Members of Congress are headed home for their summer recess, interrupting an unusual phenomenon that cropped up in recent weeks: little bits of bipartisanship breaking out on Capitol Hill.
On a recent afternoon — the hottest day, so far, of this summer — nearly six dozen members of Congress marched out under the noonday sun onto a podium, American flags at their back and bottles of water at their feet. One by one, lawmakers stepped forward, giving their pitch for the merits of working together.
It was a public rally to show bipartisan support for a package of bills endorsed by a group that calls itself “No Labels.” Two California Republicans and nine Democrats identify themselves as “No Labels Problem Solvers,” including GOP freshman David Valadao of Hanford. He says every person running for office always talks about bipartisanship and working across the aisle. "This is an opportunity for me to do that and find opportunities to do that," said Valadao, "and find issues where we get along."
The bills endorsed by “No Labels” are mostly non-controversial “good government” measures – cutting duplicative programs, making federal buildings more energy efficient, and so forth. But Valadao says even these measures don’t have everyone’s approval: "Just because you’re in the group, doesn’t mean you support every one of them."
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a spate of bipartisanship among California lawmakers: Democrat Judy Chu of El Monte and Republican Darrell Issa of Vista introduced a measure to protect inventors from frivolous patent lawsuits; Democrat Mark Takano of Riverside and Republican Duncan Hunter of El Cajon wrote a joint letter to House leaders for a vote on a student veterans bill they cosponsored; Republican Ed Royce of Fullerton joined a quartet of Democrats — Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Susan Davis of San Diego and Zoe Lofgren of San Jose — at a press conference to call attention to human rights abuses in Vietnam ahead of a visit from that country's president.
Earlier this week, there was another bipartisan sighting: in a public forum to discuss the economic impact of immigration, L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas sat down with Republican Jeff Denham of Turlock, who made note of the rare occasion. "This is how things are supposed to get done," Denahm said. "On a bipartisan level, members figuring out how we can come together on such an important policy issue."
Several California freshmen Democrats have even done the unthinkable: voted with Republicans. Raul Ruiz of Palm Springs, Ami Bera of Sacramento, Julia Brownley of Ventura, and Scott Peters of San Diego are among those who have broken with their party on votes ranging from delaying health care mandates to Homeland Security spending bills.
Is the outbreak of bipartisanship a trend? GOP Congressman John Campbell has been on sick leave for a few weeks and just returned to the Hill. He said he hasn't noticed anything dramatically different, "but give it some time and we’ll see."
They say time apart can improve a relationship. The August recess could fuel the budding cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. Denham says he’s inviting colleagues from both parties to join him at immigration town halls during the recess.
But with deep party divisions over various issues, and a September 30th deadline to figure out how to keep funding the government, bipartisan goodwill could quickly evaporate when Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day.