Lace up your boxing gloves. Stand in your corner. Start sparring. Throw some punches. Knock out your opponent.
It’s hard to tell whether these are the basic steps to a boxing match or a description of the strategy currently being used among leaders in Washington. These days, Congressional proceedings (or lack thereof) seem more like a multi-round boxing exhibition than an attempt to shape policy that will move our nation forward.
There is no question Congress is divided. A recent report by the Brookings Institute showed that the 113th Congress is among the most polarized in a century. We don’t need reports or more analysis to tell us that, though. Ask furloughed civil servants waiting for a sequestration agreement. Ask college students or parents waiting for resolution on student loan interest rates. Ask the farmer who is waiting for the next farm bill to pass.
In the midst of it all, a majority of Americans are asking in chorus: why can’t you just work together?
It’s a fair question, demonstrating just how deeply the battle lines have been drawn. With clearly defined maneuvers, the key players have taken their corners, Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other.
We need to answer the question. I think everyone can agree that we have to work together if we want to see progress. However, I believe we won’t unless we see a mind shift in strategy. If Congress is a boxing ring, then anyone wearing a different color uniform is automatically the opponent, and the only goal is to take him or her down. Boxing rings hold winners and losers. At the end of the day, someone goes home bloodied and bruised, leaving half the crowd cheering while the other half hangs their heads in disappointment. This is no way to make progress in a nation facing such enormous challenges. We would see greater progress if Congress would instead start thinking of itself as a springboard.
The halls of Congress should be a launching pad of ideas. Our nation’s best policy arises out of the competition of diverse ideas, not the limitation of such ideas. Writers from John Milton to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes often opined that in the marketplace of ideas, truth would always win out. Our nation’s capital should be a place of debate where new concepts are launched. It should be a place that gives energy and impulse to ideas that would on their own lie dull or dormant.
Does this mean being so flexible that we compromise principles? Not at all. Even a springboard is anchored on one end, grounded enough that its flexibility doesn’t alter its true position.
So how do we begin this mind shift?
It starts with relationships. Democrat Dan Lipinski and I don't see eye-to-eye on all issues, but we can come together to write a piece of legislation prioritizing medical research that ultimately brings progress to our health care system and those suffering from debilitating diseases. Democrat Mike McIntyre doesn't always vote the way I do, but we've built a bipartisan Congressional caucus with nearly 100 members. Democrat Rick Larsen and I have disagreements, but we can work together on a long-range budget strategy. Democrat Joe Courtney and I approach some issues very differently, but we agree on the importance of a strong national defense and we have worked together to build one of the most bipartisan subcommittees on the House Armed Services Committee.
For these relationships to work, we make time to listen to each other, to build friendships, and to grow partnerships. Instead of looking at the lines that separate us, we look for the issues where we find unity. And we make progress, because we come to the negotiation table with respect for each other, an open mind to ideas, and an understanding of each other’s unwavering principles. Respectful relationships birth a desire for common ground.
I am only one. But one voice, one partnership, and one commitment to working together have the power to direct the course of our nation. Common ground will always be available for those who seek it and are willing to work for it.