Politics

Tim Kaine’s Policy Agenda For a Divided Congress

Former governor, veep candidate sees opportunities for cooperation

Sen. Tim Kaine says infrastructure and health care could be two policy areas ripe for bipartisanship in a divided Congress. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

One day after the election, Virginia’s newly re-election Sen. Tim Kaine was ready to talk policy and where he thinks that Republicans and Democrats could rally to move forward in a divided Congress.

He said that for the first time in a while, there could be common ground on health care, and he singled our for praise the bipartisan opioids bill that was signed into law last month.

“First, a divided government can be helpful in blocking some bad things from happening. But why not get some things done? I use as a model the most recent bill that we put on the president’s desk,” he said in his Arlington, Va. Campaign headquarters Wednesday.

Voters in Nebraska, Utah and Idaho — three Republican strongholds — passed ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid. The states committed to participating in the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to all residents who make less than 133 percent of the poverty line. That is about $16,000 for an individual or $33,000 for a family of four.

“If you want Medicaid expansion, that means you support the Affordable Care Act,” said Kaine. “So when Republican voters are voting for the Affordable Care Act, that tells me we ought to drop all the shenanigans about trying to vote it out .”

He’s hopeful that Republican lawmakers will be willing to work with Democrats to make changes to the healthcare system, instead of voting to repeal or weaken it. Kaine criticized the president for trying to do away with the ACA through executive actions.

“His voters are saying make it better, don’t make it worse. I think they are going to hold accountable elected officials who try to make it worse.”

Kaine said one of the president’s goals — infrastructure — could be another area ripe for cooperation.

“I’ve been saying infrastructure since President Trump got elected. I’ve always thought well, he’s a builder and Democrats like infrastructure spending. It just seems like a natural for me,” said Kaine.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he’s already talked to Nancy Pelosi about working together on infrastructure.

“When we do things together, it almost never makes any news,” McConnell said. “There are plenty of things we work together on, and I always have to tell constituents who think we all hate each other, that the Senate’s a pretty collegial place.”

Kaine said any infrastructure bill would have to go further than traditional roads and bridges. He’d like to see telecom services and rural broadband access be included in an infrastructure package. 

President Trump released a blueprint for an infrastructure policy last March, but tabled the issue until after the midterm elections

While divided government will change some calculations, the Senate situation hasn’t changed too much.

“In the Senate, you’ve got to get 60 votes to legislate. If it’s a budget bill you can do it with 50, but other than that, you’ve got to get 60 to legislate.”

He said that the tight margins between Republicans and Democrats mean that some degree of bipartisanship is essential.

“Frankly, whether our number was 47,48 or 51 or 52 the challenge in the Senate is the same one. Can you find enough colleagues on the other side who are willing to work with you to do good things?”

The campaign grind is over, but Kaine doesn’t expect he’ll get much rest anytime soon.

“I think the lame duck is going to be pretty intense,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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