Op-Ed ● Congress
For Immediate Release: 
January 15, 2016

Wanted to make sure you saw today's op-ed in The Hill by House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) on President Obama's final State of the Union Address. The President laid out his vision for the future of America and how Congress must work together to achieve compromise and address the biggest issues facing the American people. To read the op-ed, click here or see below: 

Congress Must Heed President’s Call to Elevate Our Politics, Take Bipartisan Action

By House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer

January 15, 2016

In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama laid out a vision of how to make our nation stronger for the coming century.  Reminding us that our greatest strengths come from our diversity and our spirit of service, he made it clear that he will keep fighting for the better future Americans deserve.

Singular among the messages in his address for its poignancy and relevance to the challenges we face was his declaration that “we live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, and our place in this world. …And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.”  This, perhaps more than anything else, has been the lesson of our young century – that the extraordinary, transformational power of technology will continue to alter our economy, our society, our national security, and our relationships with one another and the world around us.

As our world changes, as the global economy takes new shape with each passing year, America must harness the full energy of our innovative spirit, indefatigable adaptability, and boundless imagination.  If we fail to do so, we will watch as our competitors overtake us.  But if we succeed, we can continue to put our people to work in good jobs, promise our children and grandchildren a better future, and lead the world by every measure.

To do so will require, as the president made clear in his address, that those charged with leading our nation not lose sight of our responsibility to do so through compromise and common sense.  President Obama outlined a vision, but ultimately it will be up to Congress, acting as the representatives of “we the people,” to carry it out.  Whether or not Congress can enact the policies that will make it possible to adapt to the changes we confront will depend on whether we can first heed the President’s call to ensure that our politics reflect America’s best attributes and not its worst.

As we look ahead to a new year in Congress, we should not take as our starting point the divisive rhetoric heard throughout 2015 from politicians seeking to cast blame or instill fear.  Instead, I hope we can draw on the lessons of bipartisanship and compromise and what they can achieve, as witnessed over the past few months.  First, Democrats and Republicans came together to help businesses and workers compete overseas through the Export-Import Bank, which we ultimately reauthorized in December.  In October, we reached a bipartisan budget agreement that prevented sequestration and a catastrophic default on our debt.  In November, we passed a bipartisan highway bill to invest in infrastructure and save thousands of construction jobs.  Last month, we worked across the aisle to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and fund the government.

Bipartisan compromise is not just possible or theoretical.  We’ve done it, and we can do it again.  In the months ahead, House Democrats will continue to seek every opportunity to work with Republicans to reach bipartisan consensus and make progress toward confronting the challenges we face together as a nation.

The president mentioned several issues that Congress must not ignore and where there are real possibilities for achieving bipartisan results.  These include criminal justice reform to reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders to prevent recidivism and promote rehabilitation while addressing disparities within our system.  There have been constructive ideas proposed on both sides of the aisle, and I hope the Congress can move forward with discussions on how to bring about reform.

Another was the president’s call to ensure that “everyone has a fair shot at opportunity and security” in our country by guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing universal pre-K, and making it easier for our students to learn advanced skills and afford college to hone those skills further, among others.  These proposals dovetail with House Democrats’ efforts to make certain that everyone who works hard and takes responsibility can Make It In America.  In spite of the enormous progress we’ve made over the past seven years, many Americans don’t feel secure in our economy because of all the changes it’s experiencing.  It is incumbent upon us to reassure the American people that everyone will have the opportunity to make it in the new economy.

Ultimately, the best way to make progress on all the challenges the president discussed on Tuesday night is to heed his call to elevate our politics.  We need to fix the way we draw congressional districts on the national level and reform our campaign finance system while making sure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot and have his or her vote counted accurately.  House Democrats will keep fighting to restore voter protections and make our electoral system more accountable.  The result of doing so, I believe, will be a Congress better able to harness a spirit of bipartisan compromise that reflects the will of the nation it serves.

As we move ahead into 2016, I hope the president’s words inspire Congress to build on the bipartisan progress achieved in recent weeks.  Our world is changing, and Congress has a responsibility – Democrats and Republicans together – to ensure that our country can seize the opportunities those changes present so that all of our people can have a fair shot at a renewed American Dream.