“I think we all agree that if we can’t sit together at an important night like this, how can we face the real challenges that the country has: how we’re going to pay down the debt, fix a broken immigration system or develop a 21st-century energy policy — much less get our economy back on its feet and focus on jobs as job one if we can’t sit together,” the Colorado Democrat asked.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is sponsoring various budget reform bills with Republicans, including spending limitation bills with Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), said she has been pushing for bipartisan seating since she was elected.
“Sitting together can’t hurt, and it might just help,” the Missouri Democrat said.
Lieberman took her up on it in the Homeland Security panel, where Democrats sit alongside Republicans.
“I was bipartisan before bipartisan was cool,” she quipped.
Moderate Sen. Tom Carper said he’s pushing other efforts to bring the parties together behind the scenes. However, similar moves have been made each of the past several Congresses but tend to lack staying power, the Delaware Democrat said. “It starts strong and generally fades away before the first year is over,” he said.
Carper echoed Alexander’s sentiments about the lack of time Members of both parties spend interacting during what has grown to be more limited time spent in Washington, D.C., over the years.
Senators should have bipartisan lunches at least six times a year, Carper said. He has also urged President Barack Obama and much of his Cabinet to schedule an informal summit at Camp David to bring the leaders of both parties and their spouses together for a weekend.
Carper said that Obama is moving to the center and that centrists should help him triangulate against the extremes in both parties, like they did in the 1990s when President Bill Clinton had to work with a Republican Congress.
“The environment that faces us and the new Congress is one that should give centrists in both parties an opportunity to help the administration to try and move to the center,” he said.
Carper said there are several areas that are tailor-made for the new Congress, including education reform.
“It could be a confidence builder ... rebuilding some trust and build on what happened during the lame duck,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu said the talk of the demise of moderates is overblown. A new crop has emerged to take the place of those who have departed, the Louisiana Democrat said.
“We’re sorry to see Sen. Lieberman, Conrad, [Evan] Bayh and [Blanche] Lincoln go, but these ranks have been replenished with people like Jim Webb, Mark Warner, Kay Hagan,” Landrieu said.
And the success of various efforts to rebuild bipartisanship will rest largely with Republicans, she said.
“What we are looking for is moderates on the Republican side,” Landrieu said, adding that it’s “frightening” how few Republicans were willing to compromise in the last Congress.
“The next move really is on the Republican side,” she said. “Over a dozen Democrats have shown a willingness to compromise. The next move is with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Scott Brown. ... We can’t just keep doing all of the moving to the center.”