A Publication of WTVP

Following the mid-term election, the door to bipartisan cooperation in Congress cracked open. The tax cut extension and unemployment benefits extension compromise passed with strong bipartisan votes in the United States Senate (81-19) and in the House of Representatives (277-148). President Obama and Congressional leadership both deserve credit for giving Americans certainty before the tax cuts expired and additional relief to those still without jobs in a tough economy.

Now that the new 112th Congress has been sworn into office and the Republicans have gained control of the House, the central political question in Washington, D.C., is whether this newfound spirit of bipartisan cooperation will continue or whether gridlock will once again take over our nation’s capital. There are at least four areas of national public policy that are ripe for bipartisan congressional and presidential leadership.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which faces congressional reauthorization, is well positioned for a bipartisan agreement. Veteran Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and new House Representative Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) recently said that House and Senate Republicans will quickly find common ground with the Obama administration on education. At the Transforming Public Education forum held in Peoria last spring, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated “that few areas are more suited for bipartisan action than education reform.”

Indeed, strengthening America’s public education system to help ensure that all children reach their full potential is absolutely critical. At the Peoria symposium planned by Bradley’s Institute for Principled Leadership (IPL) and the City of Peoria, it was very clear that Secretary Duncan is willing to think outside the box when it comes to reforming public education, including improving teacher and principal effectiveness, rewarding outstanding teachers and school leaders, and firing those who simply do not perform. Additionally, Duncan supports Full Service Community Schools and charter schools, which District 150 has embraced as well. Most Peoria leaders agree that the future success of District 150 is one of our most pressing local issues, affecting the well-being of our entire region. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress should agree that the status quo needs to be shaken up so that America can return to being the best educated nation in the world.

In this session of Congress, a new six-year, estimated $500 billion federal transportation bill will be debated and, hopefully, passed. Last November at IPL’s symposium on “The Future of Midwest Transportation,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stressed:

“Transportation is not a partisan issue. There are no Republican or Democratic highways or bridges. The next transportation bill will continue to build and rebuild infrastructure in America. It will put Americans to work building these much-needed projects and be good for our economy.”

Energy and Deficit Reduction
Two thornier issues that desperately need a bipartisan congressional and presidential leadership approach are a long-term national energy strategy to relieve America’s reliance on foreign oil and fiscal responsibility to reign in wasteful and fraudulent government spending.

The prices at our gas pumps are soaring again and threaten our nation’s slow economic recovery, while deficit spending is saddling future generations with an unbearable debt. The final recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Reform Commission could provide a foundation on which a bipartisan agreement to reduce the nation’s $13 trillion debt can be based.

It will take statesmanlike behavior on the part of both President Obama and the leaders of the 112th Congress to keep opening the door of bipartisan cooperation in our nation’s capital. For the good of the country, let’s hope they find common ground on these important public policy issues. iBi