After the midterms, can the new Congress work together? Here’s where they could start.
As Americans went to the polls in record numbers for the midterm elections on Nov. 6, delivering the House to Democrats and strengthening the Republican hold on the Senate, the Vatican announced the theme for Pope Francis’ 2019 World Peace Day message will be “good politics.” The pope’s annual message, which is sent to national leaders around the world, will focus on “mutual trust” and encourage “dialogue among stakeholders in society, between generations and among cultures.”
As a country increasingly polarized along the lines of gender, race, education and geography enters at least two years of divided government, members of the 116th United States Congress face a choice. While partisan divisions regarding oversight of the executive branch and issues like immigration and abortion are likely to remain entrenched, there are a variety of other issues on which compromise is still achievable and where “good politics” can still be practiced.
While this fall’s campaigns depicted opponents as existential threats to the future of the republic, there was an October surprise worth celebrating: On Oct. 6, the Senate voted 98 to 1 to pass legislation aimed at confronting the opioid epidemic. The bill easily passed through the House in June, 393 to 8, and was signed into law by President Trump on Oct. 24. The bill expands access to addiction treatment, increases penalties for the overprescription of painkillers and steps up enforcement to stop the flow of illicit drugs at the southern border. While experts say the package is not nearly ambitious enough given the enormity of the crisis—a record 72,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017—it is an accomplishment worth building on in the new year.
Several legislative opportunities stand out as ripe for bipartisan action.
Several other legislative opportunities stand out as ripe for bipartisan action. First, tax reform that prioritizes working families would be a welcome development after the 2017 tax bill, the benefits of which largely went to the wealthy and corporations. Congress should especially consider an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax refund that targets low- and moderate-income Americans and encourages participation in the workforce. The E.I.T.C. not only has a proven track record of lifting people out of poverty but has also long enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle.
Next, Republicans and Democrats can come together to protect working women and their unborn children by strengthening the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Passed in 1978, the current law only requires employers to provide special accommodations for pregnant women if other workers are also entitled to similar protections. A recent investigation by The New York Times examined working conditions for pregnant women at distribution centers—one of the fastest growing job markets in the country. The report chronicled a number of pregnant women at a single warehouse in Memphis who suffered miscarriages after their requests for lighter lifting assignments were refused. A bipartisan group of 125 lawmakers in the House and Senate has co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to accommodate pregnant women as long as doing so does not place an “undue burden” on the company. Ensuring basic protections for working mothers is a small but worthwhile step toward building the humane family leave system this country desperately needs.
Finally, while the oft-touted grand bargain on infrastructure has become more of a punchline than a serious policy proposal, there is a reason lawmakers and the president want every week to be infrastructure week. Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview with The Hill on the eve of the election that Mr. Trump would push for an infrastructure package in the new year that includes “our roads and bridges, and highways and byways, and ports and airports.” He continued, “We think there’s an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way in the Congress of the United States to advance that.” Nancy Pelosi, the presumed leader of the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, has also cited infrastructure as one of the most promising areas of bipartisan legislation. “One of my themes is build, build, build,” Ms. Pelosi said at an Oct. 22 event hosted by CNN. “Build the infrastructure of America from sea to shining sea.”
Build the infrastructure of America from sea to shining sea.
The extreme partisanship afflicting U.S. politics may be made worse by the perception that Washington is broken and that progress on major issues is only possible if one’s preferred party takes complete control of the levers of power. While compromise on the issues noted here will not defuse partisan opposition—nor should it—practical legislative achievements could help reclaim some public support for bipartisanship and cooperation. And maybe some of those accomplishments of “good politics” might find their way into the campaign rhetoric of 2020.