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Some ideas for specific policies that can command support across America's partisan and ideological divides
We’ve previously written about what it will take to make President Biden’s inaugural call for practical national unity – not some gauzy summons to unanimity, but the ability to disagree constructively across partisan and ideological lines – a reality. Even though the bulk of the responsibility lies with the right, those of us on the center-left ought to do our part to turn down the temperature of our domestic politics. But there remain a number of concrete domestic and foreign policy issues where conservatives and liberals can and have already shown a willingness to work together productively toward common national goals.
These issues should not and cannot displace the overriding national priorities of beating the COVID-19 pandemic and promoting a rapid economic recovery. If the pandemic does not subside and the economy fails to recover, little else will matter. It’s nonetheless important to identify several potential areas for practical cooperation that transcend ideology and partisanship.
On the domestic front, there are several existing or potential areas for genuine cooperation and bipartisan legislation. These include:
Infrastructure. The eternal promise of “infrastructure week” became the butt of a million jokes about bipartisan comity over the last four years, but rebuilding America’s infrastructure still remains the single most promising area for true cooperation. Biden wants it; most congressional leaders want it; state and local officials desperately need it; and businesses want to get involved to make it happen. So let's get moving on universal broadband, new roads and bridges, clean energy production and distribution, improved transport, modernized schools and other public buildings. It will help Americans in rural and urban areas and bolster our businesses as they compete with China and other nations in the global economy.
Clean slate initiatives. The left and right both agree on the need to give people with a criminal record a second chance so they can be productive members of the workforce and take care of their families after they've paid their debt to society. Nonviolent drug offenses and similar crimes should not be a permanent ticket to poverty in America. Pennsylvania has already passed a clean slate bill successfully and more states are looking into similar legislation. National politicians can work together to make similar initiatives happen at the federal level as well.
Mental health and drug treatment. America is facing a crisis of mental health and drug addiction problems - both of which have been made worse by the isolation forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. State, local, and federal leaders should fully cooperate on new plans to make sure every American who needs mental health or drug treatment gets the help required to get back on track.
Family allowances. Long a staple of Christian Democratic parties in Europe, American politicians from both parties should take their lead and craft new direct payments to strengthen families - particularly those with young children. Additional monthly support for working families would go a long way towards creating the economic security necessary to survive and get ahead in life. No American renewal will be possible if millions of our people are stranded in economic misery without much hope for the future, so Democrats and Republicans should get together to strengthen this core foundation of society.
There’s also demonstrated support across partisan and ideological lines for renewed national investments in scientific research and technological development. These investments would also bridge the gap that’s opened between domestic and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, supporting basic research and technological innovation at home to improve America’s standing in the world. Quite a few measures to reinvigorate public funding for science and technology have already been proposed in Congress and earned bipartisan support, including:
Endless Frontier Act: Co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) and in the House by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), the Endless Frontier Act would channel $100 billion over five years into a reorganized National Science Foundation that would include a new directorate dedicated specifically to technology. It would also provide $10 billion to establish at least ten regional technology hubs across the country.
CHIPS Act: Spearheaded by Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) in the Senate and co-sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Michael McCaul (R-TX) in the House, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act would, among other things, create tax and funding incentives to build semiconductor factories in the United States and provide $12 billion in semiconductor research and development funding to relevant government agencies.
Space exploration: NASA remains unique in its ability to command support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the most recent NASA Authorization Acts proposed in the House and Senate reflect this fact – and show that constructive disagreement across party, ideological, and institutional divides remains possible.
While these proposed programs may or may not be precisely adequate to the aims they seek to achieve, they do provide tangible evidence that cooperation across party and ideological lines remains possible when it comes to boosting national investments in science and technology. What’s more, those investments immeasurably enhance America’s prestige abroad by putting it on the cutting edge of human discovery and ingenuity – something all the more important as the United States faces a world marked by increasing geopolitical and technological competition with the likes of China.
Indeed, China itself presents a potential avenue for cross-partisan cooperation on foreign policy. Some sixty-six senators co-sponsored legislation that became the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, for instance, which requires the president to impose sanctions on individuals responsible for human rights abuses against the Uyghurs of China’s Xinjiang Province. Other measures targeting Chinese abuses in Xinjiang like the House’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act have also picked up support that spans partisan and ideological divides. But while there appears to be broad consensus about the need to tackle the political, economic, and human rights challenges China poses, the temptation to make China policy a partisan wedge issue will remain strong for some grandstanding politicos like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Likewise, Russia appears to be another area to build bipartisan coalitions on foreign policy. Despite President Trump’s desire to appease Moscow, for example, Republicans in the House and Senate tied his hands went it came to lifting sanctions on Russia – and more than a few voted with Democrats in a failed attempt to prevent him from removing sanctions on one particularly noxious oligarch. Here again, though, the urge to transform Russia policy into a partisan wedge issue may be too strong for many to resist: it doesn’t take much to recall Republicans holding up approval of the New START arms control treaty at the end of 2010 or Democrats mocking at then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney calling Russia the nation’s number-one geopolitical foe.
It’s important for both liberals and conservatives to resist this temptation, no matter how hard that may be – and it’s already proving difficult for a number of conservatives looking for issues to use against the new Biden administration. More importantly, though, it’s vital to remember that beating the COVID-19 pandemic and jump-starting the economy remain the nation’s overwhelming policy priorities. But liberal patriots and the broad center-left ought to remain on the lookout for concrete policy steps that can both advance the nation’s general interests and foster the sort of practical national unity President Biden hopes to achieve.