There have been few periods in US history when politics has seemed as polarized as it does today. Is there nothing on which Republicans and Democrats can agree? Is bipartisanship a thing of the past? Historians will tell you that there was never as much of it as we like to imagine. We tend to look at the early years of US history through rose-colored glasses – but that there have been examples of it in recent years, more often than not, with significant issues. These are some of the more notable ones.

The JOBS Act, 2012

Formally known as the Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups Act and also referred to as the Crowdfund Act because it enabled companies to issue securities backed by crowdfunding, this piece of legislation originated with Republican Eric Cantor when he was House Majority Leader. This was a revised version of a bill proposed by his colleague Stephen Lee Fincher. It drew in elements of several other measures aimed at revitalizing the economy, so some politicians were concerned that it was too messy to get through. Still, it benefited from the backing of big industry players like Google. It was generally considered to be more about modernization – recognizing the increasing role played by micro-finance in the business world – than a shift of political focus. That helped it to win bipartisan support in Congress.

The No Budget, No Pay Act, 2013

Starting life in 2012 thanks to the efforts of Democratic congressman Jim Cooper, this piece of legislation linked congressional salaries directly to the ability of the house to pass a budget. It thereby attempted to prevent budget deadlock and to place members of Congress on a level with federal employees whose salaries would be suspended in the event of delays. Initially stymied, it was revived the following year thanks in part to the No Labels organization, which campaigns for more cross-party working generally. An agreement was reached after Republicans proposed adding a debt ceiling increase, effectively suspending the country's debt ceiling for three months for the specific purpose of enabling the Treasury to pay its bills.

Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015

Another example of the need for modernization inspiring bipartisan support, this legislation replaced the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) but had the effect of transferring much of the accountability for elementary school and high school provision to states, away from the federal government. It also altered provision for disabled students in recognition of changes in societal expectations of disabled people, and the impact of disability-related harassment on learning. This mixture of provisions enabled it to attract significant support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Senate. Republicans were pleased by the element of decentralization. At the same time, Democrats had the reassurance that state proposals were still required to meet specific standards and still had to be submitted to the federal Department of Education for approval.

The 21st Century Cures Act, 2016

Introduced by Republican congressman Fred Upton, this bill initially struggled to gain support but went on to pass through the Senate with only five members in opposition (including Elizabeth Warren), and enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. This change in attitudes has generally been ascribed to powerful lobbying by major players in the pharmaceutical industry. They argued that it would speed up research and also make it easier to develop gene-based treatments for rare diseases. There was opposition from consumer rights groups, which argued that by removing the requirement for informed consent in some situations, it could put patients at risk. Investment in this economically powerful industry appealed to Republicans keen to see the US strengthen its position within the global marketplace. Democrats were attracted to the significant improvements in mental health care provisions that it offered.

The Bipartisan Budget Act, 2018

Further increasing spending caps and suspending the national debt ceiling for over a year, this legislation involved extensive compromise following a crisis during which both sides struggled to come up with proposals that would enable the passing of a timely budget of any kind. Single year retroactive tax deductions and increased tax breaks across a range of industries were traded for an extension to child healthcare provisions and support for householders struggling with energy costs. They also restored a provision for householders investing in green energy solutions. At the same time, there was bipartisan (though not universal) support for the investment of $90bn in aid and recovery work in Puerto Rico and adjacent territories recently impacted by Hurricane Maria.

As these examples show, it is by no means impossible for Democrats and Republicans to work together when the occasion calls for it. There is no need to despair at the apparent polarization we see today because while extremes may attract more media attention, at ground level work is going on continually on developing policies around which cross-party agreement can be built.


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