In meeting recently with The Day Editorial Board, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Senate, made note of his co-chairmanship of a group called the Center Aisle Caucus. With about 40 House members, coming roughly equally from the two major political parties, its bipartisan approach is an anomaly in today's highly partisan Washington.
Republican Linda McMahon, considered the favorite to be Rep. Murphy's opponent in the general election (both have to win Aug. 14 primaries), has dismissed the caucus as a "charade" that provides cover for political partisans who want to occasionally wear a veneer of moderation.
"Try as he might, Congressman Murphy can't hide the fact that he voted with his party 98 percent of the time," McMahon campaign manager Corry Bliss told the Hartford Courant. "It's going to take more than a made-up caucus to convince Connecticut voters to ignore his hyper-partisan voting record."
But in our conversation, at least, Rep. Murphy never made the claim the caucus was formulating bipartisan policy. Rather, it tries to provide the opportunity for members of the two parties to communicate. Its actions are more social than policy oriented, such as sitting together at the State of the Union address, hosting non-partisan speakers and socializing. But Rep. Murphy makes the case that such an approach could provide the foundation for compromise on the big issues - spending reduction, tax policy, job creation and reducing the deficit.
"We try to restore some civility to the House, but also try to create some relationships across the aisle so that we might be able to set the preconditions for a deal to be done on these big issues. Our group is mainly rank-and-file, and we are not the ones who are going to come up with a deal, but we want to at least have people talking about what the elements of that deal could be," Rep. Murphy said.
If elected leaders are going to be attacked as frauds simply for talking to members of the opposing party, then our representative form of government is in serious trouble. Experienced Washington observers say the town has changed, and not for the better. The social opportunities for politicians of both stripes to intermingle have largely disappeared. Instead lawmakers spend their time issuing press releases and making news network appearances attacking the other side.
The Center Aisle Caucus is at least an attempt at a different approach and for that it deserves praise, not scorn.