Voices from the middle on governing a divided nation

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 8:49 AM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The balance of power for the 117th Congress isn’t quite settled. But, it’s a near certainty Democrats and Republicans won’t achieve much without working together.

Two upsets in Georgia’s runoff Senate races, a simple rule change, and Democrats could wield just enough power to ram their agenda through Congress next year. But, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin has no interest in exploiting a power monopoly.

“The whole purpose of the Senate is for the minority to have a voice, said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), “and I’m hoping we’ll get back to that.”

The moderate Democrat sees enough policy middle-ground to break-through partisan gridlock, offering opportunity to invest in infrastructure, lower the cost of prescription drugs, and address the pandemic.

“Put us into a room together, let’s move beyond this,” he said of passing new law, “that’s what leadership’s about.”

“I’m actually very optimistic,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said of Congress’ ability to work across the aisle next term.

The moderate Republican is trying to broker a coronavirus relief deal between the GOP and Democrats. The sticking points - a $1.5-trillion gap between competing plans and whether to bailout states - don’t present obvious avenues for compromise.

“Those are two very difficult issues to resolve,” Collins conceded, “but we’ve got to try.”

“If you look at what’s facing the country right now, we are in crisis,” said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Grumet said crisis can actually be a recipe for a more functional Congress. And, while he said the pandemic is creating new consensus around issues like paid family leave, even popular ideas stall if leadership blocks a vote.

“We’ve… put so much power in the hands of the speaker and majority leader, they’re focused on politics,” Grumet said of the structural impediments to action even when broad, cross-party consensus exists.

If, as expected, Republicans hold onto control of the Senate we’ll see an early bipartisanship test. President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks will need their approval to officially start their new jobs.

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