Impeachment surprise: Bills Congress could actually pass in 2020

Impeachment surprise: Bills Congress could actually pass in 2020
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It’s hard to imagine worse conditions in Washington. And as the partisan positioning and media madness of impeachment give way to the partisan positioning and media madness of the 2020 election, conventional wisdom tells us the likelihood of Congress passing anything that matters next year is bleak.

The best part about conventional wisdom, of course, is proving it wrong.

There is plenty of reason to think that’s possible next year, if you look beyond the daily outrage at the work of key committees with a proven track record of passing legislation — and especially to that narrow window between impeachment and the election. In fact, there are crucial reforms, more surgical than sweeping, that if passed will have a lasting impact on the lives of Americans (if not the headlines), on issues that consistently move swing voters right now. 

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The first is health care transparency legislation, to give consumers the information they need to shop around for medical care and end surprise billing (a problem any voter who has received a medical bill understands). Advocates such as Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, argue it would take a system-wide whack at health care costs — the main issue driving the concerns of voters.

Alexander, known for finding narrow lanes for bipartisan bills, says impeachment actually makes this and other high-impact, low-profile reforms more likely as lawmakers scramble afterward to show they can get things done before November. “I don’t see how it benefits either the Democrats or the Republicans to go to the voters next fall and say, ‘We didn’t do anything,’” Alexander told me. “I think the country is going to say, ‘OK, what else can you guys do?’”

(Full disclosure: I worked for Alexander in the Senate and on the campaign trail. When Congress literally ground to a halt in the first government shutdown in nearly 18 years in 2013, my job was to write statements that he would promptly rewrite because he actually knew what was going on.)

Health care transparency may have that rare blend of support needed in divided government. 

In addition to Alexander’s bipartisan proposal, President TrumpDonald John TrumpIllinois governor says state has gotten 10 percent of medical equipments it's requested Biden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll Tesla offers ventilators free of cost to hospitals, Musk says MORE elevated the issue with an executive order on Nov. 15. Over the weekend, U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns MORE (R-Ore.), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the famously productive House Committee on Energy and Commerce (relative to the low standard set by other committees), announced a bipartisan agreement with Alexander on legislation in both chambers of Congress. Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGOP lawmaker touts bill prohibiting purchases of drugs made in China Wisconsin Republican says US must not rely on China for critical supplies We weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack MORE (R-Wis.) and Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterDemocrats press World Bank chief on meeting with Ukrainian president amid Trump pressure 2019 was a historic year for marijuana law reform — here's why Impeachment surprise: Bills Congress could actually pass in 2020 MORE (D-Colo.) have another bipartisan proposal targeting all major sectors of the industry that could fit any number of legislative or executive fixes. Democrats have widely acknowledged this issue as a priority — a former Obama administration official even called the president’s executive order a “game changer.”

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Seek other reforms such as this, and you shall find. Walden has a prescription drug price plan, for example, currently overshadowed by partisan games and a bill by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: White House projects grim death toll from coronavirus | Trump warns of 'painful' weeks ahead | US surpasses China in official virus deaths | CDC says 25 percent of cases never show symptoms 14 things to know for today about coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Trump, telecom executives talk coronavirus response | Pelosi pushes funding for mail-in voting | New York AG wants probe into firing of Amazon worker | Marriott hit by another massive breach MORE (D-Calif.) that will never pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Nonetheless, alongside these shared priorities — if not solutions — in the House, there is carefully crafted bipartisan legislation in the Senate and a Republican president who is critical of drug companies. There is room for a bipartisan reform moment.

Another example is Alexander’s priority of simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, a 10-page document he shows groups in Tennessee, letting it cascade to the floor like a broken bureaucratic accordion. The morass discourages students from applying and often leaves aid tied up in procedural delays — a chance for Republicans to cut government and Democrats to increase opportunity. It could move forward next year or sooner if the House takes up a bipartisan amendment to a bill it previously passed.

Members of both parties need to show results on issues such as these. 

Health care consistently polls at the top nationally and in key battlegrounds — in Wisconsin, 2018 exit polling showed it was the top concern of voters by far at 46 percent, and it’s arguably the single biggest policy issue that drove Democrats’ victories. For 2020, Fox News polling in September ranked health care the top “deal-breaker” issue upon which voters were willing to base their vote. Education, meanwhile, polls as an important issue for liberal and independent voters, and is consistently used to complement conservative platforms by successful Republicans.

Republicans need results on issues such as these to diversify their strong case on a booming economy and restored national security. And Democrats need to show they can deliver on policy priorities, or be left only with impeachment on their resumes.

Of course this is all based on the assumption that the House impeaches the president, the Senate acquits him, and Congress returns to default partisan gridlock. 

After all that, why not give voters something unexpected, like results?

Brian Reisinger is president and chief operating officer of Platform Communications, a Midwestern-based strategic communications firm that works on national advocacy campaigns. He served as deputy communications director for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and communications director for his 2014 campaigns, and has headed communications for Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE (R-Wis.) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.).