Reaching across the aisle to save COVID-19 relief bill

Editor’s note: The following joint column is written by South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson (Republican) and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips (Democrat).

President Trump just announced that the White House would be pulling out of negotiations that could protect American lives, livelihoods, families and businesses. Few know this, but both sides were inching close to achieving a breakthrough, and we implore that the President and Speaker Pelosi return to the table and help America cross the finish line.

It’s no secret that we live in historically divided times, and as faith in government wanes and cynicism about politics grows, it will be up to a new generation of leaders in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans, to restore trust and demonstrate possibility.

South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson (Republican) and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips (Democrat).

According to the most recent poll numbers by Gallup, just 17% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing while 80% disapprove. Sadly, and ironically, disapproval of Congress is one of the few things that continues to unite Americans these days.

The last COVID-19 relief bill was signed into law more than 200 days ago, and Americans are watching intently as our political leaders fail to reach a compromise on an urgently needed bill to address the unprecedented challenges facing much of our country.

As freshmen Representatives from neighboring states representing different parties, we share that frustration. That’s why we joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus soon after being sworn into Congress in January 2019. With both parties seemingly intent on dividing members, our small but mighty group of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans are committed to listening to one another, building trust, and placing principle above party to achieve results for the people and country we represent.

To that end, and in conjunction with our caucus co-chairs, we co-led a bipartisan working group that spent five weeks and countless hours deliberating, developing and drafting the “March to Common Ground” comprehensive COVID-19 relief framework that was ultimately endorsed by our entire caucus of 50 members. Our goal was simple; to inject a thoughtful and actionable proposal into the arena and inspire leaders from both parties to return to the negotiating table and use the framework as a basis for bipartisan compromise.

The framework addresses key areas of acute need, including testing, direct stimulus payments to families, unemployment support, small business aid, liability protection, food security, election support, state and local aid, and school funding.

While our country’s top economists all agree that we need an additional stimulus package to help recover from such a grave economic slump and that inaction would be more costly down the road, we share the concerns of many about our nation’s skyrocketing federal debt. That’s why our proposal includes a set of “booster and reducers” – automatic mechanisms designed to enhance or reduce expenditures based on our nation’s circumstances in early 2021.

The response to our March to Common Ground framework has been overwhelmingly positive. It appears to have jump-started negotiations and brought both sides back to the table. The Trump Administration praised the framework as something they can work from to reach a deal. Writers for The Washington Post and The New York Times both endorsed it, and Senators and Representatives on both sides of the Congressional aisle agree: the proposal represents a remarkable – and remarkably reasonable – compromise.

Still, time is running short to achieve a deal. Since political messaging bills and partisan lines in the sand serve no purpose in times like these, we both voted against the most recent HEROES Act bill – one that had no Republican support in the House, no chance of passage in the Senate, and even less of a chance of being signed into law by the President.

So rather than watch from the sidelines, a freshman Republican from South Dakota and a freshman Democrat from Minnesota took matters into their own hands and demonstrated that a little friendship and a lot of trust can still go a long ways in a deeply divided Congress. Our Problem Solvers Caucus proposal helped bring the negotiators back to the table and pushed them awfully close to agreement before the White House intervened. But with lives and livelihoods at stake and millions of Americans at the precipice, this is a time to place people over politics and find common ground. So let’s seize the moment, deliver relief, and begin the work of restoring Americans’ faith in our government.

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