We certainly are living in very divisive times. On the big issues of the day, party and ideological lines are drawn with little, if any, common ground. And, the collegiality of Congresses past – the “disagree without being disagreeable” comity – seems like something for the history books. But is that really the whole story?
Back in December, I spent some time with a group of senior congressional staff. There was nothing specific on the agenda, just a nice end-of-year get together to share experiences and insights. I was struck by one person’s lament that there really IS a lot of bipartisan work going on but no one knows it’s happening. . . a point quickly seconded by a staffer from the other side of the aisle. I wondered aloud at the time why these efforts didn’t get more attention, and I’ve spent some time thinking about it since then.
Sure, the measures these staffers were talking may not be major pieces of legislation, but they’re not insignificant either. They will have a direct, positive impact on people’s lives. Here are a few examples of bipartisan bills supported by AARP that are now law:
- The RAISE Family Caregivers Act, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), Senator Susan Collins (R), Kathy Castor (D) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R), calls for the development of a strategy to support America’s 40 million family caregivers. An advisory body will bring together stakeholders from the private and public sectors to make recommendations that communities, providers, government, and others could take to help make the big responsibilities of caregiving a little bit easier.
- The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, which makes certain types of hearing aids available without a doctor’s prescription, was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), Rep. Earl Carter (R) and Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D) and had overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses. It will now be easier and less expensive for millions of Americans with hearing loss to get some help.
- The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act, sponsored by Sen. Rob Wyden (D), Sen. Mark Warner (D), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), aims to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries who have multiple chronic conditions. The legislation, which was included in the continuing resolution that passed both the Senate and the House, promotes a team-based approach to care and expands the use of telehealth services among other provisions.
Other bills with bipartisan backing that are still working their way through the Congressional process include the Credit for Caring Act, sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst (R), Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Rep. Tom Reed (R) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D), which would provide a tax credit for working family caregivers; the CREATES Act, sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy (D), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), Rep. Tom Marino (R) and Rep. David Cicilline (D), which aims to curtail tactics that delay the creation of affordable generic drugs; and the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2017, sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R) and Rep. John Larson (D), which would increase protections for social security recipients who need help receiving their benefits.
And, there is strong bipartisan support for the medical expense tax deduction that helps millions of Americans with high health care costs. Last year’s tax bill retained this important deduction and restored its 7.5 percent income threshold for two years. AARP will continue working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to make this fix permanent.
So, bipartisanship may not be thriving, but it IS, in fact, alive in our nation’s capital. This should be a news story, but it doesn’t seem to be one that policymakers talk much about or that the media is interested in covering. My hope is that some of the 38 million AARP members will spread the word.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.