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Diane Mufson: It’s time for meaningful bipartisanship by leaders

November 16, 2018

The election is over, and it’s time for some meaningful bipartisanship. In our country’s past, some of the best deals and compromises were made across political aisles.

The Great Compromise of 1787, which is still in effect today, permitted our nation to form into a cohesive whole. At that time, the small states were afraid that the more populous ones would control them. The idea of a Senate with equal representation from all states and a proportional House of Representatives was proposed by Connecticut’s Roger Sherman.

Almost a century later, when Lincoln was elected president, he not only appointed his Republican rivals to his Cabinet, but also added a Democrat. A century after that, President Truman was set to name the next Supreme Court justice in a court that already had seven Democrats. Truman could have chosen from his party, but instead selected a Republican. Too bad that cross-party action couldn’t happen today.

Following World War II, conflict emerged between isolationist Republicans and internationalist Democrats. A leader of the Republican faction, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, agreed to help champion Democratic post war planning, explaining his foreign-policy attitude, “It simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage.”

In 1964, our nation’s major issue was civil rights. The House of Representatives and President Johnson supported the Civil Rights Act; it was a different story in the Senate. Maury and I were living near Washington, D.C., then and visited the Senate to see it in action. Senators walked in and out to record their presence, but no discussion occurred in the chamber. It reminded us of why legislation is often compared to sausage production.

A handful of Southern senators filibustered and remained opposed until the Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield asked Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen for help to end the conflict by saying, “I appeal to the distinguished minority leader whose patriotism has always taken precedence over his partisanship to join with me” to end this stalemate. The Civil Rights Act passed shortly after this.

During President Reagan’s tenure, Social Security’s future solvency demanded attention. Sound familiar? Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole and New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan founded a bipartisan legislative group that led to positive reforms in the Social Security Act, which was signed by President Reagan. Moynihan remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” What a timely statement!

In 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, geared to provide health services for children whose parents made too much money to be included in Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance, was established. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, worked together to see the program was established.

There have been many past examples of bipartisan successes, but too few recently. Thankfully, the opioid legislation succeeded. Sen. John McCain, in his parting shot on the failed vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” And as West Virginia’s newly re-elected Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said in his victory speech, “We’ve got to bring people together.”

It’s time for meaningful bipartisanship, not necessarily consistently, but at least more frequently.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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