As I begin to catch my breath following two nonstop weeks of New Member Orientation in Washington, D.C., I find myself coming back to a conversation I had time and time again with Orange County constituents during the campaign. On an almost daily basis I heard how people were fed up with the divisiveness of American politics and were hungry for the restoration of common decency and respect. More than almost anything else, the people of Orange County saw the toxic state of political discourse as the biggest roadblock to progress on issues that are critical to the health, safety and success of our communities and our country.
I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. In fact, my campaign was built on the notion of bringing common sense discourse to advance common ground ideas to Congress.
I’m happy to report that, after more than two weeks walking the halls of Congress and meeting my future colleagues, my belief in the 116th’s Congress potential to set aside partisanship and get things done for the American people is at an all-time high. Already I’ve had dozens of conversations with Members new and veteran about where we can find common ground to make real progress on a range of issues. The freshman class is eager to hit the ground running, and the veterans of Congress are fired up to ride that momentum toward concrete results.
There are four issues in particular that I’m extremely optimistic about making real progress on with my new colleagues: infrastructure, combating the effects of climate change, getting money out of politics, and homelessness.
Most people I’ve met in Washington, D.C. agree that we cannot delay making progress on addressing the deterioration of America’s infrastructure. It’s lost on nobody that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US’ existing infrastructure a D+ grade last year. The good news is that I see room for bipartisan progress on closing the estimated $2.0 trillion 10-year investment gap in infrastructure spending. For example, there is real appetite to prize innovation by planning for and investing in emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and drones, and funding research and development into innovative new materials and processes that can modernize and extend the life of infrastructure and increase cost savings.
How we approach infrastructure is perfectly in step with bipartisan measures the 116th Congress can take to combat the effects of climate change. I won’t lie – it’s clear that not everybody in D.C. is on the same page when it comes to acknowledging the man-made nature of our changing climate. However, one notion most people can agree on is that, as the federal government’s recently-released National Climate Assessment (NCA) confirmed, large-scale geographic transformations, rising sea levels, and effects like declining water levels in the Colorado River Basin and the spread of ticks carrying Lyme disease are bad for Americans’ health, safety, and economic prospects. I believe the 116th Congress can come together to combat climate change by working to invest in clean-tech that creates green jobs, and creating incentives for choosing clean energy over the fossil fuels of the past.
One of the major barriers to ditching fossil fuels – the influence of money in politics – is yet another issue I believe we can make bipartisan progress on in the 116th Congress. This year, both House and Senate Democrats introduced sweeping anti-corruption agendas that target the revolving door of politics and lobbying, as well as the influence of money on all three branches of government. I believe we can make great initial progress on this issue in the 116th Congress by instituting a lifetime ban on the president, vice president, Cabinet members, and congressional lawmakers from becoming lobbyists after they leave office. I also am optimistic about bipartisan discussions on the public financing of campaigns, which would give power back to the people to select the candidates they believe in the most, not just the ones who are left on the ballot after wealthy corporations have had their pick of the litter.
Stemming the influence of money in politics will allow lawmakers to have more open, honest conversations on the issues addressing our communities on which there is growing consensus, but that aren’t necessarily priorities for special interests’ bottom lines. For example, I am eager to have conversations with my colleagues on Congress on the nationwide homelessness crisis. The overall number of people experiencing homelessness is on the rise in the United States. What’s more is that the largest most recent increase was among unaccompanied children and young adults (14.3 percent). Homelessness isn’t a red or blue issue – half a million people nationwide are experiencing homelessness. Getting roofs over these people’s heads, reintegrating them into society, and returning them to the workforce shouldn’t just be a humanitarian priority – it should be an economic one too. Moving forward, I believe everyone in Congress can get on board with ensuring that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) funding is being spent efficiently. An excellent step to take in the short-term would be to pass the Homeless Children and Youth Act, which would allow communities to make up for any deficiencies in the counting of homeless youth and to serve the homeless children, youth and families they identify as most in need of assistance.
In closing, if you think I sound too optimistic about the 116th Congress’ potential for bipartisan progress, I would like to leave you with this: one of the most inspiring meetings I had during New Member Orientation was with none other than Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. I had the opportunity to sit down with Congressman Rohrabacher in his Washington, D.C. office, and thank him for his 30 years of service. I listened as he shared some of the lessons he’s learned over his career, and offered to be helpful in this transition. This is how Democracy is supposed to work. We can and will have a difference of ideas, but we can all come together and try to work for the common good.
Harley Rouda is Congressman-elect from California’s 48th District
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