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County Hall Corner: Why Does a Congressman Cross the Road?

Every person who has ever lived is a unique human being. We have fingerprints that are individual to us, but it is also true that the iris of our eyes, the rim of our ears, our tongue, our toes, our teeth — all are ours and ours alone. Yet, we also have a strong inner drive to find a common ‘tribe’ for social interaction.

Nothing illustrates this more than politics. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, today’s political parties are not even in the same solar system. That is why the recent initiatives to find neutral ground, at least to talk and hear one another, are quite noteworthy.

In the United States House of Representatives, a group called the Problem Solvers Caucus has been formed with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. The Caucus’ stated goal is to foster bipartisan cooperation on key policy issues. This group was created in January 2017 as an outgrowth of meetings held by an original group of U.S. Representatives called ‘No Labels’ that began ten years ago. It was mostly an informal group designed to simply find a civil way for members to be able to talk with colleagues from the other party. Yet, they did have some success in providing substantive cooperation across the aisle, notably the introduction of nine bipartisan bills to reduce government waste and inefficiency, the introduction of the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 as well as the Medicare “doc fix” in 2015.

Given this modest success, the group took the plunge to actually create a bipartisan caucus which was creatively named the Problem Solvers Caucus. Pennsylvania has the distinction of having Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican representing the 1st Congressional District (Philadelphia), serving as co-chair of the caucus along with Democrat Josh Gottheimer from New Jersey. Another Pennsylvania U.S. Representative who is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus is Daniel Philip Meuser, representing Williamsport and other parts of Lycoming County in Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district.

This bipartisan outreach is also evidenced by our new P.A. State Representative, Jamie Flick. In a public release on June 13th, Rep. Flick co-hosted a press conference unveiling the new Bipartisan “Meet Me in the Middle” Caucus, which he serves as a co-chair along with three other co-chairs of the caucus.

Flick stated, “I am pleased to co-chair the Meet Me in the Middle Caucus, a new bipartisan caucus designed to foster more cooperation between the parties, reduce polarization and find paths to work together to pass commonsense legislation that benefits the people of Pennsylvania. Based on discussions with many people in my district, Pennsylvanians want to see more bipartisanship, and they want lawmakers to work together more on the issues that impact them every day, such as rising energy costs, inflation, mental health support, and more. Hence, it makes sense we reflect this in Harrisburg. I believe forming this caucus takes a step in the right direction.”

All things considered, it is somewhat reassuring that there is a venue in both the state and federal governments for the two political parties to at least hear each other. And it is also noteworthy that two of our representatives in each of these government bodies are members of these initiatives.

Great things are possible by honestly listening to an adversary. I attended a Leadership Conference at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University some years ago. One of our hosts was a mediator of the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s. Great Britain and Northern Ireland had fought for over 30 years with thousands of bombings and tens of thousands injured and killed on both sides. The mediator shared with us that one of the breakthroughs in the process took place when the British negotiators were told to advocate the Irish perspective, and the British asserted the Irish position. They finally were able to ‘hear’ each other. Compromise comes from finding a common promise.