The following is an OBO Guest Contribution from Alan Grayson. If you have an article you would like considered for publication please email email@example.com
During my three terms representing Orlando in Congress, I tried to answer a simple question: “What difference does a Congressman make?”
A Congressman is, literally, only one of 435. When we arrive in Congress, we have no seniority, we do not serve as Committee or Subcommittee Chairs, and we are barred from serving on the most important Committees, like the House Appropriations Committee. Almost half of us belong to the impotent minority party (today, the Democrats).
Eventually, seniority puts you in a better position. But if you want to accomplish anything during your first 10-15 years in Congress, you have to be resourceful, tenacious, patient and opportunistic.
When I was elected to Congress, Orlando was the largest city in the country without a VA Hospital. I worked with former Reps. Brown and Mica to secure funding. When the construction contractor dragged its feet, I threatened the contractor with debarment. Now we have a state-of-the-art hospital, in my district.
Similarly, Orlando was one of the largest cities in the country without a commuter rail system. Now we have one, thanks to relentless effort by myself, and former Reps. Brown and Mica, to secure funding and overcome impediments — not only for the initial phase, but also for the second phase that runs through my district.
In the last four years, I passed 120+ bills and amendments through the House, more than any other Congressman, Democratic or Republican. (This is why Slate magazine dubbed me the “Most Effective Member of Congress.”) Among other things, I moved $80+ million from the military budget to the health research budget. In my last week in Congress alone, I passed four Grayson amendments that became law, three of them improving medical coverage for veterans.
A number of these bills and amendments impacted not only Central Florida, but all of Florida. For instance, Grayson legislation extended the itemized deduction for state sales tax, which is worth $1 billion each year to Florida. I substantially increased funding for the National Estuary Program, to deal with algal bloom on both shores. And I extended military launches at Cape Canaveral through 2030.
If you happened to watch C-SPAN during House votes, you would have seen me – and, usually, only me – signing up supporters for bills on both “sides of the aisle.” That’s how I enlisted 177 cosponsors for my landmark bill to extend Medicare coverage to eyes, ears and teeth.
And there were major accomplishments outside the Halls of Congress. The Grayson mandatory mediation program cut foreclosures in Orange County in half. The Grayson competitive grant program doubled the amount of competitive grants to our district in its first year, adding $100 million. I prevented the FAA from eliminating funds for air traffic control at Kissimmee Airport. Grayson-directed funding put Spanish-language books in our libraries and schools. I was the first large donor to Fair Districts Florida, which has ended gerrymandering. And for three election cycles in a row, I set an important and unprecedented anti-corruption example by relying primarily on small donors, more than 100,000 of them. In 2012 and 2014, I was the only Congressman who raised most of his campaign funds from donors giving less than $200, and last year, I was the only Senate candidate to do so.
I’ve had a few moments on the national stage, too. In 2009, I was the first “freshman” to pass a bill, and it was an essential one. My “Pay for Performance Act” prohibited Wall Street from putting bailout money in their pockets. With 20% of Florida having no health coverage (40% for Hispanics) I became the best-known champion of universal healthcare in the House. I used my platform in national media and the internet to prevent a cut in Social Security benefits (the “chained CPI”), war with Syria, and “trade treachery” in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, winning all three of those battles.
I hear so many candidates for Congress, Democratic and Republican, complaining that you can’t get anything done in Washington, DC. What they really mean is that they can’t get anything done in Washington, DC. Take my word for it: one Congressman can make a big difference.
Alan Grayson is a former Democratic member of the U.S House of Representatives and successful businessman who lives in Central Florida.