Bipartisan Votes –
The US Government
Isn’t So Divided
For the past few years the media has wanted to portray the American government as divided into Democrats and Republicans, a supposedly black and white dichotomy. The two parties supposedly can never be expected to cooperate, even though many will insist that the parties are functionally the same. This has predated the election of President Donald J. Trump, but his election has certainly supercharged how the conflict is framed.
Don’t you believe it. Many momentous bills have overwhelmingly passed the two chambers of Congress and have been signed by the president while barely attracting a blip of attention. Partisans on both sides of the party lines want to portray the situation with more conflict than there really is even while the majority of both parties cooperate away from the public eye.
10. Patient Right to Know Act
For years, pharmaceutical companies kept doctors and pharmacies from telling patients about more affordable medications through gag orders. The bill to stop these gag orders passed through the Senate with 98-2 votes on September 17, 2018. It was signed by President Trump on October 11.
As anyone with much experience dealing with contemporary healthcare costs knows, these are not trifling expenses. It’s estimated that doctors offering more affordable alternatives will save the public more than $135 million annually. Everyone is entitled to their opinions regarding how much regulation is necessary or productive, but this is a strong indication that there are bipartisan ways to deal with runaway healthcare expenses if we take the time to look for them.
9. VA Choice and Quality Employment Act
The Veterans Affairs office is one of the most heavily criticized services in the US government. With more than $180 billion in the annual budget, it’s one of the larger annual expenses. Yet few will argue that it’s not worth it, considering the sacrifices made by its ostensible beneficiaries. So it was that in 2017, an emergency allotment of six billion in funds was voted into law. The focus of the funding was to provide government-funded medical services to veterans.
A big part of the reason the effort didn’t become a larger news story was that it was signed on August 12, which meant that it was completely overshadowed in the public consciousness by the murder of Heather Hayer during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Few bills would be able to compete with that in the news cycle.
8. Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act
The National Council on Aging reports that an estimated one in 10 people over the age of 60 has been a victim of elder abuse, and every year another five million suffer from it while roughly only one in every 14 actionable cases is reported. On October 18, 2017, this law was signed with the intention of greatly expanding the enforcement of laws that protect elders. The law required every state to designate an Elder Justice Coordinator that would serve the Bureau of Consumer Protection. It also requires the Department of Justice to make information regarding the investigations public.
Additionally, in what seems directly inspired by a plot in the critically-acclaimed AMC program Better Call Saul, there are increases for penalties regarding interstate fraud. Furthermore, interstate adult protective groups are allowed to operate. In total, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that enforcing this law will cost $21 million, which — if it has a significant impact on rates of elder abuse — seems like a real bargain.
7. Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
As said earlier, the Department of Veterans Affairs is a very controversial organization. One of the controversies associated with it is that many veterans who should receive coverage or compensation are denied their services erroneously due to incompetent or corrupt decisions by staff members. On June 13, 2017, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass this law, which would increase fines and pension deductions for problem employees, and also stop them from receiving pay during the appeals process.
The inclusion of additional protections for whistleblowers was in large part inspired by the Wait List Scandal of 2014. It came to light that many veterans weren’t receiving medication and other benefits for as many as four months at a time, but that the delays weren’t being recorded or reported. Still, considering that there were a reported 49,000 vacancies in the Veterans Affairs offices at the time the bill was signed, a reluctance to fire employees for any reason is fairly understandable.
6. Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act
Between the heated controversy over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline over Sioux land and what the famous American/Mexican border wall would mean in terms of dividing tribes such as the Tohono O’odham, Native American rights have been more prominent in the news in recent years. But there has been fairly recent good news for those tribes as well. On January 8, 2018, this bill was signed into law, even if it took most of the summer and all of Autumn of 2017 for it to make its way through Congress.
The law allocated 32,000 acres of federal land to three tribes in Oregon. Those were the Umpqua, Coos, and the Siuslaw. The US government does not have the best record when it comes to honoring land grants to tribes, but local leaders expressed that they were pleased with the arrangement.
5. Jobs for Our Heroes Act
As reported by Military Times in July 2018, more than 50% of US veterans have difficulty finding work after the end of their enlistments. There’s apparently not much that the US government feels they can do to change the minds of most employers, but there is one career field where it seems the government feels it can significantly expand employment opportunities for veterans. This bill, which was signed into law on January 8, 2018, has been intended to find veterans work as commercial drivers.
There are two primary ways the bill works to expedite this process. For one, it makes training with heavy machinery during enlistment valid as meeting the requirements for operating heavy civilian vehicles. It also makes health certification provided by VA medical professionals valid for health checks related to civilian driving jobs. Such is the sort of legal red tape that leaves it no wonder that some veterans have trouble finding employment in civilian life.
4. Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act
For those unfamiliar with the term, an excise tax is a tax on a specific good or service. In the case of this law, which was signed on May 10, 2019, it would allow taxes collected on the sales of firearms to be used to buy the land for, and to maintain, shooting ranges, covering up to 90% of the expenses. As one of the bills sponsors, Rob Bishop from Utah, put it, gun ranges are becoming more necessary for proper gun safety training, “As this nation becomes more urbanized.”
Sounds like a bill that would have needed to be concocted by a Republican, right? Actually, no — one of the original sponsors of this bill was Representative Ron Kind. He’s a Democrat from Wisconsin’s Third District. Party lines are much less clearly delineated than it often seems.
3. Medicaid Services Investment and Accountability Act
For those who don’t know, Medicaid is a program where government on the state or federal level provides assistance to low income families in paying their medical bills. Recently, there seems considerable bipartisan interest in expanding it. For example, in the 2018 Midterm election three of the four states with ballot initiatives to increase funding for it passed it, even though the states in question (Idaho, Nebraska, Utah) generally vote conservative and thus would not usually support increasing funding for social programs.
So it was that on April 18, 2019 this bill to bolster Medicaid services was signed. The law increased penalties for companies that mis-classify their medications to receive more government reimbursement, specifically whether the drugs are “innovator” or “non-innovator.” It also provided more protections against medical bankruptcy for spouses, and parents with children who are suffering from conditions that require intensive treatment.
2. Water Infrastructure Improvement Act
Between calamities such as massive flooding in the Midwest in the spring of 2019 and ongoing lead-tainted water in communities nationwide such as Flint, Michigan, dealing with water has recently become a growing problem for the United States. Against this background, despite its un-glamorous nature, six cosponsors evenly divided between the parties attached themselves to this bill in December 2018. It was signed into law on January 14, 2019, a brisk process for any piece of legislation.
This act delegates to local municipalities plans for how to deal with storm water and wastewater. It establishes offices for an ombudsman to expedite the process for municipalities to meet full Environmental Protection Agency standards. There is also, under Section 5, an emphasis on the EPA being required to promote the implementation of natural (i.e. “green”) infrastructure process.
1. Natural Resources Management Act
Sometimes when an act is signed into law, it’s not so much a single bill as a bundle of them. When this act was signed into law on March 12, 2019, it was roughly 120 bills that ranged in focus from public land conservation to water management. Considering recent rumblings in the media that there would be drilling and mining in national park areas, it makes sense that the government would be inclined to demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection.
The most striking single aspect of the act was the setting aside of 1.3 million acres of land for federal protection, including from damage by dam construction. Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley alone had an extra 40,000 acres added, which in the former case makes a lot of sense considering the damage that national park suffered during the 2019 government shutdown. Hopefully we can look forward to more bipartisan environmental initiatives in the near future.