Aubrey Neal and Dean Peterson at R Street:
Just as all Americans are more collaborative if they participate in team retreats or other outside-of-work functions, past Congresses have fostered partnerships and productivity by encouraging members to get to know one another.
In 1999, for example, just months after the end of President Bill Clinton’s bitterly contested impeachment, members of the House and their families took a three-hour train ride to a retreat in Hershey, Pa. Democrats and Republicans rode in the same cars, with no assigned seating. The three-day trip was essential to providing the House with “a brief timeout from the legislative process, allowing members to replenish the reservoir of respect that might smooth the edges of their increasingly polarized institution,” as scholar Paul Light wrote at the time.
Events like that — and current opportunities such as various congressional sports games, nonsectarian prayer groups, dinner clubs, book clubs and even fact-finding trips overseas — set the stage for members to form close relationships.
Thankfully, several current members recognize how the lack of such intraparty relationships is contributing to hostile partisanship and plummeting legislative productivity. In search of a solution, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, recently held a hearing on increasing civility and member collaboration to force themselves and their colleagues to discuss this issue.