At the end of a long day of political wrangling, President Reagan would often call Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and ask, “Hello, Tip, is it after six o’clock?” “Absolutely, Mr. President,” the Speaker would answer. "After six o’clock" meant work hours were over, and the two leaders of their respective parties could put away their swords and bring out their Irish whiskey and wit.
In American politics today, it’s never after six o’clock. And that’s the problem.
Leaders from opposing parties increasingly don’t like each other, don’t listen to each other and hardly know each other. It took nearly 20 months for President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to meet one-on-one. And President Bush rarely met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Presidents regularly go months without speaking to congressional leaders of the opposing party, making delicate negotiations that require real trust and communication virtually impossible.
In the tradition of Reagan and O’Neill, presidential candidates should commit to meet with majority and minority party leaders in the House and Senate at least once a quarter. That’s only four times a year. They can meet at the White House or on the Hill. Go golfing. Grab lunch. Just talk.
President Reagan once commented that O’Neill “can really like you personally and be a friend while politically trying to beat your head in.”
But Reagan and O’Neill were also willing to put their heads together to pass historic tax reform and to keep Social Security solvent. That never would have happened if they weren't initially willing to sit in the same room together.
It’s time for our current leaders in Congress and the White House to do the same.