Bridging the Partisan Divide
American families are facing tremendous challenges today as our fragile economy continues to improve in the aftermath of the economic downturn. They're impatient with politics – and with good reason. That's why I promised Coloradans I'd fight for them in Washington, D.C., not as a member of one political party or another, but as an independent thinker who will do what is best for the state and the nation. For it's only by bridging the partisan divide that we will be able to make real progress.
During my 10-years in the U.S. House of Representatives and throughout my service in the U.S. Senate, I have always worked to set an example by partnering together with all of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats. My goal isn't to win political victories for my party, but to advance the interests of Colorado and the nation. I was serving in the U.S. House on 9-11 – a tragedy that awakened a spirit of strength and shared purpose that is central to who we are as Westerners and as Americans.
It was with this in mind that I first called on my colleagues to begin a new tradition of sitting side-by-side, rather than divided by party, at the president's State of the Union address. All across the chamber, my colleagues sat in bipartisan groups, and many of them have continued this tradition to this day. As a result we have been a more respectful, thoughtful audience for the president's annual address – reflecting a degree of seriousness and mutual respect that I believe people across the nation want to see more often in their Congress. It is a symbolic but important step that I look forward to building on as I work with my colleagues in both parties to address the challenges we face as a nation.
And despite what the skeptics may say, bipartisanship has worked. For example, I successfully partnered with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine to keep our nation's airports – which are critical engines of job creation and commerce throughout Colorado – running smoothly despite automatic budget cuts to critical safety programs. The Senate unanimously passed our common-sense proposal only hours after I introduced the bipartisan solution. I also successfully passed bipartisan legislation to ensure that Colorado's scenic ski areas can create jobs and drive tourism year-round, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which was signed into law in 2011.
And I have partnered with Republicans to bring Coloradans' support for fiscal discipline to Washington. For example, I partnered with Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, to ban public funding of political conventions. And I have stood with Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, to eliminate duplicative, redundant and wasteful federal programs.
Bipartisanship sometimes takes the courage to stand against my own political party. For example, I was one of only two Democratic senators who pushed to ban earmarks, and working with Republicans, we succeeded in doing it. In Colorado, this bipartisanship is just part of our nature. We are at our best when we stand together, especially when responding to wildfires, floods and other challenges that don't check for political affiliation when they threaten our communities.
That's why I am proud to bring Colorado's spirit of strength, independence and bipartisan cooperation to my work in Washington and to fight on behalf of our state.
I think this kind of bipartisanship and cooperation comes naturally to all sons and daughters of the West. The great Western writer Wallace Stegner put it best when he wrote about the people he called "stickers" – those people who settled the West against all odds and obstacles. He called them "stickers" because they were not quitters and they did not leave the scene of a challenge. They stuck to the land because of their spirit, their courage and their hopes for a better community to raise their children – and, to be honest, because some were just too ornery to give up.
We are a country of stickers, and it's up to us in Congress to be stickers too. The American people have vested their hopes and aspirations in many of us – to serve them well in the institution of democracy we call the Congress.
We may often divide as Republicans or Democrats on what we think is best for Colorado or our country. And this debate is a good thing, and we should encourage a vigorous exchange of ideas and not fear disagreement. But we ought always to strive for a common purpose and toward the common good. As your Senator, Coloradans can always count on me to work tirelessly toward that goal.
I joined with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to introduce a bipartisan, common-sense plan to replace the indiscriminate and arbitrary cuts associated with sequestration with more prudent, strategic choices. This plan would give the executive branch more flexibility in implementing the cuts while also allowing Congress to conduct appropriate oversight throughout the process. The Udall-Collins plan would temper the effects sequestration will have on our economy and national security.
Since my days in the U.S. House of Representatives, I have consistently sought creative and common-sense fiscal policies to cut excessive government spending, because I believe controlling deficit spending is one of the greatest national security threats facing our country. With this in mind, I was pleased to join Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tom Carper(D-DE) and Dan Coats (R-IN) in introducing the bipartisan Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act (S.102), which would give the president line-item veto authority to reduce wasteful spending. A presidential line-item veto is a practical mechanism to reduce our growing deficit, get our nation’s fiscal house back in order and put an end to wasteful spending. With the recent passage of similar legislation in the House of Representatives, we are fighting to bring this proposal to a vote on the Senate floor.
As a member of the U.S. Senate, I take very seriously my role in conducting oversight to ensure that the federal government is more accountable and efficient. But I know that Congress must take a look at itself as well. Congressional committees often focus too much on creating new problems and regulations, while slighting an equally important role of the legislative branch: overseeing and reforming laws that already exist. With this in mind, I was proud to join Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) in introducing an amendment to require that the Congressional Research Services report on any duplication created by proposed legislation before the Senate votes on it. Where duplication exists, the committee would be required to justify for members of the Senate why the duplication is necessary.
During the 112th Congress, I was also proud to introduce bipartisan legislation with my colleague, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to establish a Committee to Reduce Government Waste (S.Res.93), which would be charged with identifying and targeting wasteful and underperforming federal government programs for elimination.
As chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on National Parks and co-chairman of the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus, I am committed to engaging younger generations on the importance of the great outdoors. That's why, on May 19, 2011, I introduced and saw passed in the Senate a bipartisan resolution designating May 21, 2011, National Kids to Parks Day. The resolution marked the official launch of my comprehensive "Kids to Parks" summer campaign, which aims to get kids excited about being active and healthy outdoors, while inspiring the next generation of American stewards to enjoy and protect our nation’s special places. National Kids to Parks Day has partnered with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move Outside!” and the Department of the Interior’s “Youth in the Great Outdoors” initiatives. Click here to make the "Kids to Parks" pledge and join my campaign.
Most government programs are created with good intentions, but in too many cases, Congress creates new programs that are redundant and sometimes wasteful rather than strategically targeting resources where they are needed. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report outlining billions of dollars that could be saved by eliminating duplicative government programs. For instance, the GAO found the federal government has 80 economic-development programs, 44 employment and training programs and five agencies within the Department of Transportation that operate 100 surface-transportation programs. There has to be a better way of doing business, and I believe Congress has a responsibility to look back and do away with old, inefficient programs. In fact, I believe we need to resurrect the "un-authorizing" committee that was created to address our deficits and debt after World War II, and begin to streamline the government, pare down our national budget, save taxpayers' dollars, and strengthen the private economy by making sure the government is as lean as ever.
I was proud to introduce legislation, along with my colleague Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to establish such a committee (S.Res.93). Our proposed Committee to Reduce Government Waste would be charged with identifying and targeting wasteful and underperforming federal government programs for elimination. The bipartisan committee would have 12 members, four from each of the Senate Finance, Appropriations and Budget committees. It would submit a report to the Senate at least once a year that identified underperforming and wasteful government programs in need of cuts or elimination, and its recommendations would receive expedited consideration in the Senate.
The World War II-era Committee saved more than $38 billion in present dollars over just three years just by reducing wasteful spending. It is time to reconstitute this common-sense idea to bring more fiscal accountability to Washington and much-needed relief to taxpayers.
On August 2, 2011, I was proud to introduce a constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment, S.J.Res.24. We need a common-sense policy that will help pay down the nation's debt and restore fiscal responsibility in Washington. The Balanced Budget Amendment would be one part of that larger policy. The legislation would enact a constitutional amendment directing Congress to balance the federal budget each year. It states that federal spending cannot exceed revenue except in special cases, such as when the nation is in a war declared by Congress. And it could be suspended only if three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate agree. My Balanced Budget Amendment would also create a Social Security “lockbox” to ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund is not raided in order to balance the budget and it would prevent any additional tax cuts for the richest Americans when there is a budget deficit.
Coloradans are tired of the earmark spending done by members of Congress - with good reason. While I've worked for many years to reform the process, I concluded last year that more definitive action was needed. On November 15, 2010, I announced that not only would I no longer request earmarks, I would work to end the practice so that Congress could focus on what Americans want most - a secure economic future. For that reason I was thrilled when the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations agreed with me and announced a two year ban on earmarks on February 1, 2011.
The President's State of the Union address sets the agenda for the year - the challenges and opportunities we face. This report is of the utmost national importance and is mandated by the Constitution. It should not be a political or partisan affair, and that's why I'm urging my colleagues in both houses of Congress to end the longstanding custom of the political parties sitting on opposite sides of the chamber.
Each year the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gather in the House chamber for the President's address - and the two political parties sit divided on opposite sides of the room. No rule dictates that Democrats should sit on one side and Republicans on the other. This partisan seating arrangement has become a negative symbol of the divisions in Congress - and among the American people - with one side of the chamber cheering and applauding loudly throughout the President's speech, while the other often sits silent.
After serving over a decade in the House and Senate, I know that more unites us than divides us, and now it's time to take action by crossing the aisle and sitting together. Our seating should reflect our common goals. It's a simple step, but an important one that will go a long way in bridging our political divide.