There's an old saying that it's hard to learn with your mouth open. That's why as Senator, I believe that the best way I can serve Ohio is by first listening to Ohioans from different walks of life, political parties, and professions. To do that, I've traveled to all 88 counties and held more than 200 community roundtables.
Many people ask how anything gets done in Washington. And they're right. Most Ohioans don't care about labels. It's not about whether you're a Democrat or Republican. It's about what you are trying to accomplish.
That's how we need to approach the political process if we're going to turn our economy around and put Ohioans back to work. And that's the kind of approach that should bring together Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
When I joined the Senate, I committed to work with my Republican colleagues as often as possible. I'm glad to say that in the past two years, I have written and introduced bills with 24 of my Republican colleagues and have cosponsored bills, written by others, with all of my Republican colleagues. Working across party lines is the only way that we can address the challenges that our nation faces.
Here are five accomplishments I'm most proud of -- not just because they were bipartisan, but because they came from the ideas of Ohioans, many times originating at one of the many community roundtables I have held.
Working with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) to Improve Tour Bus Safety Following a Deadly Crash Involving Bluffton University Baseball Players.
When a motorcoach carrying members of the Bluffton University baseball team claimed seven lives in 2007, I met John and Joy Betts, parents whose son David was killed in the crash. The bus carrying the Bluffton students did not meet current safety standards. After meeting with Bluffton families, I began working with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who was also concerned about the lack of updated bus safety stands. Together, Senator Hutchison and I worked alongside families for five years to pass the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act. This commonsense, bipartisan legislation protects tour bus passengers, drivers, and other motorists on America's highways.
Working with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to Reform the Farm Safety Net and Reduce the Deficit.
During the past six years, I held a series of roundtables throughout Ohio where I asked farmers to share their ideas to reform the farm safety nets so that it's more responsive to the needs of farmers and to taxpayers. At a roundtable in Henry County, a farmer gave me an idea that led to the creation of a new program to better protect producers while saving taxpayers money.
Last year, I began working with Senator John Thune (R-SD) to improve the farmer program that arose from my meeting in Henry County. The result was a bipartisan provision that better meets farmer's needs while saving taxpayers more than $20 billion.
Working with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to ensure American workers are training for the jobs of the 21st century.
I routinely hear from business owners who -- despite these challenging economic times -- have jobs to fill but can't find workers with the necessary skills and training to fill these vacancies.
That's why I've been working alongside Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to ensure that our federal job training programs meet the needs of local businesses. We introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act which would use existing federal funds to align job training programs with so that workers learns the skills employers actually need. Ensuring American workers are equipped with the skills needed to fill open jobs isn't a partisan issue, it's commonsense.
Working to Improve Infrastructure with Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH).
Another concern I've heard often -- from business leaders, not just mayors and county commissioners -- is the need for modern sewer and water infrastructure to promote economic development and to attract new investment. Communities across Ohio want to update water infrastructure, but they struggle to comply with costly regulations and cannot afford needed improvements.
That's why Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and I introduced the Clean Water Affordability Act in 2008. This legislation would protect local ratepayers, streamline permitting, lead to cleaner water, and promote economic development. A sound wastewater infrastructure with fair rates isn't just a health and safety issue--it is an economic development imperative. While Senator Voinovich is no longer Senator, I continue to push the legislation that he helped write.
Working to Level the Playing Field for Ohio Manufacturers with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Finally, as Ohioans know, our workers and manufacturers are ready to compete with anyone. But when a country like China purposefully manipulates its currency to make its exports cheaper, that's not competing--that's cheating. And China's blatant currency manipulation -- the act of undervaluing its currency to give its exports an unfair price advantage over products Made in the USA -- drives American companies out-of-business, costs Ohio jobs, and undermines our economy.
That's why I introduced the bipartisan Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011 with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). This bill, which was also supported by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), cleared the Senate by a 63-35 vote. The bill punishes China when it cheats trade laws and ensures a level playing field for American manufacturers.
These examples show that Democrats and Republicans can work together on commonsense efforts that create jobs, promote economic development, and improve the lives of all Americans.
Bipartisanship is about more than rhetoric. It's about setting aside political labels and ideological differences to move our country forward.
It shouldn't take hardship to break partisan gridlock, we have other economic challenges that we must address, together.
Democrats and Republicans shouldn't be fighting each other; we should be fighting for the middle class. We have a chance to set aside partisan differences and remember who we're fighting for. And if we do that, we might even see bipartisanship emerge as an unintended -- but certainly welcome -- side effect.