Congressman Peter Roskam: Obama’s Bipartisan Past

-By Congressman Peter Roskam (R, Illinois)

Mr. President: Business in Washington doesn’t have to be this way. You need not be pushed to the left and you can work across the aisle like you have in the past.

That is what I told President Obama a few weeks ago at the GOP caucus. He really does have an ability to work in a bipartisan manner. I know because we worked together for years to solve problems in the Illinois Senate.

Today’s health care summit doesn’t have to be a regurgitation of an unpopular health care bill. Nor does the President have to embrace Congressional Democratic leadership, which has systematically stiff-armed Republicans out of any conversation about solutions. Sure, health care is a contentious issue, but President Obama has successfully worked with Republicans under similar parameters.

When we served together on the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee, we worked collaboratively, crafting and passing sweeping death penalty reform legislation. Obama later called it the signature legislation of his state senate career.

We passed it even though, as he said, it was controversial at the outset. He was right. There may be no issue more highly charged than the death penalty.

But because we avoided partisanship, and negotiated in good faith, meaningful reform passed. That same willingness to reach across the aisle led Illinois to pass ethics reform. It also helped us pass criminal justice reform, permitting criminal appeals to receive certain due rights.

We achieved reform without either of us sacrificing our core principles. Today’s health care debate has taken a wholly different tack. Democratic leadership has had zero willingness to negotiate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s definition of bipartisanship seems to mean that Republicans abandon their principles and vote for a damaging bill. That’s not how Obama operated before he came to Washington.

The President knows that Democrats and Republicans could work together to pass substantive incremental reforms today. He said, in his address on Sept. 9, that we agree on about 80 percent of what needs to be done. He was right.

Congressional Republicans are prepared to offer the President a range of common-sense solutions that lower premiums and increase access. Just yesterday, the House passed a repeal of the antitrust exemption for health insurance, with broad GOP support.

Next step: empower Americans to buy health insurance across state lines. Develop small business and association health plans. Take care of the issue of preexisting conditions. Let’s make meaningful bipartisan reforms to medical liability in this country.

We could unleash innovation to reduce the number of uninsured with State Innovation Programs. Why can’t each of these ideas become bills that the Congress could move?

This is what Republicans in Congress will bring to the Blair House Summit: a fresh approach to enacting health care reforms that can gain bipartisan support.

I fear Congressional Democrats will bring their tired approach, pushing a bill that has already met the disapproval of the American public.

I’ve seen firsthand the way the President was able to work across the aisle on controversial issues. It’s time he got back to that pre-Washington approach.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is a member of the Ways & Means Committee and a deputy whip. He was formerly in the Illinois Senate, where he served on the Judiciary Committee with then-state Sen. Barack Obama, 2000-2004.

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