The Most Bipartisan and Popular Bill Sits Before Congress: It’s Time to Pass It | Commentary

Posted December 3, 2014 at 12:42pm

For the past eight years, I have been working to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (HR 647, S 133), legislation that will lead to a brighter future for millions of Americans living with disabilities. Commonly referred to as the ABLE Act, the bill opens this door by amending the tax code to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. And, in so doing, it provides them with the same type of financial planning tool available to other Americans.

Some would consider moving this bill across the legislative finish line in a lame-duck Congress impossible. I don’t, and a closer look at the amount of support behind ABLE demonstrates firm commitment that this bill needs to be signed into law.

No other bill before the 113th Congress equals or surpasses ABLE’s bipartisan and bicameral support — 74 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C. In the House, 380 of my colleagues, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas; and House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., support the bill and have signed it as co-sponsors.

Across the country, more than 100 local, state, national organizations and coalitions stand squarely behind ABLE. The National Down Syndrome Society, Autism Speaks, The Arc and many more groups have been at the forefront of advocacy efforts from the start. ABLE certainly wouldn’t enjoy its current popularity without this cohesive support, and they deserve wide credit.

Easing the financial strain for individuals with disabilities and their families is at the heart of ABLE and is its centerpiece goal. Under current law, they cannot have more than $2,000 worth of assets before critical government support programs they need are cut off. In the face of enormous medical, transportation and education costs, that amount does not extend very far and certainly hinders independent living.

Today, people with Down syndrome and other individuals with disabilities are outliving their parents. Families deserve the assurance that they can adequately care for their children and adults with disabilities, just like they can for their other children and family members. Those with intellectual and developmental disabilities can work a full-time job, be a productive member of society and pay taxes — but because of outdated laws currently placed on individuals with disabilities, they are being held back in life.

ABLE changes that for the better. No longer would they have to stand on the sidelines and watch others use IRS-sanctioned tools that are unavailable to them. They could use ABLE accounts for qualified expenses like prescription drugs, assisted housing, or physical therapy.

My Senate colleague Burr called this a “common sense” bill. Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., echoed those sentiments in July when the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the ABLE Act. In September, the Senate Finance Committee struck a deal that would bring this bill to a vote. Now, it’s time for both the House and Senate to bring the ABLE Act up for a vote in this lame-duck session.

Casey said in a Senate Finance Subcommittee hearing this summer, “The ABLE Act is an affirmation that people with disabilities have the ability to live a life of full opportunity and achievement.”

I agree. People with disabilities can’t wait any longer.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., is chairman of the House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee and the House-side author of the ABLE Act. See related story, Page 1.