fixing Congress” speech in 2011 helped to launch a series of reform measures to cut government waste and eliminate, increase transparency and make the government work better for its citizens.
One of my proposed reforms, “No Budget, No Pay” became law of the land in 2013. It was only temporary but it worked. We need to make it permanent.
One of my efforts to eliminate wasteful and duplicative programs was approved by the 113th Congress as a rules measure. I’ve also introduced bipartisan legislation requiring federal agencies to produce an annual list of their programs and submit it to the Office of Management and Budget so we can identify additional duplicative efforts.
We need more accountability and transparency in our nation’s finances. The Consolidated Financial Report of the United States Government is the most important government financial document because it shows a real picture of our nation’s finances, but most folks don’t even know it exists. It is the only government document that includes liabilities like Medicare and Social Security that are on the country’s “credit card” for future payment, and it’s published every year by the Treasury. In 2006, I wrote a foreword to the Financial Report, which was published, along with the full report text, and available in bookstores across America. A subcommittee of OGR held a hearing on the 2011 report, and you can watch video of my comments here.
As one of the first members to reject earmarks, I am glad that we again have a ban on earmarks this Congress. But we need a permanent fix, and that’s why I’m working on legislation to completely end the practice.
I also continue to support redistricting reform and was proud once again to introduce the Redistricting Transparency Act, which would curb the practice of gerrymandering by letting the public participate in the Congressional redistricting process.
American Rescue Act
Affordable Care Act Special Enrollment Period
To help people to get coverage and change their plans during the pandemic and economic crisis, President Biden has opened a Special Enrollment Period in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces now through May 15. Visit Healthcare.gov to see your options.
Increased ACA Premium Subsidies
The American Rescue Plan eliminated or vastly reduced premiums for many people with low or moderate incomes who enroll in plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces. There is now subsidy eligibility for people with somewhat higher incomes who face high premium burdens. Additionally, people who receive UI benefits in 2021 will now have their premium tax credits set at a level that guarantees they get the most generous premium tax credits if they enroll in an ACA marketplace plan, regardless of their year-end income. Kaiser Family Foundation has created a Marketplace Subsidy Calculator tool.
Enhanced Premium Tax Credits
For people enrolled, especially those whose income fluctuated last year, will not have to repay the federal government for large portions of their premium tax credits. Previously, enrollees were supposed pay back some or all of the credit they get in advance if their year-end income is higher than they estimated. The American Rescue Plan eliminated these repayments for low- and moderate-income households if their 2020 income ended up higher than they predicted when they signed up for marketplace coverage. This could have happened if you got a better job part-way through the year or worked an essential job that demanded more hours than they anticipated because of the pandemic.
If you lost job-based coverage but would like to keep it:
You can keep your coverage for as long as 18 months under COBRA. The American Rescue Plan now provides federal funding to cover 100 percent of the cost of people’s premiums for “COBRA” coverage from one month after enactment of the bill through September. Contact your employer if you are interested. Apply for COBRA here.
You recently lost your job and need health coverage, but your income is close to zero:
You may be able to qualify for TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program if you are uninsured, pregnant, a child under age 19, a parent or relative caretaker of a dependent child(ren) under age 21, disabled, elderly, and/or meet the financial eligibility criteria. Your child may qualify for coverage even if you don’t. You should go directly to TennCare Connect or Benefits.gov to check your Medicaid eligibility.
Universal Health Care
I believe that health care is a fundamental human right. I proudly voted for the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”), the largest expansion of health coverage in the U.S. in the last half century. Attitudes are changing. More people are starting to agree with us that we need health care and health insurance for everybody. This is especially true now when so many people have lost their jobs and health insurance during COVID-19. I worked closely with President Obama in developing the ACA. I have taught health policy at Vanderbilt for 20 years. I know how important it is to get everyone insured.
The quickest, easiest way to get more Tennesseans covered is to expand Medicaid, but Tennessee has deliberately chosen not to do that. Our state legislature made a terrible mistake in turning down Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan; Tennesseans have died and hospitals have closed as a result of those votes. Our uninsured rate continues to rise, and we have had more hospital closures per capita than any other state in America. Tennessee is part of a shrinking minority - one of only 12 states - that has still refused to expand Medicaid and provide coverage to 300,000 more Tennesseans. We are rejecting $1 billion every year from the federal government and paying for other states that care enough about their citizens to cover them. This is one of the easiest things we can do to get to universal health coverage in Tennessee.
Mental Health and Drug Abuse
Substance abuse is a large and ever-growing problem that drives up health care costs, take lives, and eats away at communities. Tragically, Tennessee remains one of the most over-medicated states in the country. There are currently more opioid prescriptions than Tennesseans. Overdose deaths continued to rise in Tennessee even as they fell in neighboring states. Last year was the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths in Davidson County and 2020 is already expected to surpass it. The COVID-19 pandemic is also making things worse.
We’re lucky to have organizations like Centerstone and the Oasis Center nearby. They are saving lives. It’s also encouraging that the Davidson County Drug Court, one of the nation’s first, as well as the new Behavioral Care Center have proven so effective. And I’m proud that new health laws take huge steps toward expanding mental health and substance abuse coverage. But more work needs to be done in this area to make sure outdated rules aren’t preventing people from getting help.
Investing in Scientific and Medical Research
Basic science, the seed corn of innovation, is primarily supported by the federal government — not industry, which is typically more interested in applied research and development. But at a time when other countries are increasing investments in science and technology, basic science is at risk. I’ve supported increased NIH funding for years and helped launch national awards to promote major breakthroughs from science and medical research.
I’ve also worked to improve the quality of research. Did you know that current law does not require researchers to study females when conducting basic medical research? Medical science should not discriminate against women or any other demographic group, which is why I introduced the Research for All Act. The bill would require the inclusion and separate analysis of both male and female animals, tissues and cells in basic research at the NIH, an idea that was ultimately incorporated into the agency’s rules.
America is a nation of immigrants, and we pride ourselves on welcoming individuals and families from all over the world. Nashville is lucky to have one of the greatest immigrant communities in the nation. In 2014 I asked President Obama to visit Nashville’s Casa Azafrán. The President noted the promise of Nashville’s growing immigration population and our welcoming community.
Unfortunately, our country’s immigration system is broken. Since Trump took office, his administration’s hardline stances and anti-immigrant rhetoric have politicized the debate around immigration and made reforms even more difficult. I reject the Trump administration policies that are clearly motivated by racism and hatred of immigrants, including the Muslim travel ban, ending DACA, separating families, and putting kids in cages.
In 2019, I traveled with a congressional delegation to the southern border to observe the conditions of the detention centers and camps. I’ve voted for and supported efforts to improve humanitarian conditions at the border and I will continue to fight for refugees and asylees who want to make a better life in America.
I am the only Tennessee Democrat to have voted to help the Dreamers in 2010. In the 116th Congress, I voted for the American Dream and Promise Act to permanently save DACA because I believe that those young people who are willing to get an education or serve in our military should be encouraged to pursue the American dream of citizenship. They came to America through no fault of their own; many are now top students, hard workers and brave soldiers. America needs their talent. I am so relieved that the recent unexpected Supreme Court decision protects them for now, but the Senate still needs to act.
My office will always be a place where constituents from every nation can come for help to navigate the immigration process. My staff has attended almost every naturalization ceremony in Nashville since I was elected to Congress. We provide packets and congratulations, and we help new citizens get registered to vote. It is among our favorite activities of the year, and we are honored to participate! It is particularly meaningful because my office helps guide so many new Americans through the process. We are happy to help you so please contact my office anytime.
Music and Arts
Nashville is known as Music City. Music is the lifeblood of Nashville, and it’s everywhere you turn in our city. We’ve got it all: recording artists, musicians, songwriters, record labels, manufacturers, retailers, and service providers. Visitors come from far and wide to enjoy our musical culture, the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and our rich Motown heritage in the Jefferson Street Music District.
Music policy and creative rights are so important to Nashville, and that’s why it is one of my top priorities. I was proud to cosponsor and vote for the Music Modernization Act in the 115th Congress, which began to bring IP into the future. But artists deserve to be paid for their work and I know there is still much to be done to compensate artists and creators in the age of digital music. I also pushed hard for the Federal Aviation Administration’s new rule that allows guitars in overhead bins on airlines. This is an especially difficult time for the music industry, and I will continue to support bills that will keep our musicians, songwriters, live events workers, and venues afloat during the pandemic.
I have also long supported our amazing arts and cultural scene. Everyone should have access to the arts and Nashville has some of the best in the country. I have supported additional funding for arts and even more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t think anyone wants to see the concerts, plays, or museums that make up a big part of Nashville shut down forever.
Reproductive Rights and Women’s Issues
I support women and gender equality, and have a 100% vote rating from Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the American Association for University Women. I have fought to protect women’s reproductive choice, funding for the Title X program and Planned Parenthood, and I believe that the dated Hyde Amendment–which was always targeted at low-income women and specifically women of color–should be repealed.
We need to do a better job promoting equality in the workplace. Gender should never affect compensation; most Americans believe in equal pay for equal work and an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Unfortunately, women today make only 82 cents for every $1 earned by men–and Black women only make 62 cents. Women and men need to be compensated fairly and equally. That’s why I co-sponsored and voted for the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which became law in 2009. I have also cosponsored and voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Rights Amendment to help end discrimination in this country on the basis of gender, race, and sexual orientation. I’m also a co-sponsor and voted in favor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure pregnant women are treated fairly on the job. This bill would allow common-sense accommodations so that pregnant workers can protect their families and not risk losing their jobs.