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Bipartisanship studied in the age of gridlock

WASHINGTON – A new study of bipartisanship in Congress, released on Tuesday, ranks members based on how many co-sponsors from the other party they can get on their bills or how willing they are to cross the aisle in co-sponsoring legislation.

It’s an interesting concept as Congress struggles to get anything done since gridlock is the norm here, not the exception.

Actual votes on measures are not measured in the “Bipartisan Index” scoring by the nonprofit nonpartisan Lugar Center founded by former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

Using this method, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., is ranked as the most bipartisan Illinois House member, coming in at 16 out of 422 representatives included in the study.

In the 2016 Illinois Senate race, bipartisanship and the blunting of party labels is already a theme of Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., so far the only declared challenger.

Kirk, who highlights Vice President Joe Biden in his first re-election ad, initially televised last week, is ranked as the 6th most bipartisan senator out of the 98 ranked. Duckworth is high on the House bipartisan ranking, coming in at 39. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democratic leader, comes in at 67.

Both Kirk and Duckworth in a general election contest will be fighting for crossover voters.

Kirk is trying to set the narrative early on that he is willing to buck his leadership and back Democratic proposals now and again. The reality is bipartisanship only goes so far when a lawmaker faces a big election. It’s only a matter of time before Democrats start hitting Kirk for his Republican record – not when he has crossed the aisle.

Lipinski is in a safe district anchored in the western suburbs. The bills he backs or sponsors usually draw less attention than the votes he has cast for GOP measures.

Looking at the other rankings of Illinois lawmakers in Congress, one thing jumps out: the members from the safest districts are less inclined to partner up across the aisle.

Here are the rankings of the Illinois House delegation for the last Congress, which ended in January.

16. Rep. Dan Lipinski, Democrat
25. former Rep. Aaron Schock, Republican
26. Rep. Rodney Davis, Republican
35. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican
39. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Democrat
66. former Rep. Brad Schneider, Democrat
87. Rep. Cheri Bustos, Democrat
113. Rep. Peter Roskam, Republican
115. Rep. Randy Hultgren, Republican
128. former Rep. Bill Enyart, Democrat
132. Rep. John Shimkus, Republican
178. Rep. Mike Quigley, Democrat
197. Rep. Bill Foster, Democrat
The rankings jump for members from super-safe Democratic districts.
330. Rep. Bobby Rush, Democrat
342. Rep. Robin Kelly, Democrat
344. Rep. Danny Davis, Democrat
385. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Democrat
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat, did not sponsor enough bills to be in the survey.

I put a higher value on a willingness to compromise to get something done over signing up for a bill, which sometimes just serves as an excuse for a press release.

Still, I agree with the general thrust of the Lugar/McCourt study, which concludes, “The index rewards those who prioritize governance over posturing and aims to encourage members of Congress to seek areas of consensus as opposed to simply using legislation to delineate differences.”