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McMorris Rodgers’ son watches House approve ABLE Act

McMorris Rodgers
McMorris Rodgers

Wednesday’s legislative victory had a deeply personal touch for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The House Republican Conference Chair was joined on the floor of the chamber by her 7-year-old son, Cole, who has Down syndrome. The boy looked on as 403 of his mom’s colleagues voted to amend the tax code, allowing families of those diagnosed with disabilities to set up tax-exempt savings accounts to pay for housing, transportation, education and even funeral costs.

“He made a big hit on the floor,” McMorris Rodgers said. The Spokane congresswoman was one of 384 legislators in the House who had endorsed the bill, what she called a “common-sense” change to the tax structure that has been left behind in broader discussions about system reforms that have gained no traction in Congress. McMorris Rodgers said she expects the Senate to act on the bill next week, where it has achieved a similar bipartisan coalition of supporters. Seventy-four senators back the bill, including Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, of Washington.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (or ABLE) Act allows people with qualifying disabilities under the Social Security Act, including blindness, to set up accounts similar to non-taxed retirement and education funds.

McMorris Rodgers said the current tax structure discourages families from putting money into accounts for their disabled children.

“When Cole was born, we were told, ‘Don’t put any assets in his name,’ ” she said. “I think about what message that sends to new parents.”

Money put into the accounts does not count against enrollment in Medicaid. Supporters pitch the accounts as a supplement for – not a replacement to – government assistance programs.

McMorris Rodgers credited the work of previous lawmakers to getting the bill to the House floor for a vote. A version of the bill has been proposed every Congress since 2006, but Wednesday’s vote was the first time the full chamber has considered the legislation.

A handful of legislators from both sides of the aisle spoke ahead of the successful vote, many of them expressing their support for what they called a long-overdue measure.

“It seems as if these are rich people trying to get money, but they’re not, they may be working families and middle-class families,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, before voting in favor of the bill.

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