USA/ 07 August, 2021/ Source/ https://www.usnews.com/
Democrats and Republicans still disagree on a lot. But the $1 trillion infrastructure bill is fueling hope that the bipartisanship of yore is kicking in.
Sen. Rob Portman speaks as a bipartisan group of senators listens during a press conference for proposed bipartisan infrastructure framework on July 28, in Washington.(ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES)
Congress appears poised to do what lawmakers have tried and failed to do for many years: approve a massive bipartisan package to rebuild and repair the nation’s infrastructure.
But it’s not just about roads, bridges and broadband. This measure, which the Senate may start voting on as soon as Friday, could be so much more: the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“There are a lot of people who are actually opposed to cooperation. It’s very threatening to the political business model that feeds off of rigidity and divisions,” says Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. Despite that, the expected passage of the infrastructure bill – a measure that underwent numerous changes after lengthy bipartisan negotiations – shows that bipartisan deals can be made, creating a new template for legislating.
“They mostly do want to govern,” Grumet says of members of Congress. The infrastructure deal “opens the space for people to imagine success – which is the first step.”
There’s a powerful Washington narrative that lawmakers can’t stand those in the other party, and it’s not without basis. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caught on tape referring to her Republican counterpart and fellow Californian Rep. Kevin McCarthy as a “moron,” while Minority Leader McCarthy remarked to supporters that he might find it hard not to hit Pelosi with the speaker’s gavel if she ends up handing it to him after the 2022 elections. And the painful events of the past few years, including two impeachments and battles over how to respond to the Jan.6 insurrection, have fed discord.
Infrastructure Bill Passes Another Hurdle, But Challenges Loom ]
But underneath it all, there’s a lot of bipartisan work being done – ranging from items as big as the 2020 CARES Act, a pandemic response package, to smaller measures that nonetheless have an outsized impact on people’s lives, says Princeton University professor Frances Lee, author of several books on Congress, including the recent “The Limits of Party: Congress and Lawmaking in a Polarized Era.”
“You might say we’ve been past the tipping point for a good while now,” with lawmakers coming to agreement even after contentious discussions – to help Americans who have suffered during the pandemic, Lee says.
There was “a drumbeat of partisanship that started in the (Newt) Gingrich years,” when the Georgia Republican was speaker, “and it crescendoed with (President Donald) Trump,” says Rick Rathod, who was White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs under President Barack Obama.
“There’s a whole part of the country, the majority of people, who are not as vocal, who are completely disgusted with the extreme partisanship,” Rathod says. “They want to see Washington work again.”
The recent special election for an Ohio seat vacated by Democrat Marcia Fudge, who is now health and human services secretary, may be an indicator of that desire. In this week’s Democratic primary, Shontel Brown beat Nina Turner for the nomination in what was cast by some as a defeat for the progressive wing of the party.
But in reality, the two women are very close in political outlook, says Justin Buchler, a political science professor at Case Western University.
“Their bigger distinction was probably their willingness to work institutionally, compared to their willingness to fight for the sake of fighting,” Buchler says. “Shontel Brown was the kind of politician who is willing to work institutionally,” while the fiery Turner gave the impression she “wanted to fight for the sake of fighting,” he said.
A lot of the bipartisan work is under the radar. Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, has been a critical player in writing and gathering support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
But that’s not his only work across the aisle, his office notes. Portman – who was a sponsor of 68 laws signed by President Barack Obama and 84 signed by President Donald Trump – is working with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon on a bill to make court records easier and cheaper to obtain, helping small claimants, small businesses and journalists who might now be priced out of the process and, in some cases, denied justice.
Portman worked with Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan on ensuring $1 billion in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He and Democratic colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts won committee passage of their bill to address homelessness among veterans. He teamed up with two Democrats, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, along with fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on a measure to stem the opioid epidemic, thwarting the mailing of drugs from overseas.
“It sends a signal to America, to the rest of the world, that Washington works.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced four bipartisan bills this week to improve suicide prevention, protect pregnant workers and to support people with disabilities.
The full Senate this week approved a measure by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, to fight substance abuse in prison and support inmates upon their release. A long bipartisan list of senators is working together on a cybersecurity bill.
In the House, bipartisanship does not tend to decide legislation, since the chamber does not have the filibuster. But such work is happening anyway. Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, both Democrats, have joined GOP colleague Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan on a bill to ensure Americans don’t lose income when they give up unemployment insurance for a new job.
Even bigger-ticket items still have a chance to make it into law, experts say. A policing reform bill spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is imperiled, but not dead. Some lawmakers and political observers also believe it’s possible the Senate will pass some kind of election reform and voter protection bill – not one desired by liberal Democrats, but something.
Senate Democrats Reach $3.5 Trillion Budget Agreement ]
President Joe Biden, who has frequently longed for the bipartisanship of his era as a senator, has offered olive branches across the aisle. He has had Republicans at bill signings and White House events, including inviting McCarthy to a formal dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Biden also mentioned Republican lawmakers by name in statements attached to bill signings, thanking them for their work. He has publicly thanked Republicans like Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for their promotion of vaccines.
If and when the infrastructure bill becomes law – and it’s looking a lot more like “when” – the dynamics will shift not just on the Hill but around the world, Rathod says, creating a base for more bipartisan work.
“It sends a signal to America, to the rest of the world, that Washington works, that we can come together on one big thing,” Rathod says.