Former Members to Discuss Reviving Bipartisanship

Posted June 14, 2010 at 5:03pm

The organizers of a Wednesday conference on bipartisanship are under no illusions: Being bipartisan, they say, is not the same as being nonpartisan.

“I can tell you one goal that we don’t have: We do not have a goal to create all-encompassing bipartisanship on all things Congressional,” said Pete Weichlein, executive director of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress. “None of us believe that that is actually the most productive way for the government to conduct itself.”

Weichlein’s group is partnering with the Bipartisan Policy Center to host “Breaking the Stalemate: Renewing a Bipartisan Dialogue” on Wednesday at the National Archives. The conference coincides with the FMC’s annual meeting, and 40th anniversary celebration, this week. A theme of conversations among former Members at past meetings has been how Congress has become less cooperative since they were there, so Weichlein said it was natural to make bipartisanship a theme this week.

The conference will feature three panel discussions, each including more than half an hour for questions from the audience. The first is a look at partisanship from former Congressional leaders: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.), House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (D-Texas). BPC President Jason Grumet said they’re the kind of Members who knew when to hold to a political line and when to look for a compromise.

“There’s not a single Member who’s ever served in Congressional leadership who was not an effective partisan, and that’s a good thing,” he said, adding that these panelists also demonstrated the ability to bring the two sides together.

The second panel will explore the 24-hour news cycle, and the third will feature former Members who led the Bipartisan Congressional Planning Committee, which organized bipartisan retreats for Members. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will give the keynote address, and Jay Rhodes, outgoing president of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and an ex-Member from Arizona, and Archivist of the U.S. David Ferriero will also speak.

Weichlein said late last week that registration for the event was almost full. Attendees are expected from Hill offices, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks and area colleges.

This marks the first time the FMC and the BPC have worked together, but they hope to do so again in the future. Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and George Mitchell (D-Maine) created the BPC in 2007 to find ways to bring Members from both sides together. It focuses specifically on health care, energy, national security, homeland security, financial services and transportation. Like Weichlein, Grumet emphasized that the BPC does not see political parties as a bad thing.

“We’re not the nonpartisan policy center,” he said. “We think politics is a good thing. Most of our best friends are Democrats and Republicans.”