When we look back at 2020 – we see lives lost to the pandemic, economic fallout from failures to contain the virus, continued struggles to address systemic racism, and an alarming number of women dropping out of the workforce. These problems loom so large, the moment demands both reflection and assessment of how our political “teams” can meet these challenges.
The urge to step back from the daily grind and take stock comes as I depart my work family of 15 years – the Bipartisan Policy Center. As I reflect on what’s been accomplished at the organization I am so proud to have helped start and grow, I am struck by how much party identity drives EVERYTHING we think today. This self-defining label controls our perception of ourselves and solutions to the big problems more than our age, race, religion, geography, wealth, ethnicity, occupation, etc.
Party often provides a critical connection, a chance to be part of a larger effort, and I understand that desire. I grew up in the DC suburbs, where my dad worked at NASA (think nerdy, big glasses, short sleeve button-down shirt, skinny black tie) during the heyday of the space program. I enjoyed all the advantages of being born into an educated, white family. But I never felt like I belonged to a club. (We were Methodists – for me not a galvanizing cause; when I tell people where I’m from, I repeatedly hear that no one actually comes from DC).
At 20, I decided to join a political party. I started working at the front desk for Rep Barbara Mikulski, a powerhouse in our party. Since then, I’ve worked for a Democrat President, a federal judge nominated by a Democrat, and I’ve volunteered on lots of campaigns – all for Democrats. Helping my “team” win is an awesome feeling, but it turns out that winning alone wasn’t my ultimate goal.
For me, the most exciting and rewarding experiences — and the best outcomes for the country — come when politics and policy intersect. I want politicians to be political, to listen to their constituents and to their party. But I want them to be able to balance their ambitions with substantive solutions that can make lives of others better and make the planet better.
Increasingly, though, we have watched political “teams” put winning above governing and above finding solutions for the country, which is just plain scary. At the BPC, we know that advocating for bipartisanship and compromise sounds and is old fashioned. But old-fashioned isn’t wrong or necessarily less effective. A whole generation of staffers – including my stepdaughter who, like me, started her career working the front desk for a Maryland Rep – and members of Congress only know this winner take all world. Listening to diverse voices and finding pragmatic policy paths forward is incredibly hard.
Congress just enacted the annual government appropriations bill, COVID-relief, and a large energy package, among other year end items. It’s not the ideal way to make policy, but we should applaud our leaders for making hard decisions and governing.
I am really proud of both BPC’s contributions to getting these deals done and our impact over the years: preventing the nation from defaulting on our debt in 2011, helping define key elements of the Affordable Care Act, promoting innovation in energy and health care, and helping working families with child care, paid leave, housing and retirement security – to name just a few.
I am truly grateful for the many people who have worked in the bipartisan trenches alongside me. The movements that sprang up over the last several years have opened my eyes to the vast differences that motivate us but also the phenomenal ability of all of us to collectively effect change.
I am a proud Democrat, but my home “team” is truly that large group of people out there who want pragmatic progress and will work together to achieve it.
I am confident we can find solutions in 2021 and look forward to partnering with BPC and others to achieve them. Congress faces a few cliffs – debt ceiling fight, the tattered economy, government funding – that create plenty of opportunities for my bipartisan team to govern!
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