MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
We're going to talk about finding middle ground now with two freshmen representative in Congress who are far apart, liberal Democrat Carol Shea- Porter of New Hampshire and conservative Republican Bill Sali of Idaho. We met them outside a House hearing room as they were trying to figure out when their next vote was.
CAROL SHEA: Can you trust a Democrat to tell you?
BILL SALI: Yeah.
SHEA: We'll try.
SALI: If you're sure they're going notify you.
BLOCK: If you're trying to bridge the partisan divide in Congress, these two have as wide a distance to cross as any. Their positions are diametrically opposed. On the war in Iraq, she wants the withdrawal of troops within six months. He supports the president's proposed troop increase. On abortion, she strongly favors abortion rights. He is strongly opposed.
In fact, Carol Shea-Porter and Bill Sali have cast opposing votes on all the major bills the House has passed so far, from the implementing the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, to raising the minimum wage, to allowing federal funding for embryonic steam cell research. They did both agreed to resolutions honoring the lives of Muhammad Ali and Gerald Ford, and they did agree to sit down with us to talk about bipartisanship and compromise.
SALI: A lot of people think that everything in politics is Partisan. The fact is that in a legislative body is kind of a like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one at times. You're locked into a relationship with a defined group of people. You have to figure out a way to work with people and to deal with people when they frustrate you to tears, when they work well with you. You just have to have that consistent relationship.
SHEA: I think we all understand that Republicans, Democrats, independents just want us to work together and get some solid legislation that moves our country forward.
BLOCK: Can you think of an issue, maybe more than one issue where you can imagine that the two of you would meet somewhere in the middle? Carol Shea- Porter?
SHEA: Better lunches in the Capitol, do you think?
BLOCK: We have consensus.
SHEA: I don't know. Part of the problem that we have right now is that we do really have a different philosophy about what direction the country needs to go, and so we each have to vote the way we have to. The difference I hope is the tone that you're hearing. I'll still try to change him and I'm sure that, you know, he'll occasionally tease me, but I understand the difference.
BLOCK: What would you say that direction is when you talk about the direction do you want the country to be going. For you, what is that?
SHEA: Well, I'm sure that he cares about the middle class as much as I do. That's where my votes are going to go, for programs that directly help the middle class and the poor.
SALI: And I would agree that the middle class and the poor should be really part of our top priority. And I guess that, you know, the difference is how do we take care of them? And I kind of ascribe to the Ronald Reagan thinking that the government is not the solution, government is the problem. And so my tendency is to say that the market is the best mechanism to sort that - sort out the affairs of mankind.
I think you and I, Carol, might tend to agree on balanced budget. I'm not sure whether we would agree on - whether on you would increase taxes to balance the budget or reduce spending.
BLOCK: Yeah. It's always the question of how you get there.
BLOCK: Even if you have the same goal, what mechanism to reach that goal?
SHEA: Right. Well, I would not vote to increase taxes.
SHEA: Like the Democratic blue dogs, except - and this is the difference for me - that I do know that the top one percent should be taking up more of their share.
BLOCK: I wonder if you think that this quest for bipartisanship and the spirit of compromise, maybe it's - is it overrated? Is there something to be said for strongly state positions and not meeting in the middle?
Bill Sali, you first.
SALI: Well, when you talk about principles and when you talk about bipartisan approach to principles, the Democrat platform lays out different principles than the Republican platform does. And so I think if you talk about meeting in the middle, you're saying you should compromise your principles. I don't think that that's something that you should ask either one of us to do, frankly.
BLOCK: Carol Shea-Porter?
SHEA: I'm not sure it's always compromising your principles. I think that the American people want us to find that middle ground as often as possible. And compromise is an essential part of our government, so I think that, you know, you'll have to come a little bit closer from that side of the aisle and so will I if we're going to get any legislation to move forward, or you can just let the majority win each time, which is okay with me because I'm in the majority. But I think it would be better if we put aside a couple of our favorite little issues and said okay, you know, and horse traded, because that really is how business gets done.
BLOCK: And Bill Sali, Carol Shea-Porter is in a position of strength. She's a Democrat. She's in the majority. As a member of the minority, for you to get things done do you care about, do you need to shift yourself somewhat?
SALI: You know, the people of my district didn't send me here to get done what I want. They sent me here to get done what is good for our country. And while we can have differing ideas about what that is, to the extent we can find those common goals. We need to work hard to find a path where we can agree to get there. And sometimes we just won't be able to move in that direction, and part of the price of being a minority is you don't win.
BLOCK: I can tell from your staffers that you both have to go vote now. We're going to let you go. Carol Shea-Porter and Bill Sali. Thanks to you both.
SHEA: Thank you.
SALI: Pleasure to be here.
BLOCK: That's Democrat Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire and Republican Bill Sali of Idaho, both freshmen in the House of Representatives.
NORRIS: Our series "Crossing the Divide" continues all week on every NPR program and online at NPR.org. There you can find more about the series and the Pew Research Center poll.
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