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Heitkamp should try real bipartisan negotiation

In a recent letter, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talked about the frustration felt around the country that “politicians in Washington, D.C., couldn’t work together” and that fixing that problem was “why I wanted this job.” She holds up the recently passed farm bill as an example of the fruits of her labors.

Congress — including our own members — should be congratulated for recent bipartisan legislative compromises that produced a budget agreement and the farm bill. This progress may be the first crack in the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington, D.C., in the past several years. In both cases, the process set up by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution yielded a product that moved America forward and provides certainty and stability our country desperately needs.

The American people expect Congress to build on these examples rather than have each party retreat to its own corner and refuse to work with the other. The nation is better off through cooperation rather than rank partisanship. Heitkamp’s call for bipartisanship is well taken. But first, she must look to her own votes and the realities of the Democrat-controlled Senate.

One of her first votes was to elect Harry Reid as Senate majority leader. Reid has continually blocked debate and compromise on the floor of the Senate. Under his leadership, the Senate has become the place where good legislation goes to die.

In this session alone, the U.S. House has passed more than 150 bills that the Democrat-controlled Senate has failed to act upon without so much as a vote. The Senate has simply refused to consider the bills passed by the other house of Congress and ignored them altogether. It’s not necessarily a partisan thing — the Senate isn’t even passing its own bills. Of the 72 bills that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2013, 56 originated in the House, and only 16 came from his own party in the Senate.

If Senate Democrats want to increase cooperation, they should start in their own chamber. The House GOP has been far more open legislatively than the Senate Democrats. The House has allowed recorded votes on 71 amendments offered by Democrats. Senate Democrats have only allowed four.

With Heitkamp’s full support, Senate Democrats in November also gutted the centuries-old filibuster rules in the Senate, severely limiting the ability of the minority party to have its voices heard. That doesn’t build goodwill and cooperation; instead, it contributes to the partisan gridlock the public rightfully abhors.

While Reid ensures that gridlock continues, Obama feels empowered to go around Congress as he declared in the State of the Union. The Democrat control and management of the Senate that Heitkamp supports enables the president’s go-it-alone style and leads to erosion of cooperation, debate and bipartisanship.

If Heitkamp is serious about ending gridlock and keeping her campaign promise to put North Dakota first, she needs to stand up to the very leadership that she voted for and demand that they allow an open process to pass common-sense legislation that has passed through the Republican-controlled House.

Heitkamp claims compromised legislation like the farm bill as a win for our country. We agree. As the budget agreement and farm bill have shown, the end result of real bipartisan negotiation isn’t so bad. Maybe Reid and Heitkamp should give it a try on a few other issues, too.