Washington, D.C.– As Congress averted another critical budget deadline this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center today announces an original initiative to foster better personal relationships and greater policy understanding between members of opposing parties in Congress.
BPC, as part of its mission to encourage reasoned, constructive, and civil policy debate, has launched the American Congressional Exchange (ACE) which seeks to bridge the “familiarity gap” between members of Congress and close the political divide in an increasingly polarized America.
In the ACE program, participating members of Congress spend a weekend with a member of the opposite party in that member’s home district. That visiting member, in turn, reciprocates in their own district later in the year. Members are paired by choosing districts that are significantly different geographically, culturally, and politically.
As this week’s debate on the Omnibus Agreement for the remainder of FY 2018 shows, Congress’ inability to reach a compromise on major issues ranging from immigration to healthcare and infrastructure, can often result in wasteful spending and ineffectual policy prescriptions.
ACE helps members of Congress develop trust among their peers and understand issues through a different perspective, through first-hand experience in seeing and hearing the needs and concerns of citizens in a colleague’s district.
ACE is led by the co-chairs of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform: former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Secretary of Agriculture and Kansas congressman Dan Glickman, and former Sen. Olympia Snowe. One very successful exchange trip has already taken place and six additional ACE trips are now planned this year. BPC plans to facilitate additional exchanges throughout 2018.
ACE helps members of Congress develop trust among their peers and understand issues through a different perspective, through first-hand experience in seeing and hearing the needs and concerns of citizens in a colleague’s district. BPC believes the shared experience can bring members closer, building bonds that spark bipartisan cooperation that helps lead to legislative action on behalf of the American people.
“Our legislative process and political dialogue must speak to all Americans, and while there are disparities and regional differences, there is more that we share than divides us,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “Yet in recent years, occasions and venues for personal interaction across the political aisle have decreased, even as these encounters have become all-the-more critical to the functioning of the institution of Congress.”
The first exchange was held in January, when Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) visited with Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) in her home district in the Orlando area. They spoke with constituents at a local farmer’s market; toured the regional VA Medical Center; visited a high-tech business, Naval Support Facility, and incubator for entrepreneurs; and met with a group of area veterans. Bergman and Murphy are now working together to improve opportunities for America’s returning service members.
While ACE is not the only solution to the challenges facing Congress, it does provide a practical and attainable way for Members to build important relationships, reach common ground, and develop consensus around legislation. Once additional exchanges take place, it could lead to more productive collaborations and legislative solutions.
More information about the American Congressional Exchange is available at: www.bipartisanpolicy.org/american-congressional-exchange