With all the press coverage of budget controversy and high-profile fights over the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), it's easy to think that government is broken and can't perform its basic functions of legislating and executing laws. However, despite the controversy, wrangling, and shutdown, government continues to do its job of taking on important issues that affect the country's economy, society, and international standing. Here are five examples of legislation passed by both Houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama in October.
Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act
This piece of legislation, signed on October 2, is intended to show the continued support of the US for the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS is originally a Cold War alliance that was intended to build off the Monroe Doctrine and promote democracy and partnership among the nations of North and South America. This bill reaffirms the US' commitment to the organization and grants additional funding to it, while at the same time encouraging modest reforms.
With recurrent clashes over foreign policy, such as dealings with Iran and Israel, it's important to note that there are some areas in which we agree on how we should handle our relations with our neighbors.
Helium Stewardship Act of 2013
Most of us think of helium as something that we put in birthday balloons and use to give ourselves squeaky voices, but helium is actually a vital natural resource, used in cooling magnets used in MRIs as well as other types of medical and physics resources. All the helium we have comes from mines, because the element is so light it is capable of escaping Earth's gravity. The Helium Stewardship Act allows a gradual transition of the Federal Helium Reserve from government to private control. Previously, requirements of shutting down the Reserve threatened to destabilize the helium market and threaten the global supply. Managing natural resources is another contentious area in government. It's nice to see some consensus on this fractious issue.
Sleep Apnea Regulation Resolution
Sleep apnea is a sleep condition in which people stop breathing during sleep. This prevents people from getting good sleep, which can have many effects, including raising the risk of traffic accident involvement. Since many truck drivers are affected by sleep apnea, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued rough recommendations for the trucking industry to screen drivers and get them treatment to reduce fatal accidents. Many felt that these recommendations were too vague and not properly expressed. This resolution demands that the FMCSA come up with real guidelines that the trucking industry can follow. Republicans and Democrats often fight vociferously about the role of government in regulating industry. It's nice to see them come together and pass this guidance.
United States Parole Commission Extension Act of 2013
This legislation authorizes the United States Parole Commission (USPC) to continue operation for five more years. The USPC supervises parole hearings for persons jailed for violation of Federal law and US Military Code, among others. This five-year extension is in contrast to previous two-year extensions.
The passing of the Extension Act has several important factors to consider. First, it shows Republicans and Democrats coming together on a law enforcement issue, typically fractious. Second, the longer extension period is in contrast to the shorter and shorter budget extensions we keep hearing about. Finally, the USPC is one place where President Obama's nominees are being given a straight up-or-down vote, as opposed to the threat of filibuster that keeps many of his judicial nominees off the bench.
We're still one nation, indivisible
Media likes to fan the flames of conflict to increase circulation. It's important to remember that, for all the important conflicts that do divide our government and our people, we still have very broad agreement on many of the issues facing our country today. Focusing on our areas of agreement can help us work together to find common values-based solutions to the conflicts that remain.