Washington is roughly 3 hours from Denver by air, but by simple common sense, it appears to be much farther away. The debacle on display in D.C. in September highlights just how far our country’s leaders have divorced themselves from the sort of collaborative leadership that would typically prevail in places like Colorado and expected by our citizens.
The opportunity to do something long overdue for the American people—to repair our decaying infrastructure of bridges and roads—has taken a back seat to petty, juvenile intra-party bickering. The question now is whether the gridlock that has taken hold in the nation’s capital will spread to the rest of the country, or we can we prevail on our seven elected representatives, from the 1st District’s Diana DeGette to the 7th District’s Ed Perlmutter, to restore Coloradan values of working together, despite our differences, in Congress.
Coverage of the legislative debate in Washington has likely confused many ordinary voters, if only because so many moving pieces are at play. But the narrative at its core is fairly simple. There are two big pieces of legislation bouncing around Capitol Hill. One, the biggest investment in the nation’s infrastructure in generations, passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in August after being negotiated by a range of senators in both parties, including Sen. John Hickenlooper. The second is an even larger “reconciliation” bill that includes a great deal of social and climate spending, and is supported exclusively by some, but not all, Democrats.
Now, here’s what happened: Those on the far left decided to use the widely supported bipartisan infrastructure bill as leverage to get their single-party reconciliation bill through Congress. In essence, they argued that even though they supported the infrastructure bill in principle, they would kill it if people who did not support the reconciliation bill refused to acquiesce to their demands. It was the political equivalent of saying you’re going to take your ball and go home unless the other team promises to let you win.
While that’s entirely at odds with the way most Coloradans likely believe the legislative process should work, it’s now par for the course in Washington.
We don’t know exactly how this dispute will resolve itself in the end—the behind-the-scenes negotiating continues. But we do know this: While Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the “Unbreakable Nine” House Democrats championing the Senate-passed infrastructure bill a vote by the end of September, she went back on her word in an effort to placate those on the left demanding immediate passage of the reconciliation bill. That’s the generalized problem with Washington in a nutshell: Ideas that both parties support are perpetually used as leverage by one party to force the other to acquiesce to something they outright oppose.
Fortunately, that’s not the way that Gov. Jared Polis and his predecessors have governed Colorado. When he can, the governor reaches out to the state’s Republicans, and he doesn’t let his own party’s agenda stand in the way of bipartisan progress. The question is whether the federal officials we send to Washington apply the same approach.
This is the moment for Colorado’s congressional delegation to stand up and lead in Washington. The Unbreakable Nine stood up in the summer to demand action on the infrastructure package, but too few of their colleagues stood with them. Now, as progressives negotiate the details of what may become the largest reconciliation package in history behind closed doors, Pelosi may ask members to vote without a single hearing or examination of the bill. If they were to embody Colorado’s approach to governing, they would demand transparency. And they would put legislative priorities that elicit support from both parties before those that one party wants to jam down the throat of the other.
In a representative government, ordinary citizens are often at a perpetual disadvantage because they don’t know the ins-and-outs of the legislative process. They depend on their elected representatives to carry a torch for their interests. But even if Coloradans don’t know exactly what’s happening along the long corridors of power in Washington, they can surely tell that what’s happening behind closed doors is at odds with what ordinary people want from their leaders. The nation faces real challenges, but if we work together, real solutions are at hand. If Colorado’s congressional delegation is going to represent our state’s interests as they should, they need to be at the forefront of efforts to find two-party solutions. Anything less is unacceptable.
L. Roger Hutson is president and CEO of HRM Resources III.