Bipartisanship is not dead in Washington, D.C.

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, December 10, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

If you are like me, you have probably seen story after story about how dysfunctional Washington, D.C. has become. By the way some of these articles sound, you would expect Republicans and Democrats probably couldn’t even be in the same room with one another.

In reality, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about bipartisanship in Washington these days. Don’t get me wrong: political stagnation is a real issue and partisan bickering is a big reason behind that. That said, the media’s narrative of the situation paints much too bleak a picture.

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Let’s also be clear about what exactly bipartisanship is. To me, bipartisanship is the ability to work across the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, to advance solutions that make a real difference for the American people. Bipartisanship is not compromising your core principles, and it certainly does not mean getting along one hundred percent of the time.

You don’t have to look far to find a recent bipartisan success story. Just last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 647, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. For years, groups who advocate on behalf of disabled Americans have called for the creation of tax-free savings accounts which can be used by disabled Americans to cover a number of qualified expenses including education, housing, transportation and health care. These savings accounts would be similar to those that already exist for Americans who are planning for retirement or college.

That’s where the ABLE Act comes in. The legislation allows for the creation of these kind of tax-free savings accounts, which empower disabled Americans to save their own money in a 529A account to maintain health and independence. These savings accounts will supplement, not supplant, disability benefits that individuals may be entitled to under current law.

Sara Weir, interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society, called the ABLE Act “historic for the disability community.” USA Today called the ABLE Act the “first major piece of legislation affecting Americans with disabilities in nearly 25 years.”

The ABLE Act is just the kind of bipartisan solution that we need more of in Congress. Of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, 380 Congressmen, myself included, co-sponsored the measure. In the Senate, 75 of the 100 Senators co-sponsored the legislation. Together, that represents more than 85 percent of both chambers of Congress. When the House voted on the ABLE Act last week, the bill passed 404-17.

The ABLE Act isn’t the only issue that has been pushed through Congress with broad bipartisan support. Earlier this year, I voted for and Congress passed legislation reforming the national flood insurance program, which is critically important to Alabama’s coastal communities. We have also passed bipartisan legislation that would reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, keep taxes low, and update our nation’s job training programs.

Also in the spirit of bipartisanship, I will be holding a Joint Town Hall meeting with Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D) in Jackson on Dec. 15. While Congresswoman Sewell and I have different views on a number of issues, it doesn’t prevent us from finding common ground in an effort to make southwest Alabama a better place to live, work and raise a family.

So the next time someone tells you that Washington can’t get anything done, tell them about the ABLE Act.  We’ve seen what happens when Washington puts politics aside and focuses on making a real difference in the lives of Americans. I look forward to continuing to advance commonsense solutions, just like the ABLE Act, in the 114th Congress.

U.S. Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Escambia County.