The Problem Solvers: U.S. Reps. Dingell and Upton Show Model of Civility for CongressMarch 2, 2018
With 24/7 news and a near constant need to campaign and fundraise, the modern environment in Washington, D.C. is much different from its past, where elected officials might have battled by day, but developed strong, lasting friendships outside of the House or Senate floor. According to U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12) and Fred Upton (R-MI 6) the lack of relationship-building alone has had a ripple effect in the lack of civility at the national level.
During their discussion at the 2018 Detroit Policy Conference, moderated by Detroit Public Television anchor Christy McDonald and sponsored by Delta Air Lines, both Dingell and Upton expressed a desire for lawmakers to put a renewed focus on relationships and a willingness to put in the necessary work to pass big, bipartisan legislation. On this front, they also shared how the recently formed “Problem Solvers Caucus” is working to drive compromise and civility in Congress.
In a time where compromise is often portrayed as betrayal, Dingell and Upton are a unique, and unfortunately rare, breed. Often, they are congratulated for their close relationship and unity on issues specifically affecting Michigan. Disappointingly, they are just as often met with suspicion or shamed for their bipartisan ties.
When pressed for how he seeks bipartisan consensus on a wide range of topics, Upton pointed to his front suit pocket and a small piece of paper scribbled with a corresponding mix of names and issues tucked into his voting card. Essentially, from the minute Upton walks onto the floor of the House of Representatives, this paper acts as his “to-do” list, keeping track of the key representatives he needs to meet with in order to move legislation forward. Dingell does the same. Both lawmakers are known to frequent the “other side of the aisle,” working to build relationships and find common ground to solve issues.
- Relationships are crucial to better build buy-in and find common ground on challenging issues. Without more civil relationships, gridlock and obstruction can become default, causing some members to be “bumps on a log,” unwilling to move from their positions.
- As members of the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” Dingell and Upton remain committed to defying this dynamic. The Caucus, which is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, have infused working together into their formal structure, pledging that if 75 percent of Caucus members support a bill, they will vote as a united block.
Dingell and Upton also touched on gun control and what they see as a feasible approach to passing a comprehensive bill in Congress. Dingell stressed that after the shooting in Parkland, Fla., the gun control debate can’t go its usual course where everyone retreats to their respective corner. Upton noted that there are a number of specific items — from age limits, bump stock bans, or enacting state-level red flag laws — that could see broader consensus and agreement on a bill.