Small steps toward bipartisan unity

17 years ago

Reading the news, it can often seem that issues in Washington have become completely partisan. This can be discouraging to those of us who want to see real work get done to improve people’s lives. But while it is true that there are still some major disagreements between the parties, it has also been encouraging this year to see that on some key issues, members of both parties have been able to come together.     In fact, of the 80 key measures passed by the House since January, nearly 70 percent have passed with strong bipartisan majorities. And the last two weeks leading into August created some of the most bipartisan results so far, with important bills passing by huge majorities.
On July 27, Congress passed and sent to the President a sweeping bill to finally enact the security changes that the bipartisan 9-11 Commission recommended to protect America from terrorism. It passed by a bipartisan vote of 371 to 40, and the President signed it into law on August 3.
This new law contains important and common sense changes ranging from giving first responders the equipment they need to beefing up efforts to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into terrorist hands. One of the law’s key points is that it requires that within the next five years, 100% of U.S.-bound seaborne containers will have to be scanned before they can leave foreign ports for our shores. The measure also requires 100% screening of cargo on passenger aircraft within three years, closing a gaping hole in our security.
On July 31, Congress passed and sent to the President a sweeping and historic reform bill to clean up lobbying and restore clear ethical standards in Washington. It passed by an overwhelming vote of 411 to 8. This is a tough bill that will end the unseemly relationship between lobbyists and lawmakers that has resulted in jail time and indictments. The American people must have confidence that their representatives truly reflect their interests, not those of special interests who have paid a lobbyist.
On Aug. 2, Congress passed and sent to the President a new business and technology innovation initiative, by a bipartisan vote of 367 to 57. The President signed the bill into law on Aug. 9. This bill creates a new emphasis on math, science, engineering, and technology education by promoting teaching in these fields, and it creates a renewed commitment to basic science and technical research. The goal is to our build our nation’s global economic competitiveness by revitalizing our industries and creating new business, medical, and health opportunities through research.
On July 30, a bill that I authored called the Veterans’ Health Care Improvement Act passed the House of Representatives unanimously. While the bill contained many parts that I authored, it also included ideas that came from both Democrats and Republicans on the Veterans Committee.
The bill supports transportation grants for rural veterans to help them access care, expanded readjustment and mental health services, and provisions to assist homeless veterans. This bill addresses a variety of issues facing our veterans and it is my hope that when we return in September, we can work quickly with the Senate to create a legislative package that we can send to the President for his signature.
In fact, this bill is a reflection of the way the Veterans Committee does its work in particular. When I took over as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Veterans’ Health, I ensured that all members of the committee would have a say in the legislation we create. By fostering a cooperative approach, our committee has operated smoothly and in a very bipartisan way. This is how the people’s work should be conducted and I am proud to be a part of it.
There are certainly some big issues that continue to generate debate and disagreement in Washington. And not all disagreement is bad — our country was founded by leaders who had to fight, often with each other, for what they believed was right. But it has been encouraging to see recently that on many important issues involving our security, our economy, and those who have fought for our country, the Congress has come together, and has made progress together.