We Asked Every Member Of The Senate What Issue Could Unify Them. Here's What They Said.

"If folks are willing to roll up their sleeves... there are all sorts of issues the Senate could unite behind."

Every now and then, the Senate agrees.

Despite popular narratives to the contrary, the most powerful chamber of the United States government does vote in total agreement on occasion, with all 100 Senators supporting a bill. 

In December, the Senate unanimously passed legislation to make Medicare more cost-effective and expanded access to some Obamacare programs. In September, the Senate unanimously passed the first-ever federal anti-animal cruelty legislation. Just last week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to give federal oversight to emergency alert systems like the one that failed when it falsely alerted Hawaii residents to an incoming missile. 


On their own, these bills are proof that the Senate can sometimes get along — even to an extraordinary degree. Together, they're a reminder that legislators are constantly working on bills they think can gain enough bipartisan support to become law. 

And yet, many believe the Senate has never been more divided. In February of 2017, The Los Angeles Times declared that the Senate's traditions were "falling victim to partisan divide." To zero in on what could work going forward, A Plus reached out to every single sitting senator in the United States and asked them one simple question: Can you point to one issue that you think the Senate could unite behind?

22 senators responded: 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats. In a hopeful sign for advocates of bipartisan collaboration, several senators responded with identical issues or even pointed to bipartisan bills they had worked on that were due to be voted on in the coming months. Criminal justice reform, addressing the budgetary process, paid family leave and fighting the opioid epidemic each came up more than once.

Below, we've pulled together all 22 responses and organized them according to the senators' last names. Together, the responses paint a fascinating picture about the issues the Senate is working on, and which issues each senator thinks could garner support from their colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

The Child Tax Credit: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

"We all agree that workers' paychecks have not kept pace with the rising costs of housing, health care, child care, and higher education," Bennet told A Plus. "One remedy both Democrats and Republicans support is the Child Tax Credit, which puts more money directly into the hands of parents without new government bureaucracy. A bill I introduced last year would expand the Child Tax Credit, in effect cutting child poverty nearly in half and providing major tax relief to middle-class families. Senators from both parties should be able to support this commonsense approach and work together to end child poverty in this country."

Making net neutrality rules law: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

"This isn't about party politics – it's about consumers," Brown said. "Without net neutrality rules, broadband providers could charge customers more for faster speeds, and we could end up paying for internet packages the way we do for cable packages – paying more for popular sites, and to have pages load faster. The internet doesn't belong to big telecomm corporations, it belongs to the people we were all sent here to represent, regardless of party."

In May, the Senate passed a bill to reinstate net neutrality rules after the Federal Communications Commission voted to end them. The bill is currently awaiting approval in the House of Representatives. 

Creating more transparent health care prices: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA)

"Health care price transparency would allow patients to see the price of a procedure or test before they get it done, instead of weeks or months later when they get a surprise bill in the mail," Cassidy said. "In the Senate, we have three Republicans and three Democrats working together on this right now. And when I talk to people in my state about it, they love the idea, especially since it would open up the system and help lower health care costs."

Eliminating modern slavery and human trafficking globally: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

"In 2016, Congress passed bold, bipartisan legislation to enable the creation of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, a powerful partnership between the private sector and foreign governments to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking around the world," Corker said. "None of this would have been possible without the determination of countless advocates who helped raise awareness on Capitol Hill. Ashton Kutcher, in his role as co-founder of Thorn, also played a critical role in raising awareness, testifying at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2017. The bipartisan efforts to end this scourge on humanity made 2017 a historic year but much work remains. I am hopeful members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will continue to work together on this issue in the coming months by reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and strengthening U.S. global leadership in this fight."

Editor's note: Ashton Kutcher is also the co-founder of A Plus.

Combatting methamphetamine and drug addiction: Sen. Steven Daines (R-LA)

"Montana's meth and drug epidemic has taken lives and destroyed families," Daines told A Plus. "Our state saw an incredible 427 percent increase in methamphetamine violations from 2010-2015. America's meth and drug crisis is blind to economic status, race or the region where someone lives. It is an issue we must all unite to fight against."

Philadelphia, PA/USA - July 27, 2016: Congresswoman Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth walks to the podium at the Democratic National Convention Shutterstock / Gregory Reed

The Friendly Airports for Mothers Act: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

"A great opportunity to do something that's bipartisan is to pass the Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, which would ensure all new mothers who are traveling through large- and medium-sized airports have access to clean, convenient and accessible lactation rooms," Duckworth said. 

"When I had my first daughter, I was traveling back and forth between Washington D.C. and Illinois almost every week – and I would frequently get to the airport with little time to spare. As a nursing mother, I had to stick to a strict feeding and expressing schedule, but finding a clean, accessible, private space was stressful and inordinately difficult. Even though we would never expect travelers to eat their meals in bathroom stalls, I was directed to the airport bathroom to feed my daughter, something that many traveling mothers have experienced. So I introduced The FAM Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives with the help of Republican Congressman Steve Knight as part of the FAA reauthorization bill, and I'm hoping it will pass the Senate soon." 

Re-authorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act: Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)

"There are millions of jobs in the U.S. that are open, but businesses can't find qualified workers to fill those positions," Enzi said. "Career and technical education (CTE) programs in high school and college give workers and students the skills they need to find high-skill, high-wage or in-demand jobs." 

Last week, the Senate Education Committee passed a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Sen. Enzi is hopeful that the full Senate will now take this issue up and reauthorize the act for the first time since 2006. 

Paid family leave: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)

"It is long overdue that Washington gets serious about a path forward for paid family leave," Ernst said. "As a working mother and a grandmother, I believe our policies must reflect the evolving needs of our workforce and reduce barriers that pose challenges to parents balancing families and work. 

"There is growing acknowledgment and support on both sides of the aisle to find a solution for our families."

Criminal justice reform: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

"We need a more strategic approach to drug sentencing that focuses law enforcement resources on violent career criminals and drug kingpins instead of non-violent, lower-level offenders," Grassley told A Plus. "That is why I worked with several of my colleagues in the Senate to craft the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. This legislation is the product of years of thoughtful bipartisan deliberations and has earned the support of lawmakers, advocates and experts from across the political spectrum."

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 30, 2018: California Senator Kamala Harris speaking at the Families Belong Together rally and march Shutterstock / Karl_Sonnenberg

Bail system reform: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

"Our justice system was designed with a promise: equal treatment under the law," Harris said. "Yet more than 450,000 Americans sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. Reforming our country's bail system is not only a bi-partisan issue that I've worked on with Senator Rand Paul, it should be a non-partisan issue. Whether you sit in jail shouldn't be a function of your bank account. 

"There's a real opportunity to fix this system which would make communities across America more just and fair."

Reforming the federal budget process by moving to a two-year cycle: Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

"Across the board, members of Congress agree that our budget process is broken," a spokesperson for Sen. Isakson said. "Senator Isakson and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have introduced the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, S.306, to help end reckless spending and reform the federal budget process by converting it from an annual spending process to a two-year cycle, with one year for appropriating federal dollars and the other year devoted to much-needed oversight of federal programs.

"A biennial budget plan has been endorsed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Mike Enzi, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Budget. In 2013, this proposal passed by a 68-31 vote in the Senate as an amendment to that year's budget resolution, which is a non-binding blueprint, and in 2016, both the Senate Budget Committee and House Budget Committee chairmen included versions of biennial budgeting in separate proposals to reform the federal budget process."

Reducing the national debt: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) 

"Even though nation faces serious challenges, we all share the same goal: A safe and prosperous country with opportunity for every American," Johnson said. "To make that a reality, we need to address our country's unsustainable fiscal course. Our mountain of debt — now at $21 trillion and larger than the annual output of the economy — was piled up under both Republican and Democratic administrations. If we don't change our fiscal course, we will add more than $100 trillion to that debt over the next 30 years. This level of debt is unsustainable and will make funding our priorities or the promises made to future generations virtually impossible. We need to acknowledge the problem now and begin developing effective solutions."

Lowering the unemployment rate among military spouses: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

"We should all be able to agree on supporting military families who selflessly serve our nation," Kaine said. "After speaking with military spouses across Virginia, I've heard again and again about the difficulty they face in finding work as a result of frequent moves and unexpected transfers. This can cause financial insecurity for the whole family and be a big factor in a service member's decision about whether to stay in the military. This is an issue I know we can all get behind, and I'm so thankful for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have supported my proposals to reduce military spouse unemployment. I'm hopeful we'll keep making progress on this issue so we can make a positive difference in the lives of military families across the country."

Lancaster, PA - August 30, 2016: Virginia Senator Tim Kaine speaks at a 2016 campaign rally. George Sheldon / Shutterstock.com

Reducing the price of prescription drugs: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

"Everyone talks about the need to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Now there's a bipartisan bill to actually do that," Leahy said. "No American should have to choose between affording the medicine they need, or food for their family.  The CREATES Act offers bipartisan reforms to crack down on corporate abuses that keep lower-cost generic medicines from consumers."

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved Leahy's bipartisan CREATES Act to lower prescription drug prices, and there is bipartisan companion legislation in the House.  The Congressional Budget Office scored the bill as saving $3.8 billion in the federal budget. According to a 2013 report card from GovTrack, Leahy got bipartisan cosponsors on the highest percentage of bills compared to any other Senator.

"If this bill were brought to a vote right now we could make a significant first step toward lowering prescription drug prices," Leahy said. 

Helping ease the burden of childcare: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

"At a time when so many people are struggling to pay the bills and make ends meet, one issue everyone in Congress should agree on is that every family should be able to afford child care, and every child should have a high-quality early education so they can grow, learn, and thrive," Murray said. "This is not just a kids issue, this impacts our entire economy. Some parents are unable to work because they cannot find or afford child care, and we know that parents are more productive at work when they know their kids are safe and learning. 

"As a former preschool teacher, I understand that a high-quality preschool program can set a child up for success in kindergarten and beyond—that's why I'm fighting for high-quality, affordable child care and early learning for all."

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 7, 2014: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Shutterstock / Christopher Halloran

Criminal justice reform: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

"Criminal justice reform is very much a bipartisan issue," Paul said. "I have worked for years to pass legislation dealing with abolishing mandatory minimums, expunging records, and giving the right to vote to those who have served their time. I believe in second chances. All too often, minors commit non-violent, drug-related crimes that continue to trail them for the rest of their lives. I will continue introducing legislation to fix this problem and will always work in a bipartisan fashion."

Fixing the budget process in Congress: Sen. David Perdue (R-GA)

"Fixing Congress' broken budget process is entirely possible and essential," Perdue said. "It's only worked four times in the last 44 years. There's been some consensus. Earlier this year, Congress formed a bipartisan and bicameral select committee to examine the budget process, so I'm optimistic we could see some results."

Combatting the opioid epidemic: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) 

Portman says that pro-growth policies like tax reform have helped the economy grow, but business owners tell him they are still struggling to find qualified workers. One reason he believes this is happening is because of the high rates of addiction that leave a number of workers "on the sidelines."

"We need to help people overcome their addiction and help them get the dignity and self-respect that comes from work," Portman said. "I believe that all of my colleagues in Congress—whether Republican or Democrat—want to help their constituents live up to their God-given potential, and combatting addiction to help grow our workforce is a huge part of that."

Sen. Rubio speaks during a 2016 presidential campaign rally in Puerto Rico. Alessandro Pietri / Shutterstock.com

Paid family leave: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 

"As the cost of living continues to rise, we should unite behind policies that make it easier to raise a family in America. In the coming weeks,we'll have the opportunity to find a solution to increased access to paid family leave for millions of families. The most important institution in society is the family, and the most important job any of us will ever have is being a parent. 

"What could be more pro-family than giving parents the chance to spend time with their newborn children without the threat of financial ruin?"

Helping veterans and improving infrastructure in rural areas: Sen. Jonathan Tester (D-MT) 

"While it may seem like the folks in Congress are hopelessly divided, that's simply not the case—there are many more issues that unite us than divide us," Tester said. "I've had 16 bills passed by the House and the Senate & signed into law by President Trump this Congress. Many of these bills are aimed at helping our veterans, which—as Senator Isakson and I have shown—is certainly an issue we can all get behind. But this list also includes bills like the Improving Rural Call Quality & Reliability Act, which exemplifies another issue with significant bipartisan support in the Senate—investing in rural broadband and infrastructure. In fact, the Senate just overwhelmingly passed a Farm Bill (86-11) that makes significant investments in rural technology initiatives. 

"So, in my experience, if folks are willing to roll up their sleeves, put politics aside, and work towards compromise, there are all sorts of issues the Senate could unite behind."

Combatting the opioid epidemic: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

"Prescription painkillers, illicit fentanyl and heroin now kill far more Americans than automobile accidents every year," Toomey said. "In the last decade, 250,000 have lost their lives. That devastating number only captures a fraction of the impact this crisis has had on our families, our friends, and our communities. During my time in the Senate I've worked to lessen the overuse of painkillers, prevent them from reaching the black market, and help those battling addiction access treatment." 

Toomey is now working to ensure that when a patient uses Medicare to try to receive painkillers, their doctor is alerted if that patient has previously suffered an overdose. 

"Simple but meaningful steps like these are issues both Republicans and Democrats can come together on and actually save lives," Toomey said. 

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 6, 2014: Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Modernizing the United States' infrastructure: Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) 

"One promise that President Trump made often on the campaign trail was to modernize and strengthen our infrastructure – and I believe that is a mission both parties in Congress could unite behind and support," Van Hollen said. "Across our country we see bridges and roads crumbling in every community and every state. For America to continue to grow and thrive in the 21st century, we need to repair and improve our roads and bridges, increase our investment in public transit and high-speed rail, ensure coast-to-coast access to high-speed broadband, and expand our clean energy sources and transmission network.  By working together on this issue, we would improve the lives of families across the country, boost economic growth, and create good-paying jobs.":

Cover image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.


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