There is a word that has made past U.S. Congressional sessions successful and the lack of which has resulted in gridlock. That word is “bipartisanship.” It is precisely what the founding fathers of America had in mind when they formed party systems, however in an article by Benjamin Din for Medill on the Hill, he says – “A CNN/ORC poll released Sunday found that more than 80 percent of Americans believe the country is more divided on major issues this year than in the past.”
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) ranks fourth on a list recently compiled by Medill News Service in their article that ranks U.S. Senators by the number of bills they have sponsored or co-sponsored that have been enacted into law during the current congress.
On Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Times, Brown was asked what the recognition means to him as a U.S. Senator.
“It means that it’s how I do my job,” Brown said. “When I have something I need to get done for my state, I find a way to find a Republican to co-sponsor and we go to work on it. We ended up working with John Thune (R-SD) of South Dakota, a conservative Republican. We eliminated farm subsidies, something that should have been done 30 years ago, where large corporate farms get federal dollars for not planting, that kind of absurd thing, where corporate farm interests were protected. I got with a Republican and did it.”
Brown said when a legislator wants to see something happen on any issue, bipartisanship is the way to get it accomplished.
“I’m not shocked by the recognition,” Brown told the Times. “It strikes me as something we all should be doing.”
Brown says the disparity many American’s believe is what makes up the U.S. Congress, may be overplayed. He said members of Congress work closer across the aisle than is portrayed.
“I think it probably does (work together) more than the public recognizes,” Brown said. “When I voted against the Iraq War a dozen years ago, it wasn’t so easy to find a Republican who wanted to join me.”
Brown said, before the war started, he had introduced a bill to require the Bush administration to answer certain questions about weapons of mass destruction.
“I had a lot of trouble trying to find a Republican that wanted to do that and stand up against President Bush,” Brown said. “So it’s not always easy. It’s not on the big issues. The big issues, it’s just fundamental, the differences. Most Republicans in Congress want to partially privatize Medicare, and then they want to raise the retirement eligibility age. I’m going to try a lot of ways to fight that. I may not be able to find a Republican to do that or I may not be able to find a Republican to work with that opposes tax cuts for the rich or opposes giveaways to Wall Street, but I will try to find them.”
Brown has passed legislation that, on several occasions, dealt with veterans issues, such as the Gold Star Fathers Act and the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act.
“I’m the only Ohio senator who has been on the Veterans Committee for 10 years and on veterans issues they’re easier to find across the aisle,” Brown said. “I sit on this committee. I look across the room, we sit on a ‘U’ shaped hearing room, and I see someone like Thom Tillis From North Carolina. We have some things in common that we know we can work on veterans issues together.”
Brown said the desire is to always look for opportunities to work together. He said legislators don’t always get their entire bill passed, but through compromise, the emerging bill can have input from several different people from both parties, and that is the way laws are passed.
Has this last Congress made progress? Have they passed meaningful legislation?
“No, I think this Congress is actually worse than the ones before it,” Brown said. “(Senate President) Mitch McConnell’s leadership has made them (Republicans) dig in even more. I don’t know if there was a measurement like this (Medill News Service) before. I don’t know what to assume but I think that I have always operated this way, no matter who is in the majority.”
Brown reminisced about his first year in Washington when he was on the Education Committee. He said he had six bills that addressed higher education issues, and those six bills ended up being incorporated into the overall Higher-Ed Reauthorization Bill.
“That wouldn’t show up that Brown got his bills passed, because they weren’t my bills,” Brown said. “They were part of something else, but I look at what’s about to pass.”
Brown said the key is to look for bills that are on their way to the floor of the House and to see if there is an opportunity to include legislation you want passed in those bills.
“It’s not hijacking the bill. It’s consensus,” Brown said. “You look for an original Republican co-sponsor and then you look at opportunities in bills that may be going to Congress.”
The call by Brown and many of his colleagues is for bipartisanship. It remains to be seen if that word will bring success or the lack of it – gridlock in the future.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.