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Productivity Requires Participation

May 5, 2014
Weekly Columns

The majority of Americans look at Washington with great frustration because they feel like Congress isn’t being productive or doing anything of real value. Despite this declining confidence in the lawmaking process, it’s important to realize that there have been several substantive bills that have become law and still other pieces of legislation that patiently await the action by the Senate and President Obama. 

During the last several months in Congress, I am pleased that there have been examples of both sides coming together and negotiating valuable reforms. Throughout December and January, we saw this in the joint budget conference committee that unveiled a two-year budget deal and then through the omnibus funding package offered by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Passage in both chambers of the budget deal and the corresponding omnibus bill that were signed into law by the president allowed our nation to avert another government shutdown and provided a renewed sense of certainty to hardworking Americans. 

Additionally, lawmakers worked together in January to reconcile the farm bills of the House and Senate through a joint conference committee. The conference report, which was supported in both chambers and signed into law by the president, was a victory for both rural and urban America. Even more recently, both chambers and the president acted on the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which redirects tax dollars currently being wasted on political party conventions to instead fund valuable pediatric research. 

Even in the midst of some real progress, Americans see deadlock in the legislative process. But the blame cannot and should not be placed on the Republican House. Since Republicans reclaimed majority, they have worked tirelessly to draft and pass legislation that would create much-needed jobs and improve our economic outlook for our children and grandchildren. 

At the center of much of the legislation that has been introduced and passed, there is an obvious commitment to addressing what’s broken in our government. Sometimes that has meant dealing with needless regulations that prevent domestic energy production, hurt small businesses or discourage entrepreneurship, ultimately causing our country to miss out on new jobs. At other times, Republicans have introduced bills that address our more than $17 trillion of debt by cutting wasteful government spending and reforming entitlements. 

While House Republicans have offered solutions, the Senate and Administration have all too often chosen not to even be part of the discussion. Instead of bringing House-passed legislation to the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid rarely puts anything to a vote and instead refuses to address the bills the House has sent. Likewise, President Obama has displayed an unwillingness to lead by calling for action in the upper chamber, making Congress even less productive. Considering that the president dubbed 2014 as the “Year of Action” during his State of the Union speech, his inaction is disappointing.  

There are now more than 230 pieces of House-passed legislation awaiting action in the upper chamber. Many of these bills encourage job creation and facilitate economic recovery. For example, the SKILLS Act would provide training programs for the long-term unemployed, helping them improve skills and giving them a wider range of job opportunities. 

Through the $7 billion private investment of TransCanada, construction of the Keystone pipeline would also provide jobs for American workers. Members of the House have already shown their support time and again for TransCanada’s extension of the pipeline. In the last Congress alone, the House voted six times to advance its construction. Last year, a bipartisan House approved the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation that expedites the Keystone application process. Unfortunately, despite the outspoken support from some Democratic lawmakers in the upper chamber, no Senate votes have been allowed to complete the pipeline. Similarly, the State Department and White House continue to needlessly delay the pipeline’s approval by choosing to delay a decision on Keystone even though several studies reveal no noticeable impact on the environment. 

We need to restore confidence in the federal government, but House Republicans cannot do it alone. In order to improve the view of Congress held by Americans, the Senate must take more votes. With the numerous bills passed by the House, the upper chamber is certainly not in need of material. Furthermore, as the elected leader of our nation, President Obama should encourage the Senate to participate in the legislative process and at least vote on legislation. Otherwise, little is likely to change.