Attention! Tustin Hangar ResourceClick Here

California's 40th District

Oct 4, 2023 | In The News

The Hill

For the first time in history, the House of Representatives just voted to remove the House Speaker. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) fate was sealed last weekend when he opted to push through a last-minute budget compromise rather than placate his party’s hard-liners and allow the federal government to shut down.

Imagine a leader facing these two scenarios in any institution other than Congress and the choice seems glaringly obvious. Bypassing solutions to pursue dead ends would probably get most leaders fired. But in today’s Congress, where conflict is often prioritized over compromise, the choice to negotiate solutions can be a death knell.

How do we make sense of this? The short answer is we don’t. A new report from Pew Research found that Americans today hold “unrelentingly negative” views of politics and elected officials. Most feel “exhausted” and “angry” when they think about politics and use words like divisive, dysfunctional, confusing, and sad to describe the current state of politics. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that anger is the defining emotion in American politics today.

The majority of Americans are not particularly partisan or ideological, and most don’t pay significant attention to politics. So, what are they so angry about? Partisan lawmakers blame “the other party” for widespread citizen anger. But given the average American’s detachment from politics, their anger more likely centers on the government’s inability to address problems and produce solutions. Playing the blame game may help candidates get reelected, but it also leads to declining trust in government and weakens democratic norms and values.

The realities of lawmaking are undoubtedly challenging. The two parties are almost evenly matched in both the House and Senate, meaning majority control is up for grabs every two years. This creates an intensely competitive environment in which members are under immense pressure to toe the party line. When the parties and their most ideological members are laser focused on partisan position-taking, bipartisan problem solving often goes by the wayside.

Lost in the partisan mudslinging is the fact that the Constitution sets up a system that essentially requires bipartisanship to achieve policy change. This is particularly true in the case of big, systemic reforms that survive from one administration to the next.

Working across the aisle to solve problems does not require setting aside strongly-held ideological or political beliefs. It’s entirely possible to productively engage with political opponents if there’s a shared commitment to finding solutions. Members can overcome the challenges that divided government presents if they are willing to acknowledge the institutional and political hurdles they face, negotiate in good faith, and accept trade-offs.

This approach to problem solving is at the heart of the National Governors Association’s Disagree Better initiative. The effort doesn’t promote “being nicer to each other” but rather urges policymakers to cut through conflict and find solutions. The recently relaunched congressional Civility Caucus set a similar goal of encouraging members to work together for the good of their constituents. The newly formed bipartisan Fix Congress Caucus has set its sights on improving how Congress works for the American people. And perhaps most heartening are the young lawmakers in 31 states who have formed bipartisan “Future Caucuses” for the purpose of collaborating on the issues facing future generations.

Institutions can also adopt procedures and practices that encourage a solutions-oriented approach to lawmaking. For example, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Young Kim (R-Calif.) recently introduced a resolution that would allow two members, a Democrat and Republican, to share equal credit for authoring a bill. Current rules only allow for one member to be named as lead sponsor. State legislatures offer additional examples. Several legislatures use seating arrangements that intermix members rather than separate them by party. Others allow a member of the minority party to serve as a committee chair or vice chair. Some legislatures have adopted “no surprises” rules that require leaders to be transparent with members about the procedures they intend to use on the chamber floor. Joint committees, made up of members of both the House and Senate, have also proven effective in yielding bipartisan legislation in a number of states.

We should expect our elected officials to debate passionately about crucial policy matters and to speak out on the political and social issues of the day. Giving voice to constituent concerns is part of the job, but so is working to find legislative solutions. These roles don’t have to be at odds.  

Signup to receive our Email Newsletters

The Latest News