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Divided, we fail — time for bipartisanship

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The donkey, symbol of the Democratic Party, and the elephant, symbol of the Republican Party, are shown in this Sept. 12, 2018 photo.

Partisanship reigns supreme. The American people have been left at the mercy of a gridlocked and inefficient government.

Now is the time to put bipartisanship front and center. Why? Because of its strong record of success. To ignore it and trudge along with a fading hope for more comity in Congress would essentially leave us all “stuck in the mud.”

{mosads}With the midterm elections two months away, we should be reminded of the country’s successes so that – in the current climate – we do not conclude that bipartisanship is a thing of the past. It is quite alive. By recalling those times our leaders turned to compromise for the good of the country, we hope to inspire both parties to serve the nation’s best interests and realize a notion inherent in bipartisanship itself – it takes two to tango.

Two Presidents come immediately to mind when thinking of bipartisanship: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In 1986, President Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill saw a need for sweeping tax reform that benefitted Middle Class Americans. While obvious political opponents, Reagan and O’Neil found common ground in their Irish heritage and leveraged it to improve the well-being of the American people.

The 1996 welfare reform, made possible by the mutual interests between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, is another example of Democrats and Republicans working together to fix a problem that was neither red nor blue. Both parties agreed to strengthen work requirements for welfare and increase spending for education and childcare – fulfilling Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it.”

Contrary to the current national mood, bipartisanship is not lost to posterity. In fact, President Obama worked with Republicans in Congress to extend the Bush Tax Cuts, and to pass the bipartisan JOBS Act, despite general partisan opposition focused on making Obama a one-term president.

Often, legislation that is passed with the most bipartisan consensus is the most likely to endure with longevity.

On this note, we encourage President Donald Trump to work with the next Speaker – whoever that may be – to craft solutions to the challenges of the entire nation. Bipartisan success starts with a leader who sets the tone, shows good faith, and resists the temptation to play one side off of another.

Establishing common ground is necessary for a country’s well-being and is something we, the authors of this article, have experienced first hand – overcoming challenges that threatened our livelihoods.

In 2012, David was knocked into a coma by an attacker outside a D.C. market, spending six months in grueling recovery. At 28, Chris was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which caused crippling daily pain. In our shared experience, we can bear witness to the healing element within the outpouring of support that we received from both our Democratic and Republican colleagues. 

Today, we need to take action rather than partisan stands that lead nowhere.

Strides have been made recently. According to Axios, the current Congress has introduced and passed the most bipartisan legislation it has in a decade (but those numbers are still far below what they were 20 years ago) – 23 percent and 25 percent of all bills introduced in the House and Senate, respectively were bipartisan. Less than 4 percent passed were bipartisan.

So, despite popular rhetoric, there is more bipartisanship in our current government than we had thought. The next logical step is to increase the numbers – particularly the number of bipartisan bills that actually become law.

Indeed, Senator John McCain said it best: “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” McCain embodied the definition of a bipartisan legislator and dedicated his life to fighting for the American people.

Americans cannot forget the sacrifices made by those like Senator McCain. Inaction and apathy breed partisanship. When we as voters remain muted, we cede the playing field to the most partisan in America and leave our representatives accountable only to those with the strongest ideological bent.

However, voters shouldn’t be the only ones shouldering the burden of bipartisanship. Those with influence will play a major role in reshaping our congressional culture into one of respect and compromise.

  • To our legislators: perhaps now is the time for you to join the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” Caucus, inspired by the reputable No Labels
  • To lobbyists and politicos: host bipartisan issue forums with both Republican and Democratic members to foster greater Congressional bipartisanship.
  • To the media: frame stories to condition the political spirit towards a unity of purpose rather than a political zero-sum game between the parties.
  • To the Congressional Budget Office: adopt the recent proposal to determine, beyond the numbers, how GDP growth helps the American middle class.

Together, we have to ask: what’s it going to take? Do we truly have to wait for crisis to strike before we and our representatives act together in combatting the nation’s challenges?

Surely, we have to acknowledge that bipartisanship requires sacrifices from us all, as is clearly evidenced by the two most recent House Speakers resigning in anguish for wont of bipartisan action. However, that said, there is no scenario in which the needs of the nation are met solely through partisan means.

So, let’s buck up and get to work America. We are the solution to our own partisan woes.

As the midterm elections approach, keep in mind the potential for bipartisanship as you cast a vote for your candidate. And remember the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”

David L. Mercer is president of Mercer & Associates, Inc., a strategic policy advisor and former Deputy National Finance Director at the Democratic National Committee. Follow him on Twitter @Beltway

Chris C. Reid is a general practice attorney in Birmingham, AL. He has formerly served at The Heritage Foundation, The House Republican Whip’s office, The Alabama Attorney General’s office and the Governor of Alabama’s office. Follow him on Twitter @ReidFirm

The authors would like to thank Daniel Bruce for his help in writing, editing, and researching. A member of Reid Law Firm, Daniel is also studying at Auburn University.

Tags Bill Clinton Bipartisanship Donald Trump John McCain No Labels

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