The Ripon Forum

Volume 48, No. 4

December 2014

“We cannot achieve great things alone.”

By on December 10, 2014


CMR Official Photo 3-8-11

It was nearly a decade ago when I made the cross-country journey from one Washington to the other, a newly elected Member of Congress and the 200th woman ever to serve in the United States House of Representatives. When I put my hand on the Bible and was sworn in to serve the people of Eastern Washington, I was eager and excited to represent them. I was determined to legislate with both my head and my heart. And I was humbled that so many people had instilled their trust in me to make their lives better. It was a charge I intended to keep – and one that I carry with me every single day as I walk the halls of the United States Capitol.

Years later, as Chair of the House Republican Conference, I can say with certainty that trust is fundamental to effective lawmaking. At a time when Americans’ trust in government has hit an all-time low – with just 28 percent in the legislative branch and 43 percent in the executive – it’s time to change the culture in Washington.

We need to bridge the ever-growing chasm between the American people and their elected leaders – a rift that has been exacerbated by the Administration’s flagrant executive overreach, a loss of opportunity for middle-class Americans, and a lack of transparency that pervades the federal government. But it hasn’t always been this way. And it certainly doesn’t need to stay this way. We can restore the public’s trust by fostering relationships; advancing 21st-century solutions; and incorporating technology and American ingenuity into public policy.

We need to bridge the ever-growing chasm between the American people and their elected leaders.

Fundamental to the restoration of trust is the cultivation of relationships – not only among Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, and the White House and Congress – but between Washington, DC and the American people. If there is one thing I have learned as a legislator, it’s that we cannot achieve great things alone. It takes a willingness to come together, put aside our differences, and advance solutions that make people’s lives better. And as we welcome America’s New Congress this month, I am eager to continue the work we’ve begun to do just that.

As Co-Chair of the Congressional Military Family Caucus, Co-Founder of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus, and a member of the bipartisan women’s caucus – I have learned firsthand the importance of good relationships, especially in the politically charged and divisive world of Capitol Hill. Whether it’s advancing solutions for individuals with disabilities, or protecting our military families, or expanding opportunities for America’s working moms – it all starts by building those relationships. There is always common ground to be found.   Sometimes we just need to work a little harder to find it.

But the relationships we build in Washington – and the dialogue that accompanies them – are just the beginning. If we learned anything from the 2014 midterm election, it’s that Americans want us to surmount partisan politics and work together. They’re tired of the gridlock in Washington – so much so, in fact, that in a recent Pew poll, just 20 percent of Americans said they trusted the government to do what is right “always” or “most” of the time. That is unacceptable. The American people want us to chart a new path forward – a better, bipartisan path – that will help them pay their bills, bring home more take-home pay, and make their lives better. The passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act earlier this month – which passed the House with an overwhelming 404 votes – is a perfect example of how we can do that. This legislation will create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities so they can save for their future expenses and reach their full potential. It’s these bipartisan solutions – ones that begin with a recognition that no single person or party has all the answers – that empower people, change lives, and rebuild trust.

As I join my colleagues in the House and our new Republican majority in the Senate, I am confident we can restore trust among the American people by embracing a culture of innovation and ingenuity on Capitol Hill. Technology allows us to maximize communication, accessibility and transparency between elected leaders and those we represent. And as this Administration continues to exert its unilateral, executive overreach– most recently with immigration reform – it is imperative we promote transparency within our government if we want to regain the trust of the American people.

It’s time for lawmakers to approach public policy with the same ingenuity we find in start-ups all across the country. The federal government – particularly the VA – could take lessons from apps like ZocDoc that have helped millions of Americans schedule appointments with doctors in a matter of hours – or from Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, who recently met with the Republican Conference to discuss his visions for the future of Microsoft. It’s this innovative culture – one that challenges the status quo and promotes commonsense, forward-thinking solutions – that would help bridge the growing disconnect between the American people and the federal government.

While the challenge to restore the public’s trust in Congress may be a tremendous one, it is far from impossible. I welcome America’s New Congress – one that will find common ground, advance 21st-century solutions, and embrace a culture of innovation to empower people in every corner of this country. We will be guided by principle, not politics. We will challenge the status quo. And we will chart the path toward a government that is more open, transparent, and trustworthy.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents the 5th District of the State of Washington in the U.S. House of Representatives. She serves as Chair of the House Republican Conference.

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