A new ranking of bipartisanship among members of Congress finds many representatives from the Delaware Valley among those most willing to reach across the aisle.
“We think bipartisanship is a really important virtue and has really been lost here in Washington,” said Jay Branegan, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Lugar Center, which conducts the survey with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
The survey ranks all members of Congress on their willingness to co-sponsor legislation from members of the opposing party and their ability to craft legislation that attracts co-sponsors from across the aisle.
Eight members of Congress from the Delaware Valley, all Republicans, ranked among the top 10 percent of the House of Representatives in bipartisanship (see rankings below).
One is New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, who said in a phone interview he works hard at reaching across the aisle, from looking for Democratic legislation to co-sponsor, to his regular habit of entering the House on the Democrats’ side of the chamber.
“I did it by accident the first time,” MacArthur said. “But I realized how dumb it is for members to always be in their own camps. So I spend my first moments on the floor, you know, five, 10 minutes rubbing elbows with people on the other side of the aisle.”
Chester County Republican Rep. Ryan Costello ranked ninth out of 435 members in bipartisanship.
“I think you’ll find that a lot of the people on this list tend to be in swing districts,” he said in a telephone interview. “And it’s not so much a political calculation as much as that’s how I think. I co-sponsor bills I believe in, and I think I’m a pretty good reflection of the values and priorities of my district.”
Costello decided not to seek re-election this year after his district was redrawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
A partisan difference
A striking finding of the rankings is the better performance of Republicans than Democrats on the bipartisanship scale in this Congress.
Twenty-four of the top 30 House members ranked were Republicans, and 15 of the top 20 senators were from the GOP.
While the survey showed that Congress remains relatively polarized by historical standards, Republicans seemed to have moved toward bipartisanship in 2017, particularly in the Senate.
“Republicans are solidly in bipartisan territory according to our rankings, and the average Democrats in the Senate are in solid partisan territory,” Branegan said.
The difference isn’t explained by the fact that Republicans are in the majority, since the members’ bipartisanship scores are based on a comparison to other congressional caucuses that were in the same posture as the member being scored, whether that lawmaker was in the majority or minority.
Partisanship expresses itself in more than one way, of course, and these rankings measure only one criteria — co-sponsorship of substantive legislation.
It has the advantage of being based on hard numbers rather than subjective judgments.
But it doesn’t measure the rudeness or civility of members’ conduct or the extremity of their policy positions.
Unlike many congressional rankings, Branegan said, this survey isn’t based on a handful of votes — every subjective piece of legislation is counted.
“And we believe that the crafting of legislation is a deliberate and considered act, and therefore is a valid way of measuring bipartisanship,” he said.
Congress members from region – bipartisan rankings (out of 435)
|Lisa Blunt Rochester
|Bonnie Watson Coleman
U.S. senators from region – bipartisan rankings (out of 100)