NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and his Republican counterpart on the congressional Center Aisle Caucus made their pitch Friday for bringing civility to Washington, D.C.
Appearing together in New Britain at a town hall meeting with residents, Murphy and Illinois U.S. Rep. Timothy Johnson told about 80 people they believe there is value in encouraging members of Congress from the two major political parties to sit together during the State of the Union Addresses, to meet for informal dinners, and to visit one another's districts. But both acknowledged they face an uphill battle, given the political, partisan rancor that has enveloped Congress in recent years.
In fact, Johnson, who started the caucus seven years ago, is retiring at the end of the year. He said a main reason is the dysfunction in Washington.
"It ain't fun anymore. It's not enjoyable," he said. "It is truly like banging your head against the wall."
Johnson commended Murphy "for going on." Murphy is leaving the U.S. House of Representatives to run for the U.S. Senate, hoping to fill the seat that's being vacated by the retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
"Frankly, I'm just going to leave it for people who are young and stronger than I am," said Johnson, who turns 66 later this month.
Murphy, 38, also acknowledged he believes "the system is fundamentally broken." But the 5th District congressman said he believes it can be fixed. He spoke of the need to end gerrymandering of congressional districts, which create politically lopsided seats where lawmakers fear voting with the other party and risking their re-election, and publicly financed campaigns.
"I do believe there are policy changes that we can make, whether it's campaign finance reform, the way the districts are drawn or how members sit together in committees, can really make a difference" in encouraging members of Congress to work together on issues, he said, adding how "a few independent people" need to convince a few others to join up in efforts like Friday's bipartisan town hall meeting.
Despite his calls for bipartisanship, not everyone was convinced Murphy follows what he preaches.
Ralph Fabiano of Burlington, who attended the event, questioned how Murphy can be considered bipartisan when he votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time.
"I want a candidate who can think for themselves and not have the party tell them how to vote," said Fabiano, who is leaning toward voting for former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, the endorsed Republican candidate for the Senate. Murphy is also facing a Democratic primary on Aug. 14.
McMahon's campaign manager seized on the same sentiment, pointing out Murphy's vote for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul bill.
"This whole charade represents everything people hate about Washington. Two career politicians engaging in a political smokescreen," said Corry Bliss, referring to Murphy's voting record as "hyper-partisan."
Murphy said his 98 percent Democratic voting record can be deceiving because many of those votes are procedural, non-controversial ones.
"I definitely do, I agree with my party on the major issues like health care and the environment and energy policy. I do vote with my party on a lot of the big issues because I agree with them," he said. "There are places where I stray from the party. I voted against the President's budget because I believed that we've got to be more disciplined about spending, I've taken on my party on ethics reform."
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