A few dozen bills have been signed into law this year. But only four have come from freshmen Democrats. This is the story of one.
The news you heard out of Washington DC at the end of September was probably related to President Trump’s ask to China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son or the Congressional battle around impeachment. You likely didn’t hear in the news that H.R. 4285, a bill that helps veterans receive care, was signed into law.
H.R 4285 is one of only 65 bills that have made it through the entire process outlined in Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill.” And it happened just in time.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York, a freshman Democrat.
The legislation authorizes four programs, all of which were set to expire on Oct. 1, to continue to exist. The programs help homeless veterans get housing, cover the cost of travel for caretakers of veterans getting health care, issue loans for real estate owned by the VA, and keep a VA office in the Philippines open, among other things.
“I knew the programs in the bill were set to expire, and I knew how important they are to veterans around the country,” Brindisi told COURIER. “It may not be the most glamorous bill, but someone needs to make sure these important things, like housing assistance and transportation assistance, get done.”
Brindisi, who sits on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said it was the veterans in his district that sounded the alarm, ultimately getting these programs the help they needed to survive.
“We have a veterans advisory group made up of veteran service organizations, and one of the biggest concerns I hear about is the rise in homelessness among our veteran population,” Brindisi said.
Though a freshman in Congress, Brindisi isn’t a stranger to veterans’ issues. Before going to Washington, he served in New York’s state assembly, where he also served on the veterans’ committee. His district, which stretches from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario, is home to more than 50,000 veteran, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.
So how does a freshman Democrat like Brindisi get his bill not just through the House, of which Democrats have the majority, but also through the Republican-controlled Senate and White House? In this case, it helped to have a Republican member who cosponsored the bill: Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois. Brindisi said they met on the Committee for Veterans’ Affairs and worked together on a few issues before this bill.
It also helped to have a looming deadline. He introduced the bill just two-and-a-half weeks before it became law. Brindisi credited that speed to the budget deadline of September 30: “Like everything in Washington, it seems to run up to the last minute,” he said.
Despite the success of this bill, Brindisi said getting a bill actually signed into law wasn’t something he expected to do in his first term, especially in an often bitterly divided government.
“Being more of a moderate, you get attacks from the far left and far right…but if you’re getting attacked from both ends of the spectrum that means you’re somewhere in the middle.”
“I had no expectations coming in,” Brindisi said. “I knew we would have to work hard, and in the absence of bigger pieces of legislation getting done, I tried to focus my attention on small wins for constituencies back home. Veterans issues, agriculture, and prescription drugs are where I’ve focused my attention,” Brindisi said, noting that these are the issues he hears about most back home in New York.
As for his first 10 months in office, Brindisi said the biggest surprise has been facing criticism not just from the right, but also from the left. “Being more of a moderate, you get attacks from the far left and far right…but if you’re getting attacked from both ends of the spectrum that means you’re somewhere in the middle.”
While already familiar with working across the aisle, Brindisi is still putting names to the faces of his 435 congressional colleagues. “Thankfully, there are apps for that,” he said. And as for passing a bill into law, Brindisi laughed when asked if he’d get a plaque commemorating the occasion of his first bill becoming law.
“I’m still waiting to see that—and a signed copy of the bill from the president.”