Freshmen to go bowling down the aisle

The freshman lawmakers of the 113th Congress are determined to begin their tenure on a bipartisan note — even if that involves bowling.

In a stark contrast to the last freshman class, which was dominated by conservatives who caused headaches for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), several of the newly elected lawmakers have told The Hill they want to work across the aisle to get things done.

ADVERTISEMENT
In order to facilitate the get-to-know-you process, the presidents of the Democratic and Republican classes have discussed various social activities that their colleagues can enjoy. One that has come up: bowling.

The freshmen have set a date to go together on Feb. 26.

“We’re bowling with the Republicans,” Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), the co-president of the Democratic class, told The Hill.

He declined to disclose the location, joking: “The press will not be invited to see my bowling form.”

His co-president, Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), is in.

“I told them I’m good for at least a solid 100,” he joked.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), the president of the Republican freshmen class, said the event was about more than bowling.

“We understand that you’re not going to change the world with a few dinners or a trip to the bowling alley. But it is true it’s harder to demonize people that you ... know, and to work together, you have to get to know each other,” he said.

It’s a remarkable difference from the class of 2011, which consisted of 87 Republicans whose victory in the wave election gave the GOP control of the House and made Boehner the Speaker.

That class, most members of which had strong ties to the conservative Tea Party movement, came in determined to undo President’s Obama agenda, repeal his healthcare law, slash spending and shake up Washington.

Two years later, the GOP majority is down about 10 members, Obama’s healthcare reform legislation is the law of the land and the country faces another “fiscal cliff” in March.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who was president of the small Democratic freshman class in 2011, has met with several of the newly elected freshmen, and she senses a difference.

“Clearly there was an element in the 112th Congress that felt they had a mandate from the Tea Party,” she said.

But she said the new class is different. “The energy is different,” she noted.

The members seem to agree.

The Hill has spoken to several freshman lawmakers in the past few weeks, and all of them expressed hope about working together.

“I think a lot of us are hopeful it will be a bipartisan year,” Castro said.

None of the lawmakers The Hill spoke to expected to agree on every issue, but they all stressed the importance of getting to know one another and working together when they can.

“There are things we will never, never agree on. Wild horses couldn’t get me to vote for some of what those folks believe in, but the place to start is to socialize together,” Cartwright said.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), the freshman representative to the party leadership, noted that one thing all the lawmakers have in common is that “we’re here to tackle some of the big things.”

And, members say, that message of working together is also coming from constituents.

The 112th Congress has been called one of the least productive in history, and its approval rating hit an all-time low of 10 percent in August of 2012, according to Gallup. Congress began 2013 with an approval rating of 14 percent, the polling company found.

Wagner said working together was a constant message she heard on the campaign trail.

“What people will say to you, and certainly what they said to me when I was out campaigning, was that they want solutions. They want Congress to get something done.”

She noted: “To me it’s sad Congress has such a bad approval rating.”

“My mother, while I was campaigning, said to me, ‘Oh gee, I’m so glad my daughter is campaigning to be part of a body that has an approval rating of a margin of error.’ ”

Cartwright noted of his constituents, “They expect us to act like grown-ups down here.”

Messer agreed.

“The public is tired of Washington bickering,” he said. “They’ve told their elected leaders they want people to show up and not just be something but do something.”

It’s a message that lawmakers say is hitting home with the congressional leadership.

“They’ve heard us say that many times, starting during orientation,” Castro said. “I think they know where we’re coming from. We want to be reasonable, and I think you can reasonable, you can work with the other side and you can stand up for what you believe.”

Wagner had a similar experience with the GOP leadership.

“Their response has been fantastic,” she noted.

There have been small signs that bipartisanship is peeking through the cloud of politics that engulfs Washington.

Two weeks ago, the House approved a bill extending the nation’s debt limit on a bipartisan vote, 285-144.

But in a town known for its division along party lines, can bipartisanship last?

Wagner thinks so.

The lawmaker, a former ambassador to Luxembourg and former head of the Missouri Republican Party, said: “I’m hopeful. I haven’t become jaded yet. I’ve been a part of politics and public service for a number of years.”

It will be up to the members to keep the lines of communication open across the aisle.

Sewell, now a sophomore lawmaker, noted her best relationships have been formed on an individual level with members, and she spoke fondly of her work with Republican Martha Roby, her Alabama colleague who came into the House at the same time she did.

“I think most of those relationships were formed on an individual basis, and I like to think that most of those relationships continued,” Sewell said.

“Martha and I probably disagreed on 85 percent of the issues, but the 15 percent that we could work on together, we did.”