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It’s time for a much stronger national dialogue

Ask a teacher, and they will most likely tell you that one of the quickest ways to kill classroom discussion is for one strong-willed student to monopolize the conversation. A long-winded or uncomfortably impassioned monologue inevitably polarizes viewpoints. Conversation shuts down, and often inner-fuming begins.

Likewise, business leaders know creating dialogue is one of the most effective ways to enhance collaboration and ultimately create a product that can improve their bottom line. Just as a monologue creates polarization, dialogue by its very nature requires collaboration. An effective dialogue recognizes not only the right to know, but the need to know. True dialogue is important not only because it allows each individual to be involved in deciding what gets done, but because it nearly always leads to a better outcome than if no dialogue had taken place.

There is a lot of uncertainty in America today. One thing we can be certain of, though, is the fact that America is polarized. Citizens and elected leaders alike feel passionately one way or the other about a wide range of issues. Some of the polarization is legitimately caused by differing principles; some is fed by partisan politics. Often, though, it is the partisan politics rather than the principled differences that controls the conversation. What America needs, however, is dialogue.

As a Member of Congress, I intend to remain unwavering on the principles upon which I was elected. At a time when there is distrust in government, I believe it is important to keep the promises I have made. I am also certain many of my Congressional colleagues feel the same way. Yet, we both have a responsibility to hear each other out. Some in Washington have become so focused on scoring political points that they’ve jeopardized the national conversation. Just like the student that won’t stop talking, leaders in Washington have become more attached to their talking points than the best solutions to start moving our nation forward again. The result is the areas where we can work together become muddled in a mire of political grandstanding and mudslinging.

Yet, even those of us with strong policy differences have common ground. And amidst the monologues, it’s important to point out those areas so that our government in Washington can serve the American people as well as Americans have worked for their own families and sacrificed for our nation. Here are some initiatives where we have a potential for dialogue:

Energy

While many may disagree on cap and trade legislation, we do have common ground on energy. The Administration has stated its support for expanding the use of nuclear power, clean coal and domestic drilling, efforts that many Republicans and Democrats support. Likewise, the American Energy Act, which I supported, is an “all-of-the-above” bill that would increase the domestic supply of energy through drilling and expanding nuclear power, among others.

In addition, there are many that agree – the Administration included – that we need to take a Manhattan style approach to solving our energy challenge. I have introduced the New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, which challenges the U.S. to reach 50 percent energy independence in 10 years and 100 percent energy independence in 20 years.

Taxes

There is broad agreement in Washington the Alternative Minimum Tax should be repealed for individual taxpayers. Congressional leadership included an AMT patch in the stimulus bill, H.R. 1. Although I did not support the stimulus bill on government spending principles, I have supported full repeal of the AMT in the Economic Recovery and Middle-Class Tax Relief Act. This is an initiative that could be passed as a stand-alone bill to bring tax relief to thousands of Americans.

Education

There is wide bipartisan support for encouraging charter schools and rewarding school innovation as a means of improving the education system in America. The Administration has created initiatives such as Race to the Top, which requires that states not prohibit charter schools. I have supported bipartisan programs that seek to reform the educational landscape through competitive grants programs and systems of rewards as a means to help transform education in America. We have the opportunity to make great strides in education by coming together on these initiatives.

Healthcare

Healthcare is one of the most divisive issues in Washington and around the country. While I remain adamantly opposed to the House-passed version of healthcare reform, there is common ground in other areas of healthcare. In addition to many other bipartisan healthcare initiatives I have highlighted on my Web site, I have introduced several healthcare bills that have received both Republican and Democrat support:

The Health Care Consumer Protection Act, H.R. 3584, would protect consumers from losing health insurance as a result of a missed payment that may have been a result of technical error.

The Enhancing SIMULATION Act, H.R. 855, would establish modeling and simulation medical centers of excellence across the country to reduce medical errors and drive down healthcare costs by as much as $17 billion a year. The bill has more Democratic cosponsors than Republican cosponsors.

The Accelerate Cures for Patients Act, H.R. 3474, would double funding for medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and prioritize funding towards research with the greatest potential to become a useful treatment for patients. Democrats have also supported increased medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

These initiatives only scratch the surface in terms of areas that are ripe for leaders in Washington to work together and begin moving towards solutions to some of our nation’s biggest challenges. You can read about other initiatives on my Web site (forbes.house.gov/issuesleg/bipartisanopportunities.htm). In addition, I encourage you to send me your feedback and ideas on where you would like to see leaders in Washington working together. I’ve created a special blog post (forbes.house.gov/Blog/?postid=169562) where you can share your comments with me and your fellow citizens.

By erasing the battle lines and coming together to create dialogue, I am convinced we will see successes that are critical to our nation’s well-being