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Centrists discuss bipartisanship at new NACo forum

NACo Executive Director Matt Chase (center) moderates a discussion Sept. 12 by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) (l) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) at County News Live, a forum held at NACo. 
Photo by Hugh Clarke

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Centrist congressmen say cooperation can't be too far off at NACo discussion on bipartisan legislating 

A prominent centrist thinks a return to more widespread collaboration in Congress can’t be far off.

“We’re getting close to the zenith of this hyper partisanship,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader, (D-Ore.). “It’s time to start solving problems.”

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He and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) participated in a discussion led Sept. 12 by NACo Executive Director Matt Chase at County News Live —  an inaugural forum held at NACo headquarters and broadcast via NACo’s Facebook page.

Dent, who recently announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2018, gave some credence to the public perception that Congress doesn’t do much.

“Congress does not do comprehensive reforms well, in my view. I believe we’re much better doing incremental changes,” he said, in reference to this summer’s Affordable Care Act repeal and replace efforts.

“We should have been looking at it more incrementally,” he said, noting that he and Schrader worked to promote a bipartisan working group focused specifically on stabilizing the insurance market and providing relief to smaller employers. But that small, but potentially effective fix, was lost in ideological battles, and the narrative became that only the widespread change would fix the problems in the market.

 “Small wins make a difference, Schrader said. “You start to build trust. It’s very important to have the staffs work together, feel like they can work with each other in a positive way. People are getting tired with politics in D.C.”

Their roles as centrists are complicated by what has been observed as a shrinking political center, which represents roughly 10 percent of legislators, down from 30 percent in 1996.

Schrader said the Blue Dog Democrats, of which he is a member, share many basic priorities with Dent’s Tuesday Morning group of Republicans, with both respecting free enterprise, and favoring legislation that empowers business, technology, free trade, education and debt reduction.

Dent said as fissures in the Republican party make the most news, it crowds out the attention for the governing wing of the party.

“We’ve had ongoing battles between the purist wing and pragmatic wing of the Republican party in the pre-Trump world,” he said. “Battles are now more driven by Trump loyalty — you’re with him or against him.

“We’re a center-right country and the Republican Party needs to be a center-right party. But I feel at times we don’t give the center enough of a voice. The right has a voice but the center doesn’t have enough of a voice.”

“The real solutions are always in the middle,” Schrader said. “We spend so much time talking that we don’t listen. You don’t move the country forward, you don’t build infrastructure that way, you don’t save communities, you don’t get a better education. You have to see the other person’s point of view.”

He suggested that Democrats from urban areas could engender trust by focusing on the geographic disparity of the economic recovery, and how rural areas have been left behind.

“Most of us have rural parts of our districts,” he said. “Recovery is great in Portland, but it’s terrible in parts…that are agricultural or tourist-oriented. If I was a county commissioner, I’d reach out and say don’t we matter too?

“I think there are a lot of Democrats that are sympathetic to the plight of their rural counterparts,” Schrader said. “That’s an area I’d prioritize. Prosperity breeds opportunity for a little more contentment, engaging the other side and working together.”

In the upcoming tax reform discussions, Dent is encouraged that President Trump has reached out to Democratic leadership.

“I’ve always felt to have lasting reforms, they almost have to be done on a bipartisan basis, whether it’s on health care or I would even argue tax reform,” Dent said.

“It could be done on a partisan basis, just a tax cut, but it would be better done if we paid for it and created a greater efficiency in the tax code that would probably do more to drive growth than a simple tax cut.”


Watch the entire exchange 

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