As only 13% of Americans approve of Congress’s performance in 2017, many Americans would likely be surprised that lawmakers on both Capitol Hill and throughout many of America’s statehouses have been able to find common ground. While it is true that most of the national bipartisan legislation that has passed is relatively insignificant, such as H.R.1362: “An Act to name the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic,” there still is evidence that Democrats and Republicans can come together to improve Americans’ lives.
All Politics is Local
While dramatic, high stakes partisan votes on healthcare and tax reform have dominated the national news cycle, governors and statehouses have found bipartisan common ground on several important and decisive issues:
A Democrat-controlled state with an effectively Democratic House, Senate, and Governor (in the Senate, the Democratic lieutenant-governor provides the tie-breaking vote to give the Democrats the majority), the Nutmeg State has found reason to compromise. After operating for 123 days without a budget, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a two-year funding measure that would significantly reform the state’s finances to address its $3.5 billion deficit.
As the Granite State’s neighbors Massachusetts and Maine recently legalized marijuana, the Republican-controlled legislature and governor passed House Bill 640, which decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. In the New Hampshire House alone, the bill was approved with a vote of 319-36, and was signed by Republican Governor Sununu.
Ohio and Michigan
Although partially approved in 2016, these two Midwestern states that once almost went to war approved reforms to the bipartisanly disliked civil forfeiture, the process of the police seizing someone’s assets without charging or convicting them. Both parties came together in Michigan to repeal bond requirements that disadvantaged impoverished citizens, while Ohio required criminal conviction before permitting asset seizure.
Once known as the prison capital of America, Louisiana might surprise some as the latest state to act on criminal justice reform. Yet, with the approval of the Republican dominated legislature, on June 15th Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed a series of bills that will decrease the prison population by 10% and save the state $78 million dollars through 2027.
Even in the shadow of a presidency that has divided Democrats and Republicans, both parties have found areas of common ground.
Department of Veterans Affairs Reform
Possibly the most significant legislation to pass Congress in 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 was passed nearly unanimously and gives the Department wider power to fire incompetent employees. The law also protects whistleblowers who discover and report misconduct in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Passed with votes of 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate, this bill sanctioned Russia’s energy and defense industries, and limited President Trump’s abilities to retract sanctions without Congress’s approval. While President Trump did not like the legislation, he reluctantly signed it.
Preventing Sexual Harassment in Congress
Following the allegations of the #MeToo movement, both chambers of Congress unanimously approved resolutions to mandate sexual harassment training for legislators, staffers, and interns. While further reforms, such as improving the system to report sexual harassment or settlement mechanisms have not yet passed Congress, pending legislation has support from both sides of the aisle.
Although not impactful in the traditional sense, Congress passed legislation to support and fund memorials that will dramatically alter America’s capital. In the spring of 2017, Congress approved funds for the 4-acre memorial to President Eisenhower across from the Air and Space Museum. And in August, Congress passed the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act, which permits a new memorial in DC dedicated to those who have bravely fought and died in all anti-terrorism wars and missions, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ethan Knecht is a sophomore in the SFS studying international politics, who writes about non-financial domestic issues, such as transportation, education, and healthcare.