Real conservatives and real progressives can get things done

Real conservatives and real progressives can get things done
© Lauren Schneiderman

As the presidential primary season has heated up, the rhetoric has, sadly but perhaps predictably, veered in an ever more partisan and extremist direction. 

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMaher to media: ‘Get serious again’ The resurrection of the U.S.-Egyptian partnership Fake news? What about Trump’s fake promises? MORE has grabbed the most headlines with his provocative statements and has pushed the crowded Republican field rightward.

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But Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonManchin: Sanders backers should challenge me in Dem primary Maher to media: ‘Get serious again’ NH governor: I asked the White House for evidence of voter fraud MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin: Sanders backers should challenge me in Dem primary DNC chair vote: live coverage Maher to media: ‘Get serious again’ MORE are also waging a quieter battle for the hearts of the Democratic base that is influential in the primaries and caucuses.

Some political observers assure us that this is part of a quadrennial pattern: Primary candidates run to the wings of their party, but for the general election they will tack back toward the center to woo swing voters. 

Others worry that this year’s unusually raucous campaign is causing the partisan breach to widen so greatly it may be impossible to repair.

We share that concern. Part of the problem is that some members of both parties attack bipartisan compromise as a sell-out and charge that politicians who seek pragmatic solutions lack principles.

But new data from the Bipartisan Index, just released by The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, refute that notion. The newly compiled bipartisan rankings of nearly all the senators who served from 1993 to 2014 show that some of the most conservative and most progressive legislators have nonetheless found ways to work across the aisle. The rankings are based on bill sponsorship and co-sponsorships.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyDem senator asks for 'top to bottom' review of Syria policy A guide to the committees: Senate Verizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report MORE (D) of Vermont, for instance, the longest-serving current senator and a reliable progressive vote since he entered the chamber in 1975, earned a score that puts him solidly in the bipartisan camp. Vice President Biden (D), highly regarded by progressive groups during his long Senate tenure, from 1973 to 2009, is in the top 20 percent of senators on the list.

Across the aisle, Iowa’s Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator grilled over DeVos vote during town hall Big Pharma must address high drug prices ­ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate MORE (R), a solid Midwest conservative who has been in the Senate since 1981, is ranked fourth most bipartisan sitting senator. Missouri’s Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntA guide to the committees: Senate Judiciary Committee wants briefing, documents on Flynn resignation Intel Dem: House GOP now open to investigating Flynn MORE (R), a former House minority whip who joined the Senate in 2011
and is chairman of its Rules Committee, gets strong bipartisan marks for his first Senate term.

Further, top Senate leaders past and present, including Democrats Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE (Nev.), Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDean: Schumer's endorsement 'kiss of death' for Ellison How the candidates for DNC chair stack up ahead of Saturday's vote DNC candidate Harrison drops out, backs Perez for chairman MORE (N.Y.) and Republicans Trent Lott (Miss.), Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThough flawed, complex Medicaid block grants have fighting chance Sanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' MORE (Ky.), all had at least one Congress before or after they served in a leadership post in which they were ranked solidly bipartisan.

These new Senate rankings are the first follow-up to the Bipartisan Index that The Lugar Center and the McCourt School launched last spring, which ranked all members of the House and Senate who served in the 2013-14 Congress. As we said then, we believe that partisan gridlock in Washington had caused both Republicans and Democrats to fail the most basic tests of governance.

The purpose of the Index is to highlight members’ bipartisan activity — or lack thereof. It is based on bill sponsorship, measuring how often a lawmaker introduces bills that attract co-sponsors from the other party and how often they cross the aisle to co-sponsor bills introduced by the other side.

The Index reflects no ideological agenda. It doesn’t pick specific bills to “score,” but rather covers all substantive legislation. Its aim is to measure a legislator’s ability to build coalitions to get results, regardless of the issue or party affiliation.

The new Senate rankings show that former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, now a Democrat, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsLeaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood GOP lawmaker at town hall calls on Trump to release his tax returns GOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Maine) were the two most bipartisan senators during the 1993-2014 period. We plan to release 20-year House rankings in 2016.

Our aim, frankly, is to incentivize members of Congress to work together more by giving voters and political commentators a clearer picture of their bipartisan activities. We are not naive. We know that some ideologues in each party may wear their poor rankings as a badge of honor.

But we have been heartened by reactions to our Index launch last spring. For instance, a staffer for one Republican House member from a blue state was pleased to see his boss get a high ranking. “This is what we’ve been campaigning on,” he said, “that we’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

The Index shows that the past two Congresses have been the most partisan in the last 20 years. It is no coincidence that those Congresses have also been among the least productive. By raising the profile of bipartisanship, we hope that dysfunction will eventually be replaced by cooperation.

Lugar served in the Senate from 1977 to 2013. He is the president of The Lugar Center, which addresses critical issues including global food security, foreign aid effectiveness, WMD nonproliferation and bipartisan governance. Montgomery is dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.