There is nothing new about Congress being deadlocked on important issues facing the nation. But the divisions have deepened and the rancor has intensified over the past several years. And as the poll numbers on the accompanying chart show, the divisions apparent in Washington largely reflect those same divisions among Republicans and Democrats all across America.
An April 2016 Pew Research Center poll provided a snapshot of the contempt that partisans have for their opponents. Forty-one percent of the Democrats polled said Republicans posed a threat to the nation. Forty-five percent of Republicans said Democrats posed a threat to the nation. Things have only gotten worse with the election of Donald Trump as president.
Will Congress be able to agree on anything anytime soon? We asked several pollsters and members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to identify two significant issues on which Republican and Democratic members of Congress might be able to find common ground. No one cited any of the major issues dividing America, such as health care, immigration, taxes and trade. Most commonly mentioned: infrastructure and fighting opioid abuse.
Here are their responses:
Human Trafficking, aiding disabled
Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th District
This month, I, along with lead Democratic co-sponsor Karen Bass, D-Calif., and others will be introducing bipartisan legislation that will reauthorize and strengthen my landmark Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, which punishes traffickers and helps victims — mostly women and children. Enlisting this bipartisan group of co-sponsors and outside organizations should help get this bill over the finish line. GovTrack recently named me as the member who is the most effective at working across the aisle. Building bipartisan coalitions is truly effective.
Another example is a group of bills known as the ABLE Act 2.0, introduced by a bipartisan group led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. As part of the group, I saw that the original ABLE Act, while empowering individuals with disabilities, lacked flexibility. ABLE Act 2.0 will fix this and provide the flexibility needed for these individuals to afford housing, education and medical expenses.
Infrastructure, opioid epidemic
Director, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling
Ashley Koning (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Koning)
In an increasingly polarized climate, there are a number of issues in Washington where lawmakers may agree on the ends but not the means, or they may agree something needs to be done but not on what that “something” should be.
One potential area for bipartisan agreement, however, may be transportation and infrastructure — rumored to be Trump’s next big bill and a passion project of his, in general. There is a hefty price tag and problems with the bill already, as well as skepticism on both sides of the aisle. In theory, however, it could be a much-needed boost to the economy, both in terms of revenue and jobs, and is usually an issue that garners Democratic support. If tax reform becomes part of the bill, then perhaps it can garner enough Republican support, as well, for bipartisan success.
Another potential area of bipartisanship may stem from the opioid epidemic — an oft-cited issue on the campaign trail this past election cycle from both sides of the aisle. With many calling it the worst drug crisis the country has ever faced, a number of states across the country have already taken action with bipartisan legislation, and Congress itself passed related legislation with wide bipartisan support just last year. While differing opinions on healthcare reform may have an impact on support for and access to treatment, both Republicans and Democrats alike understand the severity of the crisis and the need to actively finding solutions.
Infrastructure, flood insurance reform
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Bob Menendez (Photo: John Minchillo)
There’s an old saying that there are no Republican roads or Democratic bridges. If President Trump wants a big win on infrastructure, he’ll need to work across the aisle. Our $836 billion backlog in road and bridge repairs would be a smart place for Republicans and Democrats to start, because inaction is costing us billions in lost productivity, wasted fuel and deadly traffic accidents each year.
Likewise, natural disasters have no partisan boundaries. From superstorm Sandy’s destruction to devastating flooding in Louisiana, more and more of my colleagues are watching their constituents struggle with a FEMA claims process that New Jerseyans have unfortunately learned is stacked against homeowners. Meanwhile, homeowners who’ve never failed a claim are facing huge premium hikes. I’m already talking to my colleagues about ways to make our National Flood Insurance Program more affordable for consumers and accountable to taxpayers, and feel optimistic about getting bipartisan support.
Foreign policy, military force
Director, FDU PublicMind Poll
Krista Jenkins (Photo: Krista Jenkins)
Domestically, I see little hope of bipartisan agreement. The political environment in D.C. is too fraught with rancor and distrust for there to be hopeful signs of working across the party aisle and accomplishing legislative “wins” for the polity on issues ranging from health care to immigration to environmental protection.
Where I do see room for agreement, if you want to call it that, is in the area of foreign policy and use of force. As has been the case for some time, Congress is loath to weigh in on issues of military force, as doing so exposes them to public rebuke should things go badly, as they often do when American lives are at risk. I see no reason to believe Congress will have a change of heart and begin go exercise their constitutional obligation and not leave military and foreign policy exclusively to the executive branch.
Infrastructure, veterans affairs
Congressman Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd District
Frank LoBiondo (Photo: Bob Bielk/Asbury Park Press)
Bipartisanship is in scarce supply as the nation regrettably grows more polarized. However, investing in infrastructure and improving care for our veterans are not among those issues dividing us. We must capitalize on these opportunities.
There is universal agreement that the nation’s infrastructure is failing. Outdated airports, deficient bridges, failing rail lines, shallow ports and aged transit systems cost billions in lost commerce annually while threatening the safety of users and workers. A substantial investment built upon public-private partnerships could break the cycle of short-term fixes and costly policy-making delays.
Similarly, there is broad agreement that promises made to our veterans have not been kept. Increasing local services, reducing claims backlogs, and removing bureaucratic red tape are reforms that receive strong support across party lines.
By focusing on these areas — infrastructure and veterans — Congress can change the partisan tone and find solutions to critical issues facing our country.
The above partial excerpts are from an original article ran in the April 14 print edition of the Asbury Park Press and included seven members of the House and Senate, and officials from several other organizations. The full article can be found here: