Turkey sandwich or veggie wrap? House salad with Ranch dressing or Italian? Potato chips on the side or fruit salad? Those are the choices most of us face each day around lunchtime. For members of the United Sates Senate, however, their lunchtime choice on Thursday is a little more interesting.
Every Thursday, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) dine together in a seldom used Senate dining room. Their lunches, which were featured this summer in an article in Roll Call, began in March when the two newly-elected Senators realized their busy days afforded few opportunities for interaction with colleagues from the other party.
With packed official schedules, call time for re-election campaigns that seems to be a little earlier each year, and mad dashes to the airport to catch the first flight out of town after last votes, it isn’t surprising that there is little time for those in Congress to squeeze in meetings with those on the other side of the aisle.
But while it may be difficult, the benefits of these types of interactions – whether it be a Thursday lunch, a brief chat on the way to vote, or an informal basketball game in the Senate gym – are important. With Republicans helming the House of Representatives while Democrats control both the Senate and White House, it is vitally important to find areas where the parties can work together. This begins with having conversations with those whose views are different than your own, something that happens too infrequently.
Bipartisan initiatives and pieces of legislation tend to move faster through Congress, enabling Senators and Representatives to accomplish their goals and enact legislation that is important to them and the American people. Instead of remaining in their partisan orbits, which has led to significant gridlock on important issues facing our country, Senators should follow the lead of their colleagues from Illinois and West Virginia.
If more Members commit to attend the Thursday sessions implemented by Kirk and Manchin and dedicate themselves to acting in a bipartisan manner, the biggest decision to make at lunchtime on Thursday might be as simple as mayonnaise or mustard. And real progress, on real issues, might be made.
- Lamar Alexander and a New Brand of Leadership, September 29, 2011