For two days last week, Democrats and Republicans allowed the U.S. Senate to work exactly the way it should and “given the hyper-partisanship that too often causes the chamber to grind to a hal,” that’s news, says Michael Collins.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander had a big hand in making it happen.
Attempting to end the dysfunction that at times has paralyzed the chamber, Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, persuaded their party leaders to let the Senate return to its normal practice of lawmaking, where Democrats and Republicans are given equal time to debate legislation and equal opportunity to file amendments.
It’s the way things are supposed to be done, but seldom are.
“I think it’s a modest step toward the kind of Senate I would like to serve in, and I think most Americans would like to see,” Alexander said. “We are here to debate and deal with contentious issues. But we’re also here to get a result.”
The back-to-bipartisanship approach was tried out on just one piece of legislation, a bill to reauthorize a $5.3 billion program providing block grants to states to help families pay for after-school and child-care programs. Two years in the making, the bill passed Thursday on a 97-1 vote after two days of debate.
Given the success of the experiment, the lawmakers are hoping in a few weeks to take the same approach on other bipartisan bills, such as sentencing reform, manufacturing and energy efficiency.
“There’s a yearning on both sides of the aisle amongst the majority of members—not all—to legislate again,” Schumer said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Alexander, who stepped down from a GOP leadership position in 2011 saying he wanted to help move the chamber beyond divisive partisanship, concurred.
“We’re supposed to debate and, where we can agree, solve problems,” he said. “And when we can’t agree, we should go on to the next thing. Sen. Schumer understands that, and I do, too. And I think a growing number of senators welcome that kind of attitude.”