December 08, 2022

Appleton: Bipartisanship allows policymakers to make positive impacts

When John Enns climbed up on his rye wicker on a beautiful day in 2004, he was looking forward to spending time in the field. Excited about riding his recently purchased equipment, he didn’t know he was moments away from having his life change forever.

As Enns drove the tractor out of a ditch, it flipped over, trapping him under the weight of the machinery. He had two broken vertebrae and five broken ribs and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Enns found himself going through hours of physical therapy and trying to navigate a world that often turns a blind eye to those who live with disabilities.

Suddenly, Enns was trying to get his wheelchair over steep curbs, trying to climb on top of his tractor without use of his legs and trying to make it up flights of steps at public buildings.

“You don’t realize how many physical obstacles are out there for people with disabilities until you’re disabled,” he says.

While he faced an uphill battle to return to some sense of normalcy, he was living in a world that had changed drastically for the better for people with disabilities over the 14 years prior to his accident.

The sea change over the intervening years was due to the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation extending accommodations to those living with disabilities.

Republican President George H. W. Bush signed the bill into law with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Obstacles were still in place, but they were starting to crumble.

The law would become a bright light for Enns and a shiny symbol of what bipartisan work could accomplish for the American people. It is also an example of the type of collaboration that has become increasingly rare in the nation’s capital.

While the waning examples of bipartisanship are attributable to many factors, simple decisions, like where policymakers decide to spend most of their time, have played a significant role in the demise of inter-party collaboration.

Washington used to be a place that policymakers called home. They enrolled their children in schools in the city and spent their spare time socializing together.

These relationships bore fruit, as big legislative policies, important to everyday Americans, passed Congress.

Over time, as political campaigns began to bemoan the rise of the “Washington insider,” it became a political liability for members of Congress to spend long amounts of time in the nation’s capital.

These developments, coupled with the fact that members of Congress had to travel more frequently to raise money for re-election, made it extremely hard to build the kinds of relationships necessary to forge and pass big legislation.

Plus, a spike in the number of gerrymandered congressional districts, which are more competitive during the primary than the general elections, further eroded bipartisan relationships.

Yet, there are a wealth of examples of how bipartisanship has produced monumental legislation over the last 30 years for farmers and Americans of all stripes.

Farmers have perhaps most benefited from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which originally passed in 1993, lifting the trade barriers between Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Since that time, Canada and Mexico have become two of our largest agricultural markets with both countries receiving about $20 billion in agricultural exports in 2017.

Of course, the law wasn’t perfect, and President Donald Trump made some significant improvements when he signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, into law, also with bipartisan support.

Thanks to bipartisan trade agreements like NAFTA and USMCA, Canada and Mexico are consistently some of the top buyers of U.S. corn each year.

There are plenty more examples of true bipartisanship at work. The Jumpstart our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act in 2012 made it easier for people to invest in small businesses, giving fledgling companies a chance to thrive.

The 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016, streamlined the drug and device approval process and allocated funds for opioid and medical research. It also included improvements to mental health services.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it took bipartisanship to create programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which allowed many small businesses to keep the lights on.

Clearly, for a country to be dynamic and keep up with the changing times, it needs its political parties to work together. I’ve been thinking about the upcoming elections a lot and feel it is important to support candidates who demonstrate an ability to work with people from different parties.

What if Democrats and Republicans in Congress worked together every day to make the world a better place for all the John Ennses out there?

I’d say it’s a goal worthy of bipartisan support, wouldn’t you?

Brooke Appleton is vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association.