They may be considered political odd couples, but recent examples of working across the aisle offer hope that Washington, D.C. may once again get back to some cooperation.
This week, two freshman senators – one Republican and one Democrat – teamed up to try to reform the justice system, while a conservative Southerner hashed out a compromise on a VA bill with a Northeast liberal.
These stories shouldn’t be totally overplayed. There is still a clear and bitter partisan divide in Washington, D.C. Immigration reform, for instance, remains dormant largely because of the distrust that exists around the nation’s capital.
But any instance of bipartisanship nowadays should offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
The VA bill compromise – reached by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., comes with a sigh of relief, but should also be embraced by reformers.
The bill seemed dead for weeks as the two bickered over how exactly to pay for the proposal. It was a difficult process, but ultimately, Miller and Sanders came together to produce legislation that can cure a number of ills facing the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA.
The bill will allow veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA system if they live a significant distance from a VA facility or if they can’t get an appointment within a certain number of days. Also, it will fund additional doctor services and construction for VA facilities, as well as allow veterans to qualify for in-state tuition under the post-9/11 GI Bill regardless of where they choose to locate.
These are important reforms that will offer immediate and long-term benefits for those that deserve it the most – our veterans.
Another unusual pair joining forces to pass needed reform is U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., who are pushing a new bipartisan bill that seeks to overhaul criminal sentencing laws.
The two have indicated the reforms will save taxpayer dollars as well as “empower people to succeed and keep our streets safe.”
The proposal – known as the Redeem Act – particularly aims to help nonviolent offenders and puts a greater emphasis on rehabilitation in an effort to aid juveniles and lessen taxpayers’ burden when it comes to funding prisons.
Passage of the plan this year remains unclear – ironically because of the gridlock that’s stalled so many other sensible bills. But with an increased spotlight, perhaps the two rather recognizable lawmakers can move the bill forward.
America’s criminal justice system is becoming overwhelmed, and prison costs are projected to reach nearly $7 billion in fiscal year 2014. These reforms can help to alleviate those burgeoning issues.
The cynical may see these bipartisan efforts merely as blips on the radar or as signs of lawmakers breaking their principles.
However, they should be viewed as a step forward in Washington, D.C.
Congress has almost grinded to a halt because of increased polarization. It’s no wonder why their public approval rating has consistenly hovered in the single digits for years.
The public should hope lawmakers can come away with a renewed sense of working across the aisle after these bipartisan efforts this week.
Having Washington, D.C. paralyzed by gridlock will do nothing to strengthen our country’s future in a time when America desperately needs a brighter outlook.