An Optimistic Washington Outlook

By Mary O’KEEFE 

“This is Christmas, the season of perpetual hope…” 

~ Kate McCallister (Catherine O’Hara)


Watching the national news, “hope” during this season is not what most people feel. This week the nation mourned the loss of the U.S. 41st President George H.W. Bush. For the most part, this has been a time to celebrate the life of a man who, by all accounts, was a loyal friend, a loving father and husband, and a caring leader. 

The Capitol rotunda this week has been a reminder of the American ideal, where people work together despite their differing opinions. But what most people might not realize is that members of Congress have been working across the aisle even in this new political atmosphere. 

  “This is a timely [subject],” said Congressman Adam Schiff (D). 

Timely because, on Nov. 30, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Alaska. Schiff has been one of the strongest proponents of the Earthquake Early Warning System or ShakeAlert. 

“The [project] was brought to me by Caltech scientists. There was no money in the budget for it; we had to go through Congress,” Schiff said. 

Schiff praised Congressman Ken Calvert (R) for his strong bipartisan support and “for his continued leadership and assistance in securing this vital funding.” Calvert is chair of the Funding Committee. In March 2018, $22.9 million in funding was assigned for the earthquake early warning system. The funds were included in the FY2018 omnibus spending bill passed by the House. 

  “The FY2018 omnibus provides $12.9 million for continued development of EEW and for its first limited public rollout, a $2.7 million increase from FY2017. The spending bill also provides a one-time $10 million investment for capital costs associated with the build-out of EEW,” according to a statement released at the time by Schiff’s office. 

Schiff added that it is invaluable when people receive notice of an impending earthquake and both parties share the importance of their safety. 

Another common ground issue had to do with child protection. 

“I teamed this session with Rep. (Mike) Bishop [R) on the Child Protection Improvement Act,” Schiff said. 

The bipartisan CPIA was signed in March 2018. CPIA ensures that youth-serving non-profit organizations in every state can access FBI background checks for prospective staff and volunteers. This makes it easier for non-profits to get the “gold standard” of background checks to help in the bipartisan hiring of staff or adding volunteers to their workforce. 

Working on the budget at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for many years has also been a bipartisan effort. 

“We have been most successful at JPL. Rep. John Culberson (R) is one of the greatest champions of JPL,” Schiff said. “For 18 years we have worked together through thick and thin.”

Culberson is the chair of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds NASA.

In addition to working together on a variety of issues, Schiff said that many senators and representatives from different political parties are friends. 

“Jeff [Senator Jeff Flake (R)] and I are good friends. We came to Congress together,” he said. 

They worked together on several legislative efforts throughout the years including in 2007 an amendment to prevent warrantless surveillance on American citizens, requiring the Administration to get court approval for domestic surveillance. 

  Schiff is optimistic about the future and the new Congress members.  

“We have a lot of new members [coming] to the Congress,” Schiff said. 

In 2001, when he was first elected to Congress, there were 13 new people. In this freshmen class there are over 100 new members.

“The entire Congress is changing over,” Schiff said. 

What will happen with all these new members is anyone’s guess. There are still serious divisions and the normal debating practice seems to have gone from talking to one another to battling in Twitter wars. It is also a constantly changing political landscape that must be dealt with on, what seems like, an hourly basis; but through all of this, and with his long history with working across the aisle, Schiff feels the government is still strong. 

He added America is still a strong country with tremendous advantages and a “brilliant” Constitution to guide the democracy.

“I am optimistic that things will improve in the Congress,” he said. “I think we always need to put the country first.”