Even as Congress remains divided on many important issues that will dominate the news this summer (health care, budget, homeland security…), there are also areas in which Republicans and Democrats are working together as their constituents expect. The average American only has time for short snippets of news a day which is dominated by these divisive, if important issues. We all know that the level of political discourse has grown more heated, as displayed in the recent violent attack on Members of Congress practicing for a charity ball game. But below the surface, aired on CSPAN for those who may have more time, House and Senate committees have held several hearings and legislative markups this month that are surprisingly devoid of partisan divide.
One such measure passed both houses of Congress with broad support and was signed into law on June 23rd. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will give the Department of Veterans Affairs more resources to help restructure the department to better serve the needs of our nation’s veterans. All Americans have been upset by the long waits veterans face for health care and the inability to swiftly respond to the need for other services. The public has pressured Congress and recent administrations to better support veterans and public officials have answered the call. There is still more to do for veterans, but the enactment of this bill in the midst of a negative political climate gives one hope that Congress and the administration will continue to make progress on improving VA service.
Another issue that also affects people in every state and of every demographic is access to broadband services. From education and communication to telemedicine and economic development, broadband access is essential to meeting the needs of 21st century Americans. Both the House and Senate have held hearings this month examining the challenges to full nationwide broadband access. Listening to the Senators and Representatives, one was struck by the number of bipartisan bills they referenced to achieve this goal and it was hard to know their political affiliation from their comments and questions.
Similarly, both the House and Senate have been considering reauthorization legislation of the Federal Aviation Administration. There are some controversial issues in these bills, but they do not fall into partisan categories. Instead, there are Republicans and Democrats on both sides of drone policy, privatization of air traffic control, and financing issues to name a few. As I monitored these hearings and then the markups for clients, it was heartening to see a robust debate that lacked partisan edge.
These are just three of the issues Congress is addressing in a bipartisan way this summer. While they may not be as dramatic as the scene of unity on the baseball field, they are a more significant sign that the legislative body is still working. There will be more vigorous debates on top line issues, as there should be. That debate will dominate the national news. For a look deep into the process, sneak a peak at CSPAN every so often to remind yourself that public officials haven’t completely lost their ability to work together.