Given how little has been done in Congress in recent years, one might think that bipartisanism is a four-letter word.
America’s system of government was designed to achieve a real compromise between east and west, city and country. The US Senate was designed to control the US House of Representatives – but more importantly, it was supposed to promote the will of the American people.
It just hasn’t happened in the past few years.
Voters expect us to work together
When I was first elected to the US Senate after Watergate, public confidence in the government was lower than ever.
A Pew poll conducted three months after I was sworn in found that only 34% of Americans trusted Washington, DC leaders to do the right thing. But voters still expected us to put our differences aside and work for them. And that’s what we did.
In 1977 I helped negotiate the Panama Canal Treaty, which returned the canal to the people of Panama.
The effort met with serious resistance from foreign policy hardliners, but I was able to work out a compromise that ensured the passage of the treaty while defending national security and the economic interests of the United States.
The treaty was ratified by a super majority of Democrats and Republicans.
Important bipartisan moments have disappeared
On the home front, during my tenure in the US Senate, the most important legislative achievement to improve the lives of Americans was the bipartisan passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA protects Americans with disabilities from discrimination, ensures their equal access to entry and enjoyment in facilities across the country, and guarantees millions of Americans independent lives.
Through a concerted effort, we have overcome the opposition of stubborn business leaders and others to pass the ADA with overwhelming support: 91-3.
These moments of bipartisanism seem to have diminished since I left the US Senate in 1995. Public confidence in the federal government has improved since its all-time low during the Trump years, but is only around 25%.
Congress overcame its intransigence and passed comprehensive bipartisan measures to stabilize the economy after the financial crash of 2008 and again last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Congress can’t wait for monumental crises to come together and do their job. This is not what the American people expect or deserve.
The passage of the Infrastructure Act is one of them
I am encouraged by the bipartisan leadership that Arizona US sensors Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly are demonstrating through their support and leadership in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
On Tuesday, they teamed up with all of their Democrats and 19 Republicans in the US Senate to pass the $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. The bill must next be approved by the House.
Sinema and Kelly were elected with a promise to deliver bipartisan solutions for Arizona and the rest of the nation – because they understand that this is the only way to do something in this highly polarized era and with a 50:50 tie in the US Senate to reach.
No effort is more worthy of bipartisan support than repairing our country’s roads, rails and bridges, expanding internet access in rural areas, and investing in supporting electric vehicles to help mitigate the effects of climate change.
In fact, most Americans agree. Almost three quarters of the Americans surveyed support the bipartisan infrastructure package.
Sinema and Kelly are right to do this hard work
My old colleague Joe Biden understands that in these divided times we need to work together to get things done. There are innumerable obstacles to overcome. It takes persistence, timing and a willingness to ignore the loudest voices on either side of the aisle to find a solution.
Senators Sinema and Kelly know this too, and they are working to achieve what their predecessors, including me, seldom achieved.
We are counting on them.
Dennis DeConcini represented Arizona in the US Senate from 1977 to 1995.