One month ago, I was sworn in as the new Representative for Alabama’s First Congressional District, which encompasses Mobile, Gulf Shores, and four rural counties north of Mobile Bay. It was the thrill of a lifetime for me, having served as a state Senator and Chancellor of the Alabama two-year college system, to enter the United States Capitol and take the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution on behalf of my friends and neighbors back home.
We hear a lot about how Washington works, or isn’t working, back home in Alabama. It’s frustrating for us to read about the many problems facing our nation — a struggling economy and out-of-control debt, for example — and see so little action being taken to address them. I vowed if elected, to roll up my shirtsleeves and work together with my future colleagues as a workhorse, not a show horse. The voters in my district responded, sending me to the Capitol with a mission and a message: to cut through the infighting and bring a results-oriented approach to this body.
When I arrived in Washington, I was amazed at the disconnect between the hyper-partisan rhetoric and scathing attacks I read about in the newspapers, and the can-do, work-together attitude I’ve experienced in so many conversations with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Every Member I’ve met so far has been open to bipartisan action on areas where we agree, working together to build consensus and take meaningful steps to address the issues that face us.
I believe we have more in common than many Members publicly admit. Everyone in this body shares a commitment to building a healthy economy where hardworking families have access to good-paying jobs. We also largely agree that the health care law is not working as intended, hurting American families in the process. These issues are having real-world consequences across the country in every congressional district in America. We should focus on our shared goals and work to bridge the gap on how we achieve them.
Although many complain of inaction and gridlock in Congress, I find cause for optimism in many areas. For example, working with my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee has been a breath of fresh air. Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., has done an admirable job of breaking down partisan and geographical barriers to allow bipartisan action to thrive. I’ve especially enjoyed getting to know other Members on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee who share my commitment to building a Navy able to adapt to the combat needs of the future. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), built in part at the Port of Mobile in my district, is one such component that I will continue to push as we work together toward this common goal.
Today, I am dead last in seniority in the House of Representatives. To accomplish anything meaningful for my constituents, I have to build coalitions and convince my colleagues to support policies that make sense for my district. That is how I intend to continue doing business. We won’t always agree on everything. Sometimes we may come to a stalemate on bridging the gaps between us. Sometimes that gap may just be too wide. But I am at the very least encouraged that the fundamental ingredients for bipartisan action to achieve reform are present within our chamber.
What will it take to see these fundamentals acted upon to achieve real results? Leadership. President Obama disappointed me at this year’s State of the Union when he promised to use executive orders instead of engaging, in the way the Founding Fathers intended, with Congress. I am brand-new to this body, but I found the President’s speech to be unnecessarily partisan, provocative, and damaging to the “year of action” theme he’s trumpeted time and again.
Leadership will have to come from Congress, because it clearly is not coming from the president.
I hope that we can put the president’s speech behind us. Perpetuating and participating in that kind of partisan infighting is not what my constituents sent me here to do. I am here to work together with my colleagues to achieve real, positive results for my district and our nation. As I said on the House floor to my colleagues directly after my swearing in, “I am ready to work with you as a problem solver, not a problem maker.” Those weren’t just empty words. Let’s find ways that we can achieve common ground and take action to solve our nation’s problems together.
Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Alabama.