Congressional leaders should follow President Obama’s lead toward bipartisan solutions

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By Geoff Davis

President Obama has promised to usher in an era of politics that transcends partisan divisions.  He has encouraged Congress to focus on cooperation and debate so that we can craft the best solutions to our nation’s challenges.  Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s record does not reflect that bipartisan spirit.  While I am hopeful that President Obama will lead Congressional Democrats in a new direction, early indications have not been positive.

Members of the 111th Congress took the oath of office on January 5, 2009.  Since then, the Democratic Majority has scheduled and considered four significant legislative proposals.  In all four cases, the committee process was ignored, debate was cut short and the ability for any member, regardless of party affiliation, to offer amendments or alternatives was all but eliminated.

A prime example of this disregard for the legislative process occurred on January 14th, when the House voted on H.R. 2, a bill to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  SCHIP was established more than ten years ago to make sure children in low-income families have access to quality health care.  The program should be reauthorized, but it should remain focused on the neediest children.  However, H.R. 2 is less focused on helping our nation’s children and more focused on mandating a massive expansion of government run health care.

The SCHIP legislation opens the program to adults and families making as much as $80,000 and increases the risk of non-citizens obtaining benefits through the program.  Even worse, the budgetary math used to ‘pay for’ this expansion relies on a tobacco tax increase that will only fully fund the SCHIP program if an additional twenty million non-smoking Americans start smoking. It is flawed logic to fund a children’s health care program by creating millions of new smokers.

This important legislation could have been improved through the committee process and open debate.  More than 120 of my colleagues and I wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi and then-President-elect Obama describing our priorities for the legislation, including serving eligible low-income children first, requiring proper documentation to ensure the program only benefits U.S. citizens and legal residents, maintaining private insurance options for families who are already insured, and finding a stable funding source for any potential expansion of the program.  Unfortunately, none of these principles were addressed. 

If we are to move beyond partisanship to constructive debate and collaborative efforts to solve our greatest challenges, it must be more than speeches and sound bites.  We must each commit to practice what is preached.

Our country is in the middle of an economic crisis with a new Congress and a new President.  In these challenging times, Congress must work together for the common good.  Developing the proper economic stimulus plan is only the first item on a very long “To-Do” list.  Together we can do better.  The Democratic Majority should join Republicans in heeding President Obama’s call to put ideas ahead of narrow partisanship.

Congressman Geoff Davis