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Hopeful Signs That Bipartisan Compromise is Making a Comeback

By Ted Slowik, Daily Southtown

I'm encouraged by signs that elected representatives seem more willing to engage in bipartisan compromise.

I believe our system of government works best when parties with opposing views on issues negotiate an agreement that gives each side some of what they want.

Perhaps the most notable indication that bipartisan compromise is making a comeback concerns what some members of Congress are doing to address health care.

An oft-repeated partisan promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act stalled in the wee hours of July 28. That's when three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted with Democrats and independents to prevent a "skinny repeal" from advancing.

"I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us," McCain said in a Senate-floor speech a few days earlier.

I admired McCain's call to fellow senators to ignore the rants of the outraged, bullying trolls of the political base who for too long have wielded outsized influence.

"Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the internet," McCain said. "To hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."

Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat whose district includes parts of several south and southwest suburbs, is one of 43 House members from both parties who are drafting legislation to address rising premium costs and other negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act. The group calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus.

"Some will oppose this plan because it is a compromise, which means no one got everything they wanted," Lipinski said Friday in a statement. "Others will oppose it because they want the ACA to collapse.

"Some partisans in both parties may even believe that if the ACA fails the other side will get blamed in the next election. But most Americans just want the ACA to be fixed so that they can access affordable health care."

I see other signs that the era of partisanship is waning. Polls show record-low approval ratings for President Donald Trump. A Quinnipiac University poll published Wednesday said 33 percent of registered voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 61 percent disapprove.

You'd think six months into his presidency, Trump might look at these poll numbers and wonder whether he should adjust his priorities to improve his popularity. Instead, he seems to double-down with moves that might excite his ever-shrinking base but further alienate the majority.

He continues to hold campaign-style rallies in places where he enjoys support, as he did Thursday in West Virginia. In speeches, he continues to blame his predecessor and political opponents and incited Boy Scouts to boo President Barack Obama. On Twitter, he berated Senate Republicans for failing to repeal the ACA and criticized his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as "weak" for not aggressively pursuing an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

I sense a growing willingness by Congressional Republicans to defy the president. Trump begrudgingly signed into law new sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

I interpret these as signs we may have bounced up slightly from a bottom reached because the bar of civility was set so low. I think we still have a long way to go before we return to a political process that values responsible discourse and respect for people who express opposing views.

For example, I received many emails and other responses to a recent column about Sessions' use of the phrase "illegal alien." Mind you, in the piece, I merely pointed out that the Department of Justice's use of the terminology reflected a change.

I deliberately avoided discussion of immigration policy. I didn't advocate for "sanctuary cities" or criticize the administration's enforcement of existing laws. I wrote about word choice, and apparently I was among the first to notice the DOJ's formal use of the phrase.

People who responded ignored my point that the law says once you're here — regardless of how you got here — you have constitutional rights guaranteed by the 5th and 14th amendments. That's fact, not opinion.

Other conservative media outlets picked up the story: Breitbart, Town Hall, InfoWars and Fox News. They all struck a tone that the administration's use of the phrase offended and upset liberals.

I received many angry, rude and vulgar responses from people who showed no understanding of the differences between criminal and civil proceedings. I made no further attempt to enlighten them. I'd share some examples, but the majority of responses contained language unfit for publication in a family newspaper.

I don't mind the insults. Opinion writers tend to have thick skin. It comes with the territory.

One man, however, avoided obscene words and asked where in the Constitution does it say immigrants have rights. I directed him to the "due process" and "equal protection" clauses that courts have cited in deciding lawsuits involving immigration and establishing precedents.

He maintained his position in a thoughtfully defended argument and closed by writing, "Your credibility has improved on my part. Most just duck and hide."

I thanked him and said I appreciated his tone. He wrote back. I'm correcting some words for capitalization and spelling, but here's his reply:

"What you and I are doing now needs to happen more," wrote the man, named Scott. "Discuss topics openly and freely to arrive at the most fair conclusion without fear of retribution.

"Our cultural environment is very shaky. We need to bring people together, get politics out of the way, arrive at a fair and equitable solution that benefits all. After all that's what this country is all about, it's people. Not the politicians. Whether you're here legally or illegally we are all humans and in this together."

I couldn't agree more, Scott. Thanks for writing.