Spotlight Exclusives

A Post-Election Message from the Spotlight Team: In Small Legislative Steps, Signs of Cooperative Spirit

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At Spotlight on Poverty, we pride ourselves on offering a big-tent forum for exchanging ideas about how to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity.In the wake of last week۪s mid-term elections, with each party now controlling one House of Congress, we believe this collaborative approach to policy debate is more critical than ever.<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

 

In the coming months we at Spotlight hope to highlight the best examples of this cooperative spirit, showcasing those who are working  across the political divide to find solutions to the economic struggles faced by growing numbers of families. Given the new political landscape and the inevitable gridlock on many key issues, this may seem like a herculean task. But we see more reason for hope than common wisdom would lead us to believe. Beneath the poisonous political posturing and hyper-partisanship, there are promising areas of agreement among members on both sides of the aisleall with the potential to produce legislation that would make a difference to low-income families. Here are some examples:

  

  • Reducing hunger.Nutrition programs have a long history of bipartisan support.In this Congress, child nutrition reauthorization moved forward with significant bipartisan backing in both Houses.In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously out of committee and passed the full Senate by unanimous consent.In the House, child nutrition legislation passed out of committee with bipartisan support.The House and Senate Hunger caucuses are also heavily bipartisan and include powerful members with the potential to help move legislation.Although Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, will not be returning to the Senate, the caucus will still likely include prominent members of both parties, such as Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Robert Casey (D-PA), Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN), and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).The House Hunger Caucus is co-chaired by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Rep. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), both of whom will be moving to the Senate.

  • Helping neglected and abused children. In the last Congress, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate.This law will help hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children find safe, loving and permanent homes, and help prepare older children in foster care for a productive and promising adulthood. Last December, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) formed a new Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, which is poised to incubate bipartisan legislation to further help this population.
  • Collecting better data to create better policy. The State Child Well-Being Research Act has strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The legislation would greatly expand the data available on how children are faring in every state, allowing state governments to more effectively target limited funds to the areas of greatest need. In the Senate, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who both sit on the Finance Committee. In the House, it is sponsored by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), who is likely to be the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA).It has 12 other co-sponsorsthree Republicans and nine Democrats.Since sponsors in both Houses sit on the committees of jurisdiction, we think this bill has an excellent chance of moving even in a politically-divided Congress.
  • Helping low-income families save. Support for asset-building policies has traditionally been bipartisan, with both Republicans and Democrats backing legislation that would enable low-income families to achieve financial self-reliance. A number of Republicans in both Houses are poised to play leadership roles in this area.They include newly-elected Senator Dan Coats(R-IN), who was a leader in enacting the Assets for Independence program in 1998 before he retired from Congress; newly-elected Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), an original cosponsor of legislation to expand the Saver’s Credit to all low-income families when he served in the House; and returning Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), a supporter of the Individual Development Account tax credit in the 110th Congress. Additionally, the Congressional Savings and Ownership Caucus is currently co-chaired by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), who lost his seat in this month۪s election.

 

There are other areas where we see opportunity for bipartisan progress on issues affecting poverty and opportunity. A bipartisan Baby Caucus was created last year to promote policies that ensure a healthy and happy start for all children. The caucus is headed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT). We also see the possibility of progress on education reform, an area with a long history of bipartisan support. Prior to the election, Republicans and Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee expressed a willingness to work together to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and help close the education gap for low-income children.We hope that spirit of cooperation will not fade with the election results.

 

While policy change won۪t come easily, the challenges facing Congress and our nation are far from insurmountable.At Spotlight, we will do all we can to raise up the efforts of those who are working together to move our country forward and help those in need.

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