House Overcomes Partisan Inertia to Pass Disabilities Bill

After eight years in legislative limbo, a bill helping those with disabilities overwhelmingly passed Dec. 3.

WASHINGTON — After eight years in legislative limbo, a bill helping those with disabilities to save in tax-exempt accounts and still receive federal benefits passed the House overwhelmingly on Dec. 3.

“Tonight, the House spoke for millions of Americans with disabilities,” stated Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. “I know firsthand how federal policies can limit the opportunities for those with disabilities. The ABLE Act will change that.”

The ABLE Act (“Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014”) passed the House 404-17, and a vote is expected in the Senate before Congress adjourns for Christmas break. In a Congress maligned as a “do nothing” body, members applauded and cheered its passage — something seldom seen on the House floor.

The act created tax-exempt accounts to be used for disability expenses like housing, transportation and health-related expenses. These assets would not disqualify someone from Medicaid benefits, something people with disabilities have struggled with in the past, having reported too many assets to qualify for such benefits.

Despite widespread support, the bill was hung up with Republican leadership because of its cost. Eventually, members voted to offset its $2 billion cost through Medicare cuts, which some Democrats staunchly opposed because of the precedent it would set.

But in the midst of this opposition, the bill attracted a landslide of bipartisan support. Eighty-five percent of House members were co-sponsors, and the majority of both Republicans and Democrats voted for its passage.

Rep. Chris van Hollen, D-Md., cheered the bill’s bipartisan backing.

“Passage of the ABLE Act shows what’s possible when Democrats and Republicans work together to find common ground to improve people’s lives, and I’m proud to be part of the bipartisan effort to get this initiative over the finish line,” he stated.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, called the bill’s passage a victory for families of those with disabilities.

“As the proud father of a young man with Down syndrome, I believe that ensuring a sound financial future for our loved ones with disabilities is of the utmost importance,” he said.

“Today’s passage of the ABLE Act, a top legislative priority of mine, is a victory for all individuals with disabilities and their families. This bipartisan, bicameral package represents what Congress can do when it works together towards a common goal.”