August 20, 2019

Kilmer, Newhouse discuss bipartisanship in a divided time

By: Jason Hagey   Comments: 0
AWB President Kris Johnson, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA, and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, discuss congressional civility and bipartisanship in a panel discussion during the third-annual AWB Federal Affairs Summit in Richland on Aug. 20, 2019. Kilmer had just joked about how a useful statement about complex issues will never fit on a bumper sticker or make a good political chant. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse and Derek Kilmer are from different political parties, but they share a lot in common.

They were both born in the congressional districts they represent. They both served in the Washington state Legislature before being elected to Congress. They have both spent time in each other’s congressional district, meeting constituents and learning about issues. And they are both engaged in efforts in Congress to find bipartisan solutions to issues.

Newhouse, R-WA 4th District, and Kilmer, D-WA 6th District, spoke about bipartisanship Tuesday during AWB’s third Federal Affairs Summit.

AWB President Kris Johnson moderated the wide-ranging discussion, which touched on international trade, infrastructure, the current political climate in Congress and more.

The bad news, Kilmer said, is that Congress often earns its low approval ratings. The body is less popular than head lice and colonoscopies and slightly ahead of Justin Bieber, he said.

Dr. Steven Ashby, director of PNNL, introduces the congressional bipartisanship panel with AWB President Kris Johnson, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA, and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, during the third-annual AWB Federal Affairs Summit in Richland on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

The good news, he said, is that there are things taking place – often without much attention – that the American people would be heartened by. Things like the Bipartisan Working Group, which he co-chairs.

Newhouse, who is a member of the working group, agreed. Despite what’s usually seen in the news, there’s a lot of cooperation that happens in Congress, Newhouse said.

One of the biggest bipartisan accomplishments, they agreed, was the Bipartisan Working Group’s work on veterans’ issues. Newhouse estimated that as many as half of the constituents who call his office are calling about veterans’ issues.

The congressmen share common ground on other issues, as well, including the importance of trade for Washington’s economy, the need to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank – which is a critical support mechanism for U.S. exporters – and the importance of investing in infrastructure.

Newhouse said he was heartened to hear bipartisan support for renewing the authorization of the Ex-Im Bank, which is set to expire at the end of September. “It’s tremendously important to our economy,” he said.

Kilmer thanked Johnson for AWB’s efforts to support the Ex-Im Bank and he encouraged employers to continue talking with their customers and employees about the importance of the bank.

Both men also voiced support for infrastructure spending, something that Newhouse acknowledged has been discussed in Washington, D.C. in the last few years, but so far has failed to move forward.

There’s no denying the need. This spring, a report released by AWB and the associations representing Washington’s cities, counties, and ports identified $222 billion in needed infrastructure spending in Washington.

Kilmer joked that anyone who has driven I-5 recently knows the speed limit signs are there for “nostalgia purposes” only.

Newhouse elaborated on the issue, saying infrastructure includes more than just roads and bridges. Internet and water, for example, are also critical components.

After engaging in policy discussion, Newhouse and Kilmer circled back to the issue of bipartisanship. It does not, they both said, mean that lawmakers will agree with each other on the issues. Rather, it means they will look for common ground when possible, and they won’t take policy disagreements personally.

Newhouse said that when he was running for office, he came across a supporter who encouraged him to “go to D.C. and start a fight.” Really, Newhouse asked? You think that will be productive?

“I need to see a goal in mind,” Newhouse said, “not just making noise.”

Kilmer said the “bumper-stickerization” of complex issues and the challenge of discussing issues in a social media environment that demands simplicity is part of the problem.

When he was meeting with constituents and talking about international trade, he tried to keep his comments brief but the shortest he could manage was about six minutes.

Despite the challenges, Newhouse and Kilmer made it clear they agree on the need to work with policymakers on both sides of the aisle, not because it will lead to lock-step agreement but because it will produce action.

“Most people,” Newhouse said, “want to see Congress get something done.”