At Congresswoman Diana DeGette’s recent meeting with community newspapers, she said, “When I poll my constituents, the thing that polls highest is, ‘We want a member of Congress who will work in a bipartisan way to get things done.’” The Front Porch asked her if Congress can work in a bipartisian way. Her responses follow:
Congress needs legislation that’s bipartisian from the start.
The Republican party now has 237 members in Congress, but they don’t have a functioning majority because 30 or 40 members, the Freedom Caucus (mostly former Tea Party members), won’t vote for anything (though the GOP did unify around the tax cuts passed in December).
With the omnibus appropriations bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan kept trying to put together Republican votes to pass it—but he had to keep doing short-term continuing resolutions. He should have come to the Democrats from day one and negotiated a compromise, which is what we ended up doing.
The reason why they don’t come to us is because of the Hastert Rule, which is a Republican practice that says the Speaker of the House is not going to bring a bill to the floor unless it has a Republican majority. But in the end, they have to bring bills to the floor without a majority because they have so many Freedom Caucus people.
Like 21st Century Cures Act*, there were a couple of other bills that we did this year that were really good bills for public health that were bipartisan. We passed a reauthorization of The Toxic Substances Control Act, which we’ve been trying to do for 30 years, with a bipartisan coalition. We’ve done some renewable energy legislation that’s been completely bipartisan. I think we should be able to do this opioid bill in a bipartisan way.
No more partisan redistricting.
I think we need to have congressional districting that really reflects the population. A coalition of folks have been working on a proposal to create a non-partisan commission in Colorado. I think that’s a really good step at removing partisan redistricting. I also think, in the future, we’re going to see very close numbers between the two parties in Congress. The parties have to find a way to work together and to compromise.
People are campaigning at the extremes.
In both parties’ campaigning, the Democrats and Republicans, there’s a tendency for candidates to go to the extremes. And from my experience, the constituents really wish they could have it both ways. So it’s like, “Yes, I want you to fight for a single payer system, Diana, and I want you to go back to Congress and compromise for the issues that we all care about.” That’s the issue that we’re dealing with.
But there’s a value in the extremes.
I do think it’s really important to have a wide diversity of opinions within the parties because that’s what helps you to have the robust conversation about issues and solutions. I think that people need to realize that part of politics is the art of the compromise. When we did 21st Century Cures, there were a number of things that I would have liked to have seen in there. There were a number of things that Fred Upton (Republican co-sponsor) would have liked to have seen there. We were able to compromise by either finding the middle or leaving those things out. That’s part of our political process.
Public financing could restore faith in the electoral process.
I think it would be really helpful if we had public financing of campaigns because that would restore the public faith in the process, and it would also remove some of the money that makes people question the system. I also think we need to deal in some way with Citizens United and the whole concept of independent third-party ads out there, many of them inaccurate. They also distort the political process.
The state of the Constitution and our institutions.
The Constitution is alive and well because of the genius of our framers. The framers put forth three equal branches of government. Article I is the Legislative Branch. If the president tried to fire Mueller or to dismantle the courts, I think we’d see more Republicans stand up against this, particularly in the Senate. There’s already bipartisan legislation in the Senate saying, don’t fire Mueller.
The other branch of government that has been so important is the judicial branch. The courts have struck down policies that were poorly thought out. The courts have been an enormously important check and balance. They have shown the strength of our system.
You have to compromise—you’re never going to get 100% of what you want.
In the House, there are a lot of people in my generation who understand that their constituents are desperate to get something done. Congress, especially the House, is the people’s House. It represents 435 congressional districts all throughout the country. It has the most rural areas in Tennessee, and the most urban areas in Los Angeles, and everything in between. You’re never going to get 100% of what you want.
But there will be people on both sides of the aisle who absolutely refuse to compromise. I’ve never seen anybody who absolutely refused to compromise who ever got their bill passed. But it’s helpful to have people in both of the parties who are purists because they’re a good check on the rest of us.
*The 21st Century Cures Act, written by Reps. DeGette and Upton (R-MI) and merged with a Senate version by Sens. Alexander (R-KY) and Murray (D-WA), was designed to help accelerate medical advances and bring them to patients faster and more efficiently while preserving patient safety. It was signed into law on December 13, 2016 with one of the largest majorities of any bill in recent years (392 to 26 in the House and 94 to 5 in the Senate).
*Transcript edited for length and clarity by Carol Roberts.