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Trump, Pelosi needn’t be friends to find common ground

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Each of us remembers the past far more fondly than when we lived through it. Nostalgic notions about “the good old days” often obscure some of the hard realities of history.

That’s certainly the case as many in the news media and chattering class clamor for the bygone era of cordiality, compromise and cooperation in Washington, D.C., particularly between a White House controlled by one party and Congress by the other.

{mosads}The prime example to which the pundits and talking heads regularly refer is President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.). Chris Matthews, the former speaker’s one-time aide, talked during the 2013 shutdown as though Reagan and O’Neill had been the best of friends. The truth is that, although they did manage to get some things done together and shared drinks after hours from time to time, they were not friends or even that collegial most of the time.

In fact, O’Neill said during Reagan’s first term that there was evil in the White House, adding, “That evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America.” Sound familiar?

He’d earlier said, “It’s sinful that this man is president of the United States.” We’ve certainly heard that recently, too.

According to O’Neill’s son, although his father and Reagan shared common, working-class Irish roots and enjoyed storytelling and an occasional drink at the White House, they weren’t especially close personally.

Nevertheless, Reagan and O’Neill could get things done. The most significant legislation the two men worked out was the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA). That compromise jump-started the economy and led to the longest period of sustained economic growth experienced by the nation up to that point.

They also worked out a deal on Social Security reform, and O’Neill presided over the 1986 tax reform package, although most of the negotiations were done through Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

{mossecondads}Others point to President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and Speaker Newt Gingrich, co-author of the Republican Party’s “Contract With America,” as examples of bipartisan cooperation. They provide, in some ways, a better example of how two opposition leaders can work together to get things done than Reagan and O’Neill. Clinton and Gingrich were hardly friends — Gingrich led the effort to impeach the president.

Many scholars have argued that the great divide in current American politics was born in the infancy of the 24-hour news coverage of the verbal jousting between Gingrich and the Democrats. Gingrich successfully employed television to end-run the insiders’ game, just as Trump has used Twitter.

But Gingrich and Clinton were able to get major things done, including welfare reform and the 1996 budget deal that led to several balanced budgets. These are truly feats of a bygone era for which there is great nostalgic yearning.

So, what of President Trump and newly re-elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)?

Speaker Pelosi became only the second person to retake the speaker’s gavel having once lost it. The other was the legendary Sam Rayburn, a Texas Democrat who, not coincidentally, worked with President Dwight Eisenhower to put together the most enduring accomplishment of the Eisenhower years, the Interstate Highway System.

Speaker Pelosi is a seasoned Washington insider who is given to overheated rhetoric from time to time. She can stoke the fires by calling walls “immoral,” but she also has shown an ability to charm the president.

He told the American people shortly after the midterm elections, “I like her, can you believe it? I like Nancy Pelosi. She’s tough and she’s smart, but she deserves to be speaker.” His press conference remarks came shortly after a phone conversation with Pelosi that left many wishing they had been the fly on the wall during that call.

More recently, the words have not been so warm and fuzzy as both sides look for an opportunity to save face over the government shutdown.

Once that’s settled, is there much left to talk about? The simple answer is “yes,” and it begins with a word nobody should use: infrastructure.

A robust program to restore the nation’s decaying roads, bridges, ports and other transportation needs would find bipartisan support. It would advance both public safety and economic growth, not only by creating jobs, but also by assuring that goods and services are delivered efficiently, safely and on time.

A transportation infrastructure package would not require the speaker to have to deal with the far-left elements of her party who make other initiatives much more difficult, nor would the president have major problems with his base. While there are some conservatives who rightfully will be concerned about costs, they should be reminded constantly that there are only two things the United States Constitution talks about spending money on: the military and roads.

Rebuilding America’s transportation backbone is both a laudable goal and an achievable result. It will require bipartisan support with the president and the speaker leading the way. They don’t have to be the best of friends to get that done.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.

Tags Bill Clinton bipartisan negotiation Donald Trump Donald Trump Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi Newt Gingrich Ronald Reagan

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