Washington: where bipartisanship goes to die


It has never been a secret among my political friends that I have always been a strong supporter of bipartisan government. I practiced that philosophy during my 23 years in Albany, and I continue to believe that when the two parties work together, remarkable things can get done.

When I was a part of the Democratic leadership in Albany, I was frequently asked to sit down with Republican members with the goal of getting important legislation passed and signed into law. I recall, during one late-night session, a small group of us walked the corridors behind the chambers to meet with the State Senate Republican leader, Warren Anderson. We went for the purpose of discussing a number of major bills that had not been acted on in the closing hours of the session.

Bill by bill, issue by issue, we had an open and frank discussion of the pros and cons of the legislation, and after a few hours of talking, we all shook hands. Hours later, the agreed-on package of proposals was on the floor of both houses, and by the time the morning sun was peeking through the chamber windows, all of the bills had been passed and were on their way to the governor to be signed.

I remember numerous sessions in which one of my fellow Long Island Republican senators would sit down with me during an Assembly session with a list of their local priorities. The late Norman Levy, who was a hard-working legislator, often came by with a fistful of pending bills, asking for my help to get them out of the Ways and Means Committee, which I chaired. From time to time I would make the same walk to the Senate side to ask for help with my legislation.

I’m taking this walk down memory lane as a way of contrasting how government once functioned at the state level, and how, today, the legislative process in Washington is a total disaster. One good example is the rule adopted by the Republican members of the House of Representatives that allows any one member to invoke another rule that requires a vote to keep or oust the speaker. It has already happened once, when a small cluster of hardheaded conservatives invoked the rule, and Kevin McCarthy was kicked out of the speaker’s job.

A few weeks ago, maverick Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, asked that the House consider that option again, this time to kick Speaker Mike Johnson out. Johnson’s sin is that he collaborated with House Democrats to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.

Greene is one of a small cluster of members who came to Washington for the sole purpose of blowing up the House, and apparently the country along with it. This right-wing bomb squad has succeeded in taking away almost all of the powers of the moderate members, who have yet to put up a real fight on any issue.

There are many important issues that have been kicked aside as a result of the machinations of the ultra-conservative block. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would impose the strongest border security laws in recent history, and at the same time provide financial assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Johnson has refused to advance the bill, caving under pressure from former President Donald Trump, who insists that the members avoid making President Biden look good.

The idea that the House majority would refuse to approve legislation that would solve the border dilemma at the behest of a person who holds no elected office is a national tragedy. There are ample Democratic and Republican votes to pass the Senate bill and other bills that would make the current session of Congress a meaningful one, but Johnson is paralyzed and ineffective. Any attempt to pass major bipartisan legislation is considered heresy and a form of treason.

America desperately needs a good old dose of bipartisanship in Washington, but for now that is just a dream for old political souls like me.

Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?