On October 30, Harvard Law School’s Dean Minow hosted Senator Olympia Snowe and Jason Grumet, Director of Bipartisan Policy Center. Held just a few days before the Mid-term elections, the talk focused on bipartisanship in Congress and why it isn’t working.
The talk opened up with a video on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which put together members from both sides of the aisle in order to produce a “bipartisan blueprint” for strengthening our democracy. Proposals included implementing bipartisan redistricting commissions to end state gerrymandering, electoral reforms such as voter registration and a single day for primaries, campaign finance reforms such as improved transparency and disclosures, and congressional reforms such as ending filibuster abuse and extending members’ work week through Friday.
Senator Snowe recounted how polarization in Congress led her to decide to retire: “the system had broken down…polarization was not going to diminish in the short-term, and unfortunately it has grown worse since I left.” Senator Snowe expressed deep regret over the decline of bipartisanship in Congress and how it has left the current Congress gridlocked on the simplest of measures.
Jason Grumet reiterated these points. “We believe in the constructive collision of ideas” between the two parties, and “our goal is to have an authentically bipartisan approach.” Grumet emphasized the need to focus on practical ideas and aim for realistic results. “Everyone’s being lovely about it,” he noted regarding the Commission’s proposals. Grumet listed several senators who wanted to move forward with some of the proposals, although his optimism was measured: “there’s very little infrastructure to help them succeed.”
The talk featured several targeted questions by Dean Minow, as well as questions from the student attendees. Senator Snowe and Grumet had the opportunity to elucidate the proposals from the Commission on Political Reform, especially in regard to their impact on mitigating polarization. Members of the Journal on Legislation attending the talk could compare Senator Snowe’s current perspective to her article in Volume 50.1, The Effect of Modern Partisanship on Legislative Effectiveness in the 112th Congress. Senator Snow had written about the “paralyzing partisanship” of the 112th Congress, and it was disheartening to hear her view that the 113th has only gotten worse. With the mid-terms around the corner, we can hope that–no matter who wins–the 114th Congress will take up reform proposals not to ensure political power of one party or another, but to support the political power of Congress as a whole.
Note: while quotations were recorded during this presentation, actual statements may have varied slightly.