Town hall meeting addresses bipartisanship in Congress

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-15, and U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., discussed the difficulties faced by being a bipartisan congressman in a heavily divided Congress during a town hall meeting at the I Hotel on Sunday.

Both politicians are co-chairs of the Center Aisle Caucus, a platform to promote collaborations and civility among its Democratic and Republican members. The caucus was formed about six years ago by Johnson and former U.S. representative Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Johnson said. The group has grown from eight members to 40 to 50 members of each party equally, Johnson said.

“The essential message we are trying to bring to the American people is that members of Congress, contrary to what you see in the 24/7 (news) cycle, can, should and do work together,” Johnson said.

Murphy presides over the fifth district in Connecticut and is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Murphy said the atmosphere in Washington is drastically partisan compared to his eight-year run on the Connecticut legislature.

“I was just dumbfounded by how hard it was to become friends with people on the other side of the aisle,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he discovered the caucus as a way to find the bipartisan balance in the partisan Congress.

One of the frustrations among the attendees was the divide between the rich and the poor. Murphy said he finds the Occupy Wall Street and the tea party movements similar because both are formed out of the frustration with the country’s economic direction. He said one of the solutions to the gap in wealth is offering access to quality education.

“There are lots of different things we can ultimately do to try to help people who are poor get less poor, giving them access to the best educational system in the world is at the top of the list,” he said.

Both congressmen addressed that the energy crisis is an important issue facing the country that needs to be considered carefully.

Murphy said he believes in a country running off of renewable energy. Though nuclear power is an option, one problem is the issue of nuclear waste disposal, he said. Johnson said carbon shouldn’t be the only fuel used and the use of alternative fuels such ethanol should be looked into as well.

Johnson said there’s more animosity among Illinois citizens toward the state government than the federal. Part of this is because pensions are still an unresolved issue along with education.

He added that the money spent in the war and overseas in places such as Afghanistan and Libya has made the country safer while the infrastructure has become weaker as a result.

The 2012 Farm Bill was also a talking point, which could affect small farmers. Johnson said the bill is going to see a “shared sacrifice” where it’ll bring cuts to various areas in order to help the agriculture industry improve.

Mike Frogley, Urbana resident, said he was dubious as to how successful the caucus platform might be in helping Congress become bipartisan.

“Their intention is of the best sort. I think the obstacles they have are pretty significant,” Frogley said. “(Functional government) is the fundamental issue for the next election.”