The Senate’s recent passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, H.R. 2, otherwise known as the farm bill, by a wide margin of 86-11 is a major victory for bipartisanship. Why does that matter? Because legislation that is reflective of consensus-building and approved on such a broad basis in Congress ultimately makes for more credible and durable laws for a widely diverse American public.
Encouragingly, this isn’t the only bipartisan signal of hope to come from the Senate recently. The Senate Appropriations Committee just advanced the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill on an overwhelming 30-1 vote. Both of these actions exemplify that bipartisanship is possible, and that a robust committee process that encourages bipartisan buy-in is key to making that happen.
The Senate bill reauthorizes vital programs such as agriculture research, nutrition assistance, and rural development, acting as a five-year continuation and expansion upon the previous farm bill set to expire on September 30. In the interest of bipartisanship, this new legislation was largely constructed with the aim to avoid regional fights and contentious issues standing in the way of prior bills.
The White House has expressed support for the House version of the bill but has not announced any intent to veto the Senate version, leaving many with hope that if conferees can agree on a compromise proposal, it could be signed into law later this year. Boosting this process, Congress is under pressure to find a solution before the current farm bill expires on September 30, incentivizing both sides to come together and provide the much-needed authorization for these critical programs upon which millions of Americans rely.
The Senate’s broad, bipartisan passage of the farm bill and the Appropriations Committee’s overwhelming approval of a spending measure are reasons for optimism. They are strong examples of elected officials banding together to not only implement a robust committee process, but also to provide crucial support to fundamental programs. But these instances don’t have to be few-and-far-between. Reforming Congress through transformational changes—like defeating gridlock through budget and appropriations reform, renewing faith in government through the creation of a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, or pledging to commit to civility—would make this type of success the norm. These would be substantive steps toward revitalizing Congress and ensuring our government institutions function properly for the American people.