These Are the Underrated Members of Congress Who Get Stuff Done

Senate Capitol house of representatives

It’s no secret that gridlock and failure to compromise have been rampant over the last few years in Congress. And it’s shown in both elections and the polls. Gallup reports that the new year, and the new Congress, started off with a mere 16% job approval rating. While not as low as the 9% approval rating reached in 2013, it’s considerably below the historical average of 32%. And the unfortunate truth of the matter is that now, more than many times in our history, America is badly in need of bipartisan effort. There are a couple major legislative demands that have failed time and time again due to the inability of Democrats and Republicans to find common ground; immigration has been a particularly divisive and pressing issue.

Yet certain areas are looking tentatively positive. Based on State of the Union rhetoric and Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) response, common ground could include tax code reform, keeping jobs in the United States, supporting the U.S. military, cyber attack prevention and security, and working to limit Iran’s nuclear program. So amidst all the negativity in Washington D.C. and the media, it’s important to remember that there are subjects on which parties can reach across the aisle. And it’s also worth remembering that bipartisan work has never been easy, but has almost always found a way to peek through. In honor of that, let’s take a look back over the last few decades at some underrated, or at least undermentioned bi-partisan heroes. Whether the legislation is one you’re in favor of, or deeply critical of, the fact of the matter is it’s difficult to get both parties on board with a piece of legislation enough so that it is passed.

Many members of Congress with high recognition names were part of some of the most impressive and well known bipartisan efforts. This includes Bill Clinton’s work on welfare reform in 1997, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell. Others are less familiar, so let’s take a moment to recognize some of the names behind works from both Democrats and Republicans. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit, a D.C.-based think tank, has a timeline of major bipartisan legislation throughout history. One of the groups of people mentioned therein was the Blue Dog Coalition. This group began in 1995, but still exists today. It’s made up of Democrats with particularly conservative fiscal and security policy preferences, making them far more useful in cooperating with the GOP.

According to the Coalition, it is “an official caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives comprised of 15 fiscally conservative Democrats that are deeply committed to the financial stability and national security of the United States, and dedicated to finding bipartisan solutions to the nation’s biggest challenges.” The current leadership includes Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.). Other members include Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Rep. Gwen Graham (D-Fla.), and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program was pushed through in a different way, in 1997. This time, it was through efforts from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). As members of the Kennedy family go, Edward Kennedy may not have had the prominence of his presidential relatives, but he was a strong senator in his own right and was even able to work with Sen. Hatch, who was so conservative that his association with the bill made it far easier to get Republicans on board. Sen. Kennedy also put his support toward the No Child Left Behind bill, which ultimately helped push it through the legislature with the help of current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and of course the bill’s father, George W. Bush. In 2005, during the 109th Congress, seven Senators from each side of the aisle came together to form “The Gang of 14,” a group that helped prevent the “nuclear option” against filibusters from Democrats, while helping smooth the pathway of judicial nominees from the president, who were so often difficult to push through Congress with Democrats constantly filibustering and throwing a wrench in the works. By teaming up into a large enough group from both sides, the Gang of 14 were able to prevent this nuclear option against filibustering, while ensuring nominees were able to take their positions.

This group of people included some well known Senators, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ariz.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)., but it also included lesser known Senators like Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

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