Ripon Society Hosts Breakfast to Highlight Republicans and Democrats Working Across the Aisle

Reps. Renacci, Castor, Nugent, Loebsack, Schilling, Ross and Terry gather to discuss their bipartisan efforts on issues ranging from tax fraud to national security

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Ripon Society hosted a breakfast discussion yesterday morning to highlight something not often seen in this volatile political climate and turbulent election year – Republican and Democratic Members of Congress who are working together for the good of the country and the people they represent.

The Members participating in the discussion included Republicans and Democrats who are doing just that: GOP Reps. Jim Renacci (OH-16), Rich Nugent (FL-5), Bobby Schilling (IL-17), and Lee Terry (NE-2); and, Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor (FL-11), Dave Loebsack (IA-2) and Mike Ross (AR-4). The Ripon Society discussion was an outgrowth of a bipartisan breakfast club that Renacci started last year with Delaware Democratic Representative John Carney.

“John and I had breakfast and started to talk,” Renacci related, in discussing how the breakfast club came about. “I realized he was talking the same kind of solutions I was; maybe a different way or maybe a different idea or maybe a different thought. But we all had the same ideas about what we were trying to get to. I thought back to my business days, and that’s exactly what we were trying to do back then. So I said, ‘John you must have some friends with similar thoughts over on your side, and I do too. Let’s have another breakfast.’ We did, a couple weeks later, with two or three Democrats that he brought and two or three other Republicans that I brought along.

“We had a great discussion, and then we decided, John and I, that we were going to start putting this group together of six or eight people … We get together about every three weeks. We are not a formal group and we are not a caucus. We are just getting together to talk about ideas. We have three things that we say. When you come in that group, in that breakfast — and we call it the breakfast club, because it’s always breakfast — you take your hat off. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, there’s no such thing when you walk in. No idea is a bad idea. You can talk about anything you want to talk about as long as you don’t demonize the other side.”

In addition to the bipartisan breakfast club Renacci started with Carney, yesterday’s Ripon Society discussion also highlighted the work of Florida Representatives Castor and Nugent, who talked about their joint efforts to address a new type of tax fraud that was occurring not only in their home state, but elsewhere around the country as well.

“Last fall around September 1st, the Tampa Police Department was wondering where all the street criminals were,” Castor stated. “They weren’t picking up people from the street like they used to for drug busts and burglaries. Around that time, they made a huge bust in a hotel room, where they found these criminals lined up with their laptop computers filing fraudulent tax returns. They had stolen the identities and Social Security numbers of unsuspecting citizens … The volume of these fraudulent returns, the Tampa Police Department believed, was just the tip of the iceberg of what’s happening all over the country. In that bust alone, they arrested 49 people. They estimate that just in that take the taxpayers lost over $1 million.”

“The police chief contacted me, and I thought, to really get something done in Washington, I need someone who’s knowledgeable about local law enforcement and is dedicated to his constituency and to people all around the country. And there was no better person than Rich Nugent, the former Sheriff of Hernando County. So Rich came down to Tampa, and we met with the police chief and the criminal investigation task force. They gave us a kind of to-do list. Sheriff Nugent has such great insight in how to tackle the problem. But there is one big loophole, one big hitch — the IRS was not cooperating with local law enforcement or the U.S. Attorney’s office or Secret Service, because the law prevents the IRS from sharing personal tax information with anyone, even local law enforcement. So Sheriff Nugent and I have filed legislation to address that situation and allow the IRS to share that information with local law enforcement in a criminal task force and increase the penalties.”

Nugent – who also served as moderator of the Ripon Society discussion and introduced his colleagues at the beginning of the event — discussed some additional steps the bipartisan duo has taken to address the problem, and praised Castor’s leadership on the tax fraud issue, as well.

“We have brought in the IRS Criminal and Civil Divisions office to talk to,” stated the freshman lawmaker and veteran law enforcement officer. “We have talked to the Treasury Department. We’ve talked to the Secret Service. We’ve had folks from the U.S. Attorney’s office who actually testified in front of the oversight committee in regards to this issue. The whole idea is to bring together all the folks who have a part in this issue. Kathy has shown great leadership in regards to moving this along. It takes more than one person to do this.”

Representatives Loebsack and Schilling echoed similar themes in their remarks about the joint effort they are leading to strengthen the Rock Island Arsenal and the importance they both place on working across the aisle.

“When I got into office,” Loebsack recounted, “I immediately reached out, and the very first group I met with was the Chamber of Commerce, because I suspected they might have some concerns about where I was going to go. I also tried to be what I would call a practical progressive. In other words, I’m trying to do all the right things I can for the 2nd District of Iowa and for America. That means working across the aisle, as I have done with Bobby Schilling. We’ve worked really hard to make sure we can do the things we need to do for the Rock Island Arsenal and maintain that organic manufacturing base in the event that, God forbid, we have another conflict like Afghanistan or Iraq. We are both on Armed Services, and we want to make sure we protect the jobs that are already there and maybe even increase the number of jobs.”

Schilling concurred with his Democratic colleague.

“One of the things I bring to the perspective is that I have 13 years of a union background and I’m also a small business owner,” the Illinois lawmaker stated. “I understand that you have to work together. One of the things I did after I got sworn in was I went to the Rock Island Arsenal and I asked ,‘What can we do to actually secure jobs and make this place a little safer across the board?’ They said, ‘You know what, Bobby, we’ve been looking for 10 years to have three different provisions put in the National Defense Authorization Act. So I reached over to David, and David and I began working together pretty closely on it. And we got done in five months what they couldn’t get done in 10 years.

“The Arsenal is really happy, but we proved that Democrats and Republicans can come together and find common ground and really move things quite fast. For us, I believe, the big thing we try to do is reach across the aisle. And you know, we hear a lot of things through the Administration saying that the Congress isn’t getting things done. But if you really look at the track record and see what we have gotten done — we’ve voted on over 900 bills. I think that the big problem we have is actually in the Senate, where we send things over there and they stock this stuff like wood.” At this, Loebsack remarked, “Bipartisan agreement on that,” meaning the Illinois Republican and Iowa Democrat had once again found common ground.

Finding common ground was also the theme of the remarks of Representatives Terry and Ross, who have made it a point to try to work across the partisan divide throughout their respective political careers.

“I observed back in my city council days and here in Congress that if you actually work together and put aside the petty partisan politics, you can actually get something done,” Terry observed. “So I made a conscious decision that if I was going to initiate a piece of legislation, I was going to do it in a bipartisan way … It is not easy to be bipartisan in your districts. We have seen examples here where we have lost on both sides of the aisle people who are bipartisan because they weren’t partisan enough. We have to do more to change the culture outside of this room, because the public is demanding partisanship.”

Ross — who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year — agreed.

“Here is the problem we’ve got, and Lee touched on it,’ he said. “We live in an era now where there are some Republicans who refuse to work with us in a bipartisan manner because they are afraid they will get a Tea Party opponent, and there are some Democrats who are fearful in working in a bipartisan manner because they will get a MoveOn-type opponent. It used to be when I got here that you could raise $3 million every two years and do your job and you’d have a pretty level playing field with your opponent. Now you can do that, but you don’t know whether Karl Rove or MoveOn — depending on which side you are on — is going to show up two weeks before the election with another $5 million. It is really changing the dynamics of us being able to work together in a bipartisan manner.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.