What moderate lawmakers like us hope to do in the next 100 days
Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, is chair of the New Democrat Coalition in the House. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is co-chair of the House’s Tuesday Group.
On this 100th day of the Trump administration, partisan prisms will predictably provide audiences with radically different images: One side will paint a picture of a strong and decisive administration “Making America Great Again,” another of a flip-flopping and divisive group of neophytes who aren’t up to the job.
As centrist leaders in the House of Representatives leading the New Democrat Coalition and Tuesday Group caucus, and legislators dedicated to the core principles of governing, we’d rather propose a forward-looking vision for the next 100 days. Let’s stop looking in the rearview mirror and focus ahead on the ideas we can all agree would be good for the United States.
Nearly every substantial piece of legislation passed since 2011, including the USA Freedom Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, disaster relief, Medicare physician payment reform and all of the budget agreements and appropriations legislation that have mostly kept federal government shutdowns at bay, has been the product of coalitions between pragmatic Republicans and Democrats willing to put partisanship aside.
Now, conditions are right for this formula to become the norm rather than the last resort. The unfolding drama of the long-promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act gave the administration and Congress a bracing lesson in the dramatic difference between campaigning and governing.
Most Democrats, while emboldened by grass-roots demonstrations, continue to hope for bipartisan progress and seek cooperation, not just obstructionism, to advance shared interests. But, deep in the minority, they can’t launch successful initiatives on their own.
President Trump has consistently offered new tactics to get Democrats to come to the table. None has worked. Maybe he could try the old-fashioned way: Invite those Democrats willing to listen to come help shape legislation that majorities in both parties can support. This approach may not provide red meat for either party’s base, but it will produce lasting legislative achievements to benefit our country for generations to come.
So, on this 100th day, let’s dispense with the point-scoring and cut to the chase. As a start, and consistent with the president’s priorities, we have a unique opportunity to make progress on a desperately needed national infrastructure program and an overhaul of our uncompetitive and byzantine tax code.
We are prepared to acknowledge that a meaningful infrastructure program will have room for tax incentives and public-private partnerships and could include innovations such as a national infrastructure bank, but it will certainly require new sources of funding for direct investment in highways, railways and airports. We know that successful tax reform will be challenging, as the deductions, exclusions and credits that pack the tax code like chocolates in a box are shrunk or eliminated in favor of lower rates.
Success on those two issues could open the door to working on solutions to a number of issues, such as job-training and skills-development programs to help displaced workers, initiatives to streamline and right-size regulation, and maybe even a more honest and constructive look at our budget and its deficits. That’s where our focus should be now.
Compromise may not be glamorous and may not play well on cable television, but it is an absolutely necessary component of successful legislation. Ideological purity is a recipe for continued bitterness, a divided nation and stalemate. We know that these common -sense, nonpartisan initiatives will summon Americans to do what they do best: Rise to the challenge of innovation, creativity, fairness and service. Failure to seek commonality or accept incremental progress will threaten more than our congressional seats and reputations. It puts our systems of government at risk. We owe it to our country to do better.
Originally published at www.washingtonpost.com on April 29, 2017.