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HEIDI HEITKAMP: In Congress, a December of bipartisan progress

WASHINGTON -- In North Dakota, we know how to work together to get things done. We put aside our differences to help our communities sandbag before and during a flood or shovel snow for an elderly neighbor.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Heidi Heitkamp

WASHINGTON - In North Dakota, we know how to work together to get things done. We put aside our differences to help our communities sandbag before and during a flood or shovel snow for an elderly neighbor.

This spirit particularly resonates around the holidays, and it's one of the many reasons I love North Dakota.

I've long said that Congress and Washington can learn a lot from our state. When I served as our state's tax commissioner and attorney general, I worked with those whom I didn't always agree with because our first priority was getting results for North Dakota.

But the gridlock and partisan bickering in Washington too often prevent much from getting done, often at the expense of families just trying to put food on the table or small business owners just trying to make a living and support their communities.

But this past month has shown that when there's good policy combined with senators willing to work together across the aisle to negotiate and compromise, Congress actually can pass needed bills. And that's how I try to legislate.

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Lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting oil has been my top priority this year in Congress - but you can't pass legislation by yourself. It was more than a year and a half of educating other senators, especially Democrats, through one-on-one meetings about the merits of changing this policy, and working through good-faith efforts - especially with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska - to reach a bipartisan deal that we were able to bring enough Democrats on board so we had the votes to overturn this outdated ban.

Many thought I was crazy to think we could reach a deal to lift the ban by the end of the year, but I continued to say that if Republicans and Democrats are willing to negotiate and reach a deal, it could happen.

Now, we have legislation to lift the ban which Congress passed, and the president signed.

In the bipartisan deal to lift the ban on exporting oil, we included key pieces to boost renewable energies, including a five-year extension of the Production Tax Credit, which I have long pushed for.

The needed extension of this proven tax credit at last will give some certainty to North Dakota's wind producers and wind energy workers, who do critical work in our state.

In North Dakota alone, up to 3,000 jobs were supported by the wind production industry in 2014.

Earlier this month, Congress also passed my bipartisan bill with Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank - a critical agency that helps North Dakota businesses export their products - which had expired for four months.

Now that our bill has reauthorized this critical tool for North Dakota's small businesses, the agency will reopen and help businesses across our country - including Amity Technology in Fargo and WCCO Belting, Inc. in Wahpeton, N.D. - export their products, grow their businesses and create great jobs right here in the United States.

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This month, Congress also passed a long-term bill to support repairs and improvements to rails, roads and bridges for five years - which I've long called for to enable construction workers to do their jobs and make needed upgrades to deficient roads and bridges across our state.

As part of that bill, I helped include a key fix that will reverse harsh cuts to the federal crop insurance program so this critical safety net and the 2014 Farm Bill remain intact.

It's been a particularly productive December in Congress filled with North Dakota priorities. Perhaps it's a turning point - one showing that with hard work, true bipartisan efforts can prevail.

Passing landmark legislation supporting energy development in North Dakota, small businesses, roads and bridges and farmers was no small feat. Here's hoping it paves the way for more bipartisan compromises and legislation in the new year.

Heitkamp, a Democrat, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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