Will Congressional Bipartisanship Pave the Way for Evidence-based Policy Changes?

The New Republic is the latest news outlet to note that Congress has suddenly become more productive. The window of bipartisanship, however temporary, may pave the way for important advances in evidence-based policy.

In an article by Danny Vinik, the magazine partly credits Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who has been instrumental in several evidence-based initiatives, including in education and a bipartisan evidence commission proposal.

If you only casually follow politics, you probably don’t know much about Senator Patty Murray. She’s rarely on TV or in the headlines. She’s not inclined to tear into her Republican colleagues or give floor speeches that go viral, like Senator Elizabeth Warren does. But Murray has become one of the most important dealmakers in the Democratic Party.

In just the past month, she has teamed up with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander to reform No Child Left Behind and worked with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn to pass a stalled human trafficking bill. She’s joined with Representative Paul Ryan to promote evidence-based policymaking, having developed a trusting relationship with him after the two reached a budget deal in 2013.

Why has Congress become more productive? The article suggests that with President Obama now in his final two years in office, both parties have incentives to show that they can govern.

Senate Democrats have an incentive to work with Republicans on a bill empowering Congress to vote on any final deal with Iran over its nuclear program. If Democrats filibustered the GOP legislation, Obama could complete the deal without any Congressional action. Republicans, due to their opposition to Eric Holder, had an incentive to confirm Loretta Lynch and thus negotiated over the anti-human trafficking bill.

In past years, Republican leadership would never have accepted legislation to end the need for a “doc fix” bill, which had required annual action to prevent huge cuts to Medicare providers (and added hundreds of billions to the deficit). But now in the majority, McConnell and company have an incentive to show that the Republican Party can govern. In other areas, like trade and possibly patent reform, Republican lawmakers can work with centrist Democrats to pass legislation that Harry Reid blocked as Senate majority leader.

When Murray talks about her deal-making, though, she doesn’t talk about political incentives aligning. She talks about people and trust.

Read more in the complete article.


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