With presidential impeachment raining on holiday spirits, this isn't the easiest time to tout the necessity and feasibility of returning to a more bipartisan way of governing. But here are two sobering truths: Our nation cannot function if we continue on this path of tribalism. And most Americans, despite what you might see on Twitter and cable news channels, want politicians to work together to get things done.
Don't just take my word for it. A recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that “majorities in both parties say it is very important that elected officials be willing to make compromises with their opponents to solve important problems.”
As for governmental dysfunction, Congress can't even pass regular budget bills on time, let alone tackle major issues like immigration. In our checks-and-balances system of government, nothing can pass without bipartisan cooperation, because neither party can muster the super-majorities needed to go it alone.
However, bipartisanship still survives here and there, and Illinois offers a good example. The $40 billion state spending plan enacted last summer won support from both parties. As state House Republican leader Jim Durkin said, “Republicans and Democrats have proved that we can balance the state's budget with no new taxes on Illinois families.”
Sadly, such collaboration is more the exception than the rule these days, especially in Washington. Electing new leaders won't be enough. Rather, we must change the incentives tearing lawmakers apart, so it's once again viable to work across party lines.
No Labels, the non-partisan group I founded nine years ago, is helping lead the way. We were instrumental in creating the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 24 House Republicans and 24 Democrats, including Reps. Dan Lipinski and Brad Schneider of Illinois. The group meets regularly to find areas of agreement and strategies to advance them.
This might sound simple. But members often face fierce criticism and retaliation from their parties' leaders because they dare to collaborate with “the enemy.”
Despite this, the caucus has agreed on solutions on gun safety, health care and immigration. They managed to change the House rules — no easy feat — making it harder to kill bipartisan legislation. And they were pivotal in breaking an ideological deadlock last summer and allowing much-needed humanitarian aid to reach the southern border amid the immigration crisis.
The caucus, No Labels and others have managed in successive elections to defeat some of the most ideologically extreme candidates in both parties. And we're working to support incumbents who face intra-party challenges from the fringes.
The caucus and No Labels are now working to spread their bipartisan approach to the Senate. They've been holding informal monthly meetings in the Capitol where senators and House members from both parties come to seek bipartisan, bicameral accord on matters such as prescription drug pricing.
Our “Get in the Room” campaign calls on voters to urge their lawmakers — especially senators — to attend these meetings. There they can sit next to someone from the other party and the other chamber (a rarity in Washington) and look for ways to work together rather than obstruct and attack.
This isn't as far-fetched as you might think. In truth, most members of Congress took the trouble of getting elected because they want to do good things for our country. Our perverse and self-defeating tribalism has turned the legislative world upside down, and we must help find a way back to sanity.
Please, urge your elected officials to get in the room, talk to the other party and start working for the American people again.
This article first appeared on dailyherald.com