BPC Action Supports the BATTLE for Servicemembers Act

BPC Action commends Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) for introducing legislation in the House, the BATTLE for Servicemembers Act (H.R. 4954), that would better prepare our nation’s military heroes for the transition to civilian life.

The bill will require the Department of Defense to ensure that all eligible servicemembers participate in training under the Transition Assistance Program that is tailored to their specific personal and professional goals. These could include attending school, learning a trade, or starting a small business. This legislation is designed to substantially increase the current 15 percent participation rate in such programs.

How did this pragmatic, bipartisan effort come about? Through good old-fashioned talking with one another. 

Bergman and Murphy came together through a program by the Bipartisan Policy Center: The American Congressional Exchange Program. BPC established this new and original approach to building better relationships and bipartisanship in Congress. The recent legislation by Bergman and Murphy demonstrate it is already bearing fruit.

The very first exchange happened in January, when Bergman visited with Murphy in her home district in the Orlando area. Over the weekend, the pair spent time visiting Murphy’s constituents including stopping by a farmer’s market, the local VA Medical Center, the University of Central Florida, area businesses, a Naval Support facility, and an advisory board of local veterans.

From such seeds of cooperation, trust and confidence can grow and spread to debate in broader and more challenging policy arenas in Congress. That is the fundamental principle behind the American Congressional Exchange program (ACE).

Paradoxically in this digital and social media age, personal relationships and firsthand experiences are as important as ever when it comes to effective legislating.

We qualify the noun “reality” with the adjective “virtual” for a reason: there is still no substitute for actually “being there,” seeing with our own eyes, and interacting face-to-face.

When members of Congress get to know one another not simply as political adversaries but as individuals who also care deeply for our country’s future and are responding to their constituent’s concerns, they tend to discover there is room for common ground.

When members of Congress get to know one another not simply as political adversaries but as individuals who also care deeply for our country’s future and are responding to their constituent’s concerns, they tend to discover there is room for common ground. Unfortunately, in recent years, opportunities for these encounters between the two parties have become few and far between.

This lack of interaction was identified as a significant factor behind the current congressional dysfunction by BPC’s Commission on Political Reform—which issued a series of recommendations in 2014 for improving the functionality of Congress.

ACE is a response to this troubling trend. House members participating in the program spend a couple of days with a colleague from the opposite party in that member’s home district. Consequently, they can develop trust by listening to one another and understanding what motivates each other, which is a critical step toward collaboration on issues of importance to Americans of all political stripes.

The power of the program was evident from the very beginning. On the evening of Bergman’s arrival, the two members with very different backgrounds and voting records literally broke bread together over a three-hour dinner. The conversation was overwhelmingly focused on one thing: the concept of service in the best interests of the nation.

Both had served in national security capacities—Bergman as a Three Star General in the Marine Corps, and Murphy as a national security specialist in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense—and they share a mutual sense of duty to country. Throughout the visit, they recognized and acknowledged the differing views of their respective constituencies and the divergent approaches they bring to the legislative table. However, discussions would invariably return to the critical importance of collaboration whenever possible for the sake of the country.

Developing friendships and bipartisan goodwill can—and does—help to advance policy and legislation.

As Murphy commented, “The personal interaction time is incredibly valuable. We discovered that while our districts are very different, we have a common connection back to the Vietnam War even though we are of different generations. I think when you establish those personal connections, it becomes easier to work together.” In fact, Murphy specifically cited the ACE visit in her floor statement introducing the BATTLE Act.

Bergman observed that, “In any issue we are dealing with at the congressional level, that comparison and contrasting helps us take…435 unique and valid viewpoints and put them in a position where wise decisions can be made for the country.”

The bottom line is developing friendships and bipartisan goodwill can—and does—help to advance policy and legislation. The first ACE trip is already proof.

Learn more about the American Congressional Exchange.