If you’re looking for proof that Washington is broken, there’s plenty of evidence. Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on anything, from taxes and healthcare, to immigration, foreign policy, and gay marriage. Yet, every so often, something happens in Congress that brings lawmakers together from both sides of the aisles and promises meaningful change in real peoples’ lives.
That’s exactly what happened this month when the House passed a bill that we believe could save countless lives and help millions of people lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Electrify Africa Act passed the House overwhelmingly thanks to the leadership of both parties, especially the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the respective chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Electrify Africa will support the Obama administration’s Power Africa initiative and can have a similarly transformative effect on peoples’ lives if it is carried out with the needs of the poor and environmental sustainability woven into its planning. Right now, there are nearly 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to basic electricity. Imagine what that means for women giving birth in dark hospitals or people in need of medical treatment. Without refrigeration, many vaccines are useless and millions of pounds of produce are left in the fields to rot. After dark, students can’t study, doing business becomes nearly impossible, and crime often spikes. Even the simple act of feeding your family is fraught with peril; astoundingly, more people die each year from the effects of toxic smoke inhalation caused by cooking over indoor fires than from AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.
One of the strongest and most vocal advocates for Electrify Africa is the same group that championed PEPFAR a decade ago: The ONE Campaign. America has delivered in some big ways since Bono launched ONE ten years ago. As a nation, we’ve helped deliver 360 million mosquito nets to malaria-stricken countries, worked with partners to save more than 5 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, and helped more than 50 million kids go to school for the very first time. ONE has done commendable work bringing Democrats and Republicans together to improve lives around the world, a refreshing reminder that politics can indeed end at the water’s edge.
Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress. a liberal advocacy organbization. Fratto is a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and a former White House deputy press secretary under President George W. Bush.