The coalition and the Senate’s future
Sometimes, when a football team has a prolonged losing streak, it creates a cycle that’s hard to break. The good folks of New England haven’t recently experienced this challenge (as evidenced by yet another Super Bowl trip), but unfortunately, the United States Senate is currently dealing with exactly that problem.
Our long stretch of dysfunction culminated earlier this month, when distrust on both sides of the aisle fueled a federal government shutdown. Many have attributed this shutdown to an argument over DACA, but the truth is that this wasn’t the product of one issue, or one debate; it was the result of years of hard decisions delayed, on not just immigration but also budgets and healthcare and defense and so many more vital topics. Congress has forgotten how to function, and we’ve forgotten how to win.
This was a low moment for our body — but, just as in sports, sometimes a low moment like this can reveal a new path forward. In this case, my hope for that fresh start lies in the Common Sense Coalition, a group of bipartisan lawmakers that met throughout the shutdown in Senator Collins’ office (or, as we’ve come to call it, ‘Little Switzerland’) and played what I think was an important part in ending the gridlock. In these meetings, senators from both parties (along with one independent) came together to tackle the problems facing us, reach a compromise that reopened the government and kick-start a new round of negotiations.
Many in this group of lawmakers were also part of the “Common Sense Caucus” in 2013, which was instrumental in ending that year’s shutdown. However, unlike last time, this group intends to continue working together. It’s already starting to have an impact, as I can honestly say that I’ve seen more open debate in the last few weeks than I had in the previous several years. That’s good, because our work is far from done: in addition to the outstanding questions on immigration, we need to reauthorize key healthcare programs for rural America, provide real funding to battle the scourge of opioid addiction, and pass a budget that ensures the military has the tools it needs to defend our national security.
These are difficult problems, but they are exactly why we were sent here — not to go to ceremonies or cut ribbons, but to do the people’s work. It’s a solemn, important duty to our constituents, and one that I hope the Senate will rise to in the coming weeks.
When I worked in the Senate as a staffer 40 years ago, I saw colleagues on both sides of the aisle working together for the good of the nation rather than ignoring important issues. The Common Sense Coalition represents our chance to recapture that spirit, and build a better country rather than engaging in partisan squabbles. Our unofficial membership is currently about 25 Senators, but I hope we will continue to grow until we can simply refer to the Common Sense Coalition as “the United States Senate.”