'Odd Couples' of Congress Show Progress Still Possible
Weeks like this one make the Hill seem impossibly chaotic, but a couple of unlikely partnerships show the template for working across party lines.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Speaker Newt Gingrich—called an "odd couple" by CNN's Jake Tapper during The Atlantic's and Aspen Institute's Ideas Forum at Harman Hall—are working to increase funding for medical research. How did it come about? "Start with the idea behind it," Warren says. "One of the principal functions of government is to think of our future over a long arc," not just until the next week or funding cycle. "Speaker Gingrich is someone who gets this." Since 2003, she says, NIH's effective budget was cut by 25%.
Warren says she called Gingrich after reading a WSJ op-ed he wrote about investing in brain science and medical research, saying, "Hi, Mr. Speaker! This is Elizabeth Warren. Do you want to work together?" And he said, "Absolutely." Warren pointed out that the fastest-growing age group in the country is over 100. (The next fastest-growing is over 90, then over 80, she says.) This year, the country will spend $225B in care for people with Alzheimer's, "without the ability to delay onset for even one day."
Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are two members of a bipartisan group that one week ago introduced sentencing reform legislation. There are two dramatically different justice systems, said Booker, depending on whether people are rich or poor. That's an American issue, he adds, and a problem with an available solution that's neither Republican or Democratic. He ties it back to working with Gov. Chris Christie while mayor of Newark. They agreed to put aside the 95% of issues they disagree on and work on the 5% that they do. As a result, economic development in Newark is the largest since the '60s.
We disagree on a lot of things, but found some common ground, said the two Senators: criminal justice reform. "Can't you find common ground on tougher issues?" asked moderator Jonathan Karl of ABC News. Lee responds that they're not always going to agree on all of the big issues, but issues like this can be a confidence-building exercise. It's always possible to find some common principle, he says, like the well-being of the American people, or reducing one mandatory minimum.