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The Capitol is seen in Washington, Friday morning, Dec. 14, 2018, after Congress adjourned until next week as a partial government shutdown looms. Congressional leaders and the President Donald Trump appear to have moved farther apart in their demands, particularly over funding his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

POINT: The freedom to vote is nonpartisan

By Karen Hobert Flynn

For the third time this year, all 50 Senate Democrats voted to advance major voting rights legislation, and all Senate Republicans voted against allowing a public debate. On Oct. 20, they blocked the Freedom to Vote Act, a bill with commonsense reforms and widespread support. It's a compilation of tried-and-true solutions empowering voters in states — bipartisan reforms that help ensure our elected officials represent we the people, not secret special interests.

Today, many Americans are skeptical about who our elected officials are working for. Seven in 10 of us believe "the economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful" and "traditional parties and politicians don't care about people like me." Yet for three years, Senate Republicans have refused to allow even public debate on a bill to protect our freedom to vote and get big money out of politics. This marks a huge, and troubling, change. Since the earliest days of our country, government "by the people" has been something Americans agreed on — regardless of party.

The Voting Rights Act is a good example of how the work of "keeping our Republic" has historically crossed party boundaries. Each time it has been updated, a Republican president signed it into law:

— Richard Nixon signed an extension because "The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has opened participation in the political process."

— Gerald Ford supported expanding the act because "the right to vote is at the very foundation of our American system, and nothing must interfere with this very precious right."

— Ronald Reagan signed an extension because "I've pledged that as long as I'm in a position to uphold the Constitution, no barrier will come between our citizens and the voting booth."

— George H.W. Bush signed an expansion.

 And George W. Bush signed the most recent update (which passed the Senate 98-0) saying, "In the America promised by our Founders every generation has a responsibility to add its own chapter to the unfolding story of freedom. We've made progress toward equality, yet the work for a more perfect union is never ending."

How is it that, today, Senate Republicans view protecting the freedom to vote as a partisan issue?

How is it that, today, Senate Republicans view protecting our government from special interest influence as a partisan issue?

Gerrymandering — the scheme of designing legislative districts to give some voters more power and other voters less — has been scorned by leaders in both parties.

How is it that, today, allowing voters to choose their elected officials — rather than enabling politicians to pick their voters — has become a partisan issue?

Large majorities of voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents — support reforms contained in the Freedom to Vote Act. In fact, when Americans get to vote directly on these reforms, they've largely approved them the last several years. Bold reforms to protect our voices and our freedom to vote like the Freedom to Vote Act, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and D.C. statehood are supported by Republican voters, just not elected Republicans.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reached out to Senate Republicans to try to win support for his compromise voting rights bill. However, Democrats cannot throw up their hands and walk away because of continued Republican intransigence. The 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, which granted citizenship, voting rights and equal protection of the law to formerly enslaved people, were passed on party-line votes, but no one would toss them aside on that basis.

It's time for congressional Republicans to learn from the states, listen to the voters, and find their way back to the principle of a government "by the people." Our generation has a responsibility to add our own chapter to the unfolding story of freedom. It's beyond time for Senate Republicans to advance the Freedom to Vote Act. If they don't, Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster to protect our sacred freedom to vote.

Karen Hobert Flynn is the president of Common Cause. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Tribune Content Agency

 

COUNTERPOINT: There's more bipartisanship than you'd think

By Carrie Lukas

Active social media users are likely to assure you that bipartisanship is dead — and for good reason. These platforms have ensured that the most extreme partisans have the biggest megaphones. Politicians trying to curry their favor very often don't just argue that their opponents are wrong on any given issue, but that they are inherently bad.

Yet when it comes to many actual public policy questions, there is far more bipartisan agreement than indicated by your Twitter feed.

Americans on both sides of the aisle have long wanted workers who need paid time off from work to have better options. The question has always been how to do so, without undermining existing paid leave benefits, adding big tax burdens, reducing people's take-home pay, or eliminating flexible work options and opportunities, particularly for women. A bipartisan paid leave proposal sheds light on a potential answer: Sens. Bill Cassidy, a Republican of Louisiana, and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat of Arizona, introduced legislation to allow new parents the option of taking a $5,000 advance on their child tax credit to fund paid leave at the time of their child's birth or adoption. Importantly, this benefit would be voluntary, wouldn't require new taxes or spending, and wouldn't discourage companies from offering paid leave benefits. It would go a long way to providing targeted relief for those who need it and would make the safety net better, rather than just bigger.

Both Republicans and Democrats also both want policies that encourage the use of clean energy and improve the environment, but without tanking the economy and needlessly driving up energy prices. At the end of last year, a bipartisan vote in Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the Energy Act of 2020, which encouraged American innovation and the development of new technologies that will combat climate change while also growing our economy as well. This — not radical measures like the Green New Deal — is the approach most Americans want.

Education is another area of potential bipartisan agreement. In the wake of COVID, there is growing recognition that parents need and deserve more leverage over schools — and that's not just true for conservatives. According to recent polling by RMG Research, 54% of independents and 41% of Democrats — and 59% of Black Democrats — believe parents have too little control. A full 77% of parents believe that if a school fails to offer in-person learning, parents should be free to enroll their child at another school at no cost. Sixty-two percent believe that should also apply to parents unhappy with their school's mask policies.

We should be able to make progress on these issues — to increase parental choice in education, pursue smart and environmentally friendly energy policies, and provide targeted, fiscally responsible support to workers who need it — but today's media environment discourages people from coming together on these issues.

Rather than advancing their policy agenda, congressional leaders have been held hostage by radicals who think that $3.5 trillion is too modest a spending bill to pass. Americans disagree. Fifty-two percent of respondents in a recent Gallup poll believed that "government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." The bipartisan divide on that question was great, with 80% of Republicans agreeing that government was overreaching, compared with just 18% of Democrats. But 57% of independents — up from 38% last year — shared the conservative view.

Given this skepticism of government, it's no wonder that a recent AFP/YouGov poll found that more Americans oppose the administration's $3.5 trillion spending bill than support it. The media define bipartisanship as conservatives caving to whatever progressives want. But that's simply not how most Americans see it. Indeed, bipartisanship still exists, just not among today's power brokers in Washington or in the media that covers them.

Carrie Lukas is president of Independent Women's Forum. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Tribune Content Agency

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