There were three government shutdowns, a completely partisan tax cut and a failed partisan effort to repeal Obamacare, and historic levels of obstruction of judicial nominees.
But the experts say the last Congress was actually more bipartisan than all that would suggest.
In a new report Tuesday, the Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University said more Republicans, particularly in the Senate, sought out Democrats to work with on writing legislation.
“Even as the rhetoric and overall atmosphere in Washington remains partisan, there is an appetite among many lawmakers for bipartisan problem solving,” said former Sen. Richard G. Lugar, who served six terms as a Republican from Indiana before losing in a GOP primary in 2012.
The Bipartisan Index eschews voting patterns and instead looks at willingness to co-sponsor legislation with someone from the other party.
The thinking, Mr. Lugar says, is that while party leaders control the issues that reach the floor, and thus can shape voting patterns, working on legislation across the aisle amount to “very carefully considered declarations” of where a lawmaker stands.
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, was rated the most bipartisan, as she has been for three straight Congresses. Mr. Lugar called her “the gold standard for bipartisanship.”
“I have long held the belief that Congress produces the best legislation when it listens to a variety of viewpoints and receives input from both Republicans and Democrats,” Ms. Collins said in a statement.
Of 14 bills she sponsored last year, she had at least one Democrat co-sponsor every single one. On six of those bills, she partnered with only one other Democrat. None of them became law.
Of the 82 bills she signed onto as co-sponsors, nearly 50 were written by Democrats, and five more by Sen. Angus King, her fellow Maine senator, who is an independent but caucuses and votes with the Democrats.
Also high on the bipartisan scale was Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who, like Ms. Collins, is up for re-election this year in a state that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 election.
What was striking in the latest numbers was that even Republicans in states President Trump won were acting more bipartisan in their bill-writing, the Lugar Center and McCourt School scholars found.
They scored almost as high as Democrats from Trump-won states.
The scholars said that suggests a “Trump effect” at work, where GOP senators, while voting to back the president’s agenda, are making an extra effort to reach across the aisle in their own legislative work.
“Most Congressional Republicans are accepting the president’s major agenda items and declining to criticize him publicly. This helps avoid a primary collision with the Trump base,” wrote Jamie Spitz and Jay Branegan at the Lugar Center. “But simultaneously, the Bipartisan Index shows that Republicans are quietly signing on to bipartisan legislation at a very high rate compared to what parties in the majority normally do.”
Democrats, meanwhile, were less inclined toward bipartisanship, the study found.
Of Democrats running for president, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland led on the Bipartisan Index. Meanwhile Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent running as a Democrat, had the worst score of any senator of any party.
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