The Myth of Partisanship in Congress

Emily Dagger/NPR

True or false: Congress is stalled by a volatile, partisan, polarized climate that prevents any significant work from getting done for American citizens.

False, say three members of Michigan’s delegation, at least on several issues.

The idea that Democrats and Republicans in Congress can’t work together is a myth, say three members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) speak with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson on a special edition of Detroit Today, broadcast from NPR headquarters in Washington D.C.

The cooperation between Michigan’s politicians from different parties is necessary to serve the state, they say, and it’s happening in the nation’s Capitol.

It is very important to have those relationships particularly within a state delegation. That’s the bread and butter of getting things done,” Upton says. Serving in Congress since 1986, Upton remembers the several decades when the U.S. House of Representatives was dominated by Democrats. “I made a pledge then that I would work on both sides of the aisle,” Upton says.

As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton says he’s proven bills can move. “For me as chairman, I’ve got to say there’s only really been one bill, less than a handful of bills over my tenure as chairman that have been partisan,” Upton says.

Preventing and treating opioid abuse, Asian carp and other Great Lakes legislation are places Republicans and Democrats find common group, Upton says, because people “just want the job done.”

Dingell says her and Upton’s friendship continues what her husband, former Rep. John Dingell, started during his decades in Congress. “When John Dingell was in the Congress he thought of Fred Upton as his best friend,” she says. “And Fred’s been my friend for a very long time. We don’t look at issues as being Republican or Democrat. We look at what’s right for the state of Michigan.”

Still, they say, Michigan’s delegation could hold more meetings and do even more talking, especially as it relates to the Great Lakes. When that happens, legislation gets passed, with the legislation outlawing microbeads as an example.

They’re polluting the Great Lakes and everywhere else. This has been a Democrat bill. It had been languishing for a long time,” Upton says. “We passed it on a voice and now it’s signed into law. Our delegation has really worked together on a host of issues.”

Asian carp could use the same attention, the trio agrees. “It’s a threat against the Great Lakes so it’s a threat against Michigan. If you’re about water, you don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, you don’t want the Asian carp there,” Miller says.

Other remaining work includes providing federal funding for Flint in the wake of the lead poisoning crisis. “I don’t want people to say they listened to us and say we were so idealistic,” Dingell says. “We need to help the people of Flint. That’s something the three of us want… We need to stop politicizing it on all fronts and move to get things done.”

There’s culpability for the federal government, which is why the federal government has to step up and help,” says Miller. “These are American babies.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio link above.

Image credit: Glyn Lowe

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