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Column: Moving Beyond Partisan Bickering to Find Common Ground

In Vermont and Wisconsin, one of the most frequent questions we hear is: Why can’t Congress work together and get something done?

As our constituents know, and we have experienced firsthand, today’s Washington too often approaches public policy challenges as ideological battles to win, rather than practical problems to solve. As the “to do” list in Washington gets longer and longer, it is no wonder Congressional approval ratings are at historic lows.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the recent election will fix the problem. Over 90 percent of incumbents were re-elected. And despite the billions of dollars spent on campaigns, we ended up roughly where we started: with President Obama in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate, and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives.

There will always be ideological differences among members of Congress on the big issues of the day. Such debate is a natural, beneficial offshoot of a vibrant representative democracy. But we should not allow ideological disagreements to derail us from making practical progress for America.

Although we are of different parties, we are finding areas of agreement because we are actively seeking them out. Instead of focusing on the issues where we disagree, we are looking for where we can find consensus. Working together to solve problems does not mean abandoning our principles. It simply means trying to appreciate and understand other points of view and find common ground for the good of the nation.

And there is a lot we actually agree on. On dairy and agricultural issues, we see common ground where we can make progress for rural America. On energy policy, we’re looking beyond party labels and working to promote energy efficiency. No matter your view on energy policy, we can all agree that using less energy is a good place to start. And we both believe that a strong and prosperous 21st-century economy requires a robust infrastructure. There isn’t a Democratic or Republican way to build a bridge or fix a pothole.

Our desire for a new approach in Washington goes beyond seeking areas of shared policy goals. It also means embracing a new tone and adopting a new willingness to sit down with political and ideological opponents. As a Democratic congressman who regularly appears on Fox News and a Republican congressman who has braved multiple MSNBC appearances, we know firsthand that members of Congress can venture into lions’ dens and emerge unscathed.

We are optimistic because there is a growing number of legislators from both sides of the aisle who are hearing the same thing back home: Stop the bickering, get to work, and solve our nation’s problems. Under the banner, “Stop fighting, start fixing,” the organization No Labels is organizing a new “Problem Solvers” group in Congress, featuring members of both parties who have heard the message from their voters.

Today, both of us will be joining No Labels’ “Meeting to Make America Work” — a daylong event in New York City to discuss how we can move forward on problem-solving in Washington. We encourage our colleagues and our constituents to learn more about the effort by visiting http://meetfor-america.com/.

Neither of us will dilute our beliefs or sacrifice our principles. We simply recognize that partisan labels should not prevent us from sitting down and solving problems ... together.

Peter Welch is a Democrat representing Vermont’s at-large congressional district. Reid Ribble is a Republican representing Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District.