As a young kid growing up in West Texas, I often heard the phrase, “It takes an act of Congress â€¦ â€ used to describe something that is difficult or nearly impossible to get done. I always wondered what that really meant. Now, I know.
I served in the Texas Legislature for 22 years under four governors and four speakers. I went through 11 sessions, four of which also included the thorny topic of redistricting. I thought I had seen and lived through my fair share of politics and partisanship. I was wrong.
In Washington, I experienced firsthand the most divided government our country has seen in years. I was and am appalled. Petty silly partisanship. It permeates Congress to the point that partisanship seems more important than patriotism. Serving in Congress is a challenge. Luckily, I love challenges.
My state legislative experience gave me a running start. My committee assignments helped too. I serve on the House Armed Services Committee and House Agriculture Committee. These committees are key for Texas and for the district â€“ and this session, they were also at the center of several acts of Congress.
The first one was the Farm Bill, or Agricultural Act of 2014, that authorizes USDA programs vital to our communities and that keeps the prices of food affordable for the American people. It also has many provisions that are key to farmers and ranchers â€“ to school children and the elderly. Rural and urban depend on the farm bill â€“ yet, it had been stalled for several years.
The second bill was this yearâ€™s National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes the needed resources, equipment, and tools that our men and women in uniform need to protect themselves while keeping us safe. It also governs military bases and installations, which are critical to our local economies.
Even in a much-divided environment, I have found ways to work with leaders of both parties to craft legislation that might actually become law. I work to put Democrats and Republicans, House members and Senators, together at the same table.
When the VA scandal broke earlier this year, I knew immediately that Congress had to act. Acts of gross negligence, stupidity, or sheer meanness are never acceptable, but they are even less so when directed at the men and women whose sacrifices have shaped our nation by allowing it to remain strong and free.
I joined a level-headed group of leaders that spearheaded efforts to right the wrongs at the VA. The final product includes increased access to care, elimination of wait lists, more doctors and medical personnel, and better care for rural veterans. It allows for veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility â€“ or those who have waited for more than 30 days for an appointment â€“ to seek medical care through a private provider. It also adds or expands 27 VA health care facilities around the country including an expanded facility in San Antonio and new facilities in Lubbock, Tyler and Houston.
These acts of Congress were not easy â€“ but they werenâ€™t impossible, either. They took a lot of work. They required compromise and bipartisanship. All three bills required Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate, and the White House to negotiate around the same table at the same time. Imagine that. Negotiation is a fairly novel concept in Washington these days.
I was honored last week to be invited to take part in the bill signing ceremony of the VA Reform bill. As a son of a World War II veteran, taking care of our veterans is personal to me. I was proud to be a part of a historic moment. It was historic not only because of the changes it made, but because it got done at all.
Over the last 20 months, I have worked hard to represent everyone in the 23rd District of Texas â€“ regardless of party affiliation. And, Iâ€™m also working to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and everyoneâ€™s views are respected regardless of the topic.
Our nation faces many challenges on many fronts. Solving these challenges is critical. It shouldnâ€™t be impossible to pass an “act of Congress.â€ After all, anything is possible with communication, compromise, and courage. I keep that in mind each day.
Congress doesnâ€™t return to D.C. until September, but in the meantime, should you need help with a federal agency or department, or just want to drop us a line, please call, e-mail or visit any of our offices. You can find the nearest office by going to www.gallego.house.gov.
For more information on U.S. Rep. Gallego, visit www.gallego.house.gov. Learn more about U.S. Rep. Gallego by liking his Facebook page or by following him on Twitter.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine, represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.