As a self-described policy guy, I’ve spent a lot of time researching topics like agriculture and telecommunications. It’s no secret that when elected I was laser focused on gaining a spot on the Agriculture Committee for South Dakotans. Now as a member of two very different committees, I’ve appreciated how many topics Members of Congress have the opportunity to study and debate. I enjoy immersing myself in the intricacies of ag policy, but my time as a freshman member of the House Education and Labor Committee has allowed me to explore plenty of new avenues.
The policy aspect of my job is fantastic, but after having participated in nearly a dozen full committee hearings and markups on Ed & Labor, it’s the compelling personal narratives from witnesses that leave me feeling motivated and inspired. Most committees are focused on bringing in experts and eggheads, but there is a uniquely important lesson to learn from those who have faced these challenges directly.
Typically, at the beginning of a new Congress, it takes time to get everything up and running on committees. Ed & Labor however, has hit the ground at a steady sprint. I’ve had the opportunity to hear from dozens of individuals on a range of topics from raising the minimum wage to the cost of higher education.
One of the first hearings in Ed & Labor was related to preexisting conditions. Health care is essential – we all know that – and I truly believe that protecting individuals with preexisting conditions is of utmost importance. Chad Riedy is a prime example of the necessity of protecting individuals with chronic conditions. Chad is a husband, father, and a tough and determined son of a gun. He was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at three years old. Despite years of research and development, there is no cure for CF and it’s not uncommon to receive a lung transplant if you want to survive.
Chad was told he wouldn’t make it past his twelfth birthday, today he is a 37-year-old father of two. During the hearing, pride was beaming off his boys faces as their father spoke.
This week, during a hearing on the affordability of college, I was struck by the testimony of Ms. Parker, a single parent and college student. Ms. Parker is the definition of hard work and ambition. Despite the obstacles she has faced, she never gives up and has held multiple jobs at a time to make ends meet. She expressed the importance of being one’s own advocate and staying persistent in a system that is complicated to navigate. Ms. Parker exemplifies the famous Calvin Coolidge quote, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.”
First-hand experience is just as valuable as objective, nuanced data-driven opinions, and these individuals who bravely take a seat at the witness table are proof of that. These witnesses got to where they are today, testifying before Congress because of a can-do, determined spirit to succeed. I’m honored that they shared their story of persistence and grit with Congress.