6 Overlooked Efforts to Work Across the Aisle in Congress

Created: 20 August, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
5 min read

Shouting “news” anchors. A barrage of insults. Media headlines plastered with scandals and investigations. We must be watching politics in modern day America.

A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center showed just how polarized our politics have become since the mid-90s. The findings specifically detail how:

“[T]he share of Americans with ideologically consistent values has increased over this time and these political values also have become more strongly associated with partisanship.”

This is a sentiment -- as a nation -- that we have all certainly felt within the past few years, especially after the combative 2016 election.

While it’s safe to say that the political arena may not be the most civil at the moment, there are many compelling bipartisan efforts that are being ignored as a result of the media preferring to show politics as exclusively tumultuous and toxic.

Here’s 6 instances where the two parties were able reach productive solutions on several noteworthy pieces of legislation.

1. Prison Reform (First Step Act)

The emphasis on prison reform has been a significant source of bipartisan efforts. In June 2018 the “House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the First Step Act, a bill that establishes new incentives for prisoners to enter the sorts of prison rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism.”

In short, the idea behind the bill is that prisoners should be rewarded with earlier release dates if they show good behavior and set themselves up for success outside of prison. In theory, this would thin America's overpopulated prison system.

The bill was co-sponsored by 9 Democrats and 10 Republicans with the main sponsor being Republican Representative Doug Collins.

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2. SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act

The House voted in late June to send a package of more than 50 bipartisan bills to the Senate. The bills aim “to study the crisis and treatment efforts, increase treatment options and bed space, aid the development of non-addictive pain treatments, fight trafficking of counterfeit and illicit drugs, and more.”

The bill passed the House and was co-sponsored by 10 Republicans and 6 Democrats.

3. Immigration Reform (Discharge Petition)

We've heard much over the last few months about MS-13, border walls, ICE, and the separation of families. While it appears the partisan divisions on immigration are too great to get anything done on the issue, that doesn't mean there aren't lawmakers trying.

The immigration reform in this case has largely been led by Republican Carlos Curbelo, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus. House members circulated a “discharge petition” in late March 2018 that would require the full chamber to vote on a series of immigration bills, with the one getting the most combined support moving on to the Senate.

While the discharge petition fell just short of the signatures needed to force floor consideration, the Problem Solvers Caucus is an intriguing development within itself. The 48 members, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, is attempting to negotiate a new rules package in order to make the House more bipartisan and inclusive.

One of the main provisions being proposed would “give fast-track consideration to any bill that has two-thirds of the House co-sponsoring the legislation.” Caucus co-Chairman and Republican Representative Tom Reed explained their motivation as being “due to the House floor being controlled by a select few.”

Reed also explained that “most members of Congress are not able to bring their ideas and proposals to the House floor for a fair vote that would allow us to begin solving some of the most contentious issues facing our country today. We care about reforming the institution so that Congress is actually able to get things done for the people back home.”

4. JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018

The JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018 represents a bipartisan endeavor made up of 32 individual pieces of legislation with the goal of providing “a stronger economy, more jobs, and strong investor protections.” There is also an emphasis on reducing regulation for smaller companies.

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US Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) thanked the chairman and the staff of the House Committee on Financial Services, headed by Republican Jeb Hensarling, and stated:

“[W]orking together to live up to what we always say—that we all support small businesses, their access to capital and protecting investors. This is true bipartisanship we are witnessing today.”

Hensarling also expressed gratitude for “the efforts of the ranking member and members of the committee on both sides of the aisle” who were able to pass “a strong bipartisan package that will play an important role in sustaining long-term economic growth and global competitiveness.”

5. STATES Act (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States)

Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, alongside a bipartisan group of cosponsors comprising of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats, introduced the STATES Act in early June 2018. The bill aims to “end the federal prohibition of marijuana and formally enshrine protections for the states that have decided to legalize either recreational or medical marijuana.”

The bill would also amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove marijuana from the Schedule I category of illegal drugs in states that choose to legalize.

Senator Gardner commented:

"The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states' rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters - whether that is legalization or prohibition - and not interfere in any states' legal marijuana industry."

6. DACA Discharge Petition

Republicans and Democrats came together in May 2018 in order to “find a lasting solution for Dreamers who have benefited from DACA, the Obama-era program protecting some young immigrants from deportation.”

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Both sides of the House felt that House Speaker Paul Ryan was stonewalling votes on DACA-related proposals and decided to pursue an unconventional route to take matters into their own hands. Republicans Will Hurd, Jeff Denham, and Carlos Curbelo led efforts to persuade House members to sign the discharge petition in order to “circumvent Republican leadership and bring four different immigration proposals to the House floor.”

Curbelo explained:

“This institution should be driven by courage, not by cowardice, and the goal should not be to suppress members from pursuing their legislative goals, it should be to empower each member, and that's what we're trying to do.” While the petition fell 2 signatures short of the required 218, Republicans and Democrats alike were still valiant in their efforts to bring the urgent matter of immigration to the forefront of floor proceedings.