Bringing Wisconsin Values to DC: How To Make Things Work in an Unworkable Congress

In what has become the new normal, Congress passed major to-do list items at the last minute with little oversight, narrowly avoiding another government shutdown in the process. So of course, I'm not surprised that in return, Americans responded with a collective slow clap for those efforts.

Congress has a well-deserved reputation for gridlock and inaction. While the headlines spell doom and gloom, it is important to note we can get things done to advance the interests of working Americans even in a Congress dominated by special interests.

Halfway through my second term in office, I've found some of the most significant accomplishments have been informed by my Wisconsin roots. I've learned that if you can really push on a few key issues that matter to your constituents you can find some success, even in this Congress.

Students and dedicated financial aid counselors from Wisconsin's flagship university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison came to me earlier this year to voice their concerns regarding the Perkins Loan Program, which offers a lifeline to low and middle-income students trying to finance their college education by providing student loans at an affordable rate. I met with many students who told me they weren't sure if they would be able to continue their education if this program expired, as it was scheduled to earlier this year. So I authored a bill with Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) to reauthorize Perkins Loans, which unanimously passed the House. This past week, the Senate finally passed a two-year extension of the program. I was so proud to lead this effort to reauthorize the Perkins program with the support of Congressional Republicans and Senator Baldwin.

Collaborating with my colleagues on two other issues important to Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District ensured they were well represented in Congress. Earlier this year, my Republican colleague, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and I founded the Congressional Co-Op Caucus to highlight community treasures, like Willy Street Co-Op, which offer unique products and spur economic development in our community.

In the rural town of Vermont where I reside, time and again, I hear from people that their kids are having a hard time getting online in order to get their homework done after school. Broadband speeds are slow and we all know that if our kids don't have access to the Internet, they can be left behind. This is why I led a bipartisan group of Members of Congress in the creation of a Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus.

While heated rhetoric in Washington continues, public opinion has shifted on some key issues. We all welcomed the Supreme Court's affirmation of marriage equality, but I was also thrilled that this year, for the first time, Congressional Republicans signed on in support of a bill I introduced to ensure that veterans who received less than honorable discharges because of who they love have their records cleared and their honor restored.

My colleague and friend, Rep. Reid Ribble (WI-08) and I teamed up this year to bring Wisconsin values to the Capitol by working on two bills to reform our federal budget process. The Long-Term SCORE Act will give authority to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to evaluate legislative proposals costs more accurately and allow them to do costs and savings estimates for as long as 50 years into the future. We also worked on the Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act to bring Wisconsin style- biennial budgeting to DC and ensure we take a longer view when setting our spending goals. Along the way, we found a lot of other room for bipartisan collaboration.

Toxic partisanship and political games undoubtedly make things difficult to accomplish in Washington. Progress has certainly been slow, and there is a lot more work to be done, but by being creative and working across the aisle, we can find paths forward on issues that matter to our constituents. And even when some successes haven't been as far-reaching as I've liked, I am still working with colleagues and moving the needle a little bit, day by day. It is the best way I've found to bring Wisconsin values to the Beltway.