The Congressional Experience: Growing Partisan Divide

Photo Courtesy of Albuquerque Journal

Photo Courtesy of Albuquerque Journal

By Alex Elliott.

With the 114th Congress beginning just days prior, Congressman David Price (D-NC), met with Duke University students on January 13th, 2015, at Duke’s Washington D.C. office to discuss congressional politics and the role students can play in government. The Congressman grew up in Erwin, Tennessee, but familiarized himself with the area that now comprises his district when he attended UNC-Chapel Hill for his undergraduate education. Price reflects fondly on his time as a student in Chapel Hill. With the Civil Rights movement racing across the south, the segregated triangle area served as an incubator for his budding political fascination. Spending time outside of class “picketing theaters and getting resolutions through the student legislature,” Price quickly began to understand the power of politics as a vehicle for change. Before beginning his long tenure representing North Carolina’s 4th district, Price served as a professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Duke University. He has written several books on American politics, including The Congressional Experience, a thorough account of congressional life.

When asked about the way to inspire young people to become involved in politics, Price admits that there is no silver bullet solution and that it is a question everyone in politics is seeking to answer. In the extremely close 2014 North Carolina Senate race, Price believes that the ousting of the incumbent, Kay Hagan, could be linked, in part, to the low turnout of young voters, especially compared to the vote for President Obama in 2012. Ultimately, he says, it is up to students and “their organizations to figure this out and to propagate and encourage activism.”

Shifting the discussion to his legislative work, Price voices his displeasure over congressional gridlock, as well as the partisan politicking that has consumed the legislative process. One of the first items on this year’s congressional agenda has been to pass legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before the February 27th deadline arrives. Unsurprisingly, the funding bill has run into a deluge of partisan politics, with House Republicans adding an amendment that would serve to defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The DHS funding bill is especially important to Price due to his position as the highest ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Department of Homeland Security subcommittee – the House subcommittee which is most directly involved with DHS funding (although Price is shifting his committee leadership position for the upcoming Congress). Discouraged by the inability to pass a clean DHS funding bill, Price calls the Republican amendment a “gross abuse” of the process to make a “political point” on immigration. He emphasizes the importance of funding the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in France.

Delving more deeply into the topic of partisanship, Price admits that congressional partisanship has reached a peak in his extensive congressional experience. While parties have always been important in the election and law-making process, in his opinion, the Democrats and Republicans have become “more homogenous internally and further apart in terms of their positions on issues.” To him, compromise seems to have become a lost art as the two parties duke it out as if law-making is a “zero-sum game.” Perhaps the system would work better if we had a parliamentary system, he admits, because the Republican and Democratic parties seem to be transforming into parliamentary-style parties. Unfortunately, the checks and balances system of the United States has “historically required very broadly based, pragmatic parties.”

Gridlock has severely backed-up the congressional agenda, but Price would like to see progress made in several areas during the coming session. In addition to an immigration bill, he thinks a comprehensive transportation program is long needed, in place of the “piecemeal highway and transit bills” that have been sustaining our transportation infrastructure. Price will be in a good position to see this through as he has been named the Ranking Member for the House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee for the new Congress. In addition, he believes that the ‘Elementary and Secondary Education Act’ and the ‘Higher Education Act’ are due to be updated, as well as many environmental statutes. In his mind, several issues, such as corporate tax reform, seem to be “ripe for bipartisan cooperation.” Price also sees convergence between parties on certain social issues, noting support from the “libertarian right and the liberal left” for marriage equality and lower sentences for minor drug offenses.

Despite the monumental tasks ahead for Congress and the federal government as a whole, Price expresses optimism for the future and admiration for his state and district, calling North Carolina a progressive southern state and a “hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.” 

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