Partisan Gridlock doesn’t have to be inevitable
By Congressman John Garamendi (D-California)
The Hill’s Congress Blog
January 23rd, 2012
I know firsthand that there are real tangible benefits to bipartisanship. As California’s Insurance Commissioner, I convened a workers’ compensation reform task force comprised of employers, insurance industry representatives, labor leaders and employee advocates. The bills that resulted from their recommendations were signed by Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. It provided enormous benefits to businesses and California residents. The law eliminated more than $14 billion of excess cost and reduced employer premiums by nearly 45 percent.
Even in a Congress marked by intense partisanship there is inter-party cooperation. Following Veterans Day, legislators came together to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. This bill, now law, provides businesses with a tax credit to hire our veterans, who have sacrificed greatly on behalf of our country. Nearly the entire California Delegation, Democrat and Republican, signed a joint letter to base a Light Mobility Aircraft (LiMA) mission at Travis Air Force Base. Republican Congressman Wally Herger and I teamed up in a successful effort to protect an important reconnaissance mission at Beale Air Force Base. Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) lead a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that accelerates an end to the war in Afghanistan.
As detailed in George Packer’s New Yorker article “The Empty Chamber,” it has become increasingly rare for Members of Congress to socialize with Members of the other party. So, how can we get Representatives and Senators to work together? Well - how do you herd cats? Just move the food. Instead of separate coatrooms on the House floor, we could establish just one. We could have more joint events, focused on areas of clear agreement, such as supporting America’s veterans. We could have more bipartisan caucuses focused on specific issues, such as the Defense Energy Security Caucus.
These become venues for holding unofficial committee hearings where we could work together on shared concerns.
More importantly, we need a renewed commitment towards patriotic service on the Hill. We need to value promoting the “general welfare” over partisan advantage. This requires a spirit of cooperation, consisting of openness to new different ideas, willingness to compromise (which doesn’t mean abandoning core principles), valuing independently verifiable facts over rigid ideology, and a dogged persistence to reach common goals on behalf of our country.
So, unless it is accompanied by real bipartisan work, merely sitting next to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will be a nice, but ultimately insignificant action. I hope that this “date night” will be more than a passing fad. We need a sustained working relationship that will address the needs of the American people.
A productive bipartisan relationship is possible. Let’s live out our New Year’s resolutions and make it happen – for the entire year.
Rep. Garamendi (D-Calif.) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.