Finding Common Ground in
our Nation's Capital

The public’s approval of Congress hovers at historically low levels, according to recently released Gallup polls. In February 2012, when asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?” only 10 percent of Americans approved, marking the lowest approval rating ever.

A May 2012 report from the National Journal revealed just how polarized Congress has become. The publication reviewed Senate voting records over the last 30 years and found that in 2011, for the first time ever, no senator crossed party lines when casting his or her ballot.

“It’s as bad as I’ve seen it, but it’s not bad in the sense that people are fighting all the time,” says Centenary alumna Laura Bozell ‘01, who has more than a decade of experience working on Capitol Hill in the U.S. House of Representatives. “It’s bad in the sense that instead of fighting and having open discourse, people aren’t doing anything. There is no dialogue.”

During the fall of 2011, Bozell had a front row seat to one of the year’s more politically polarizing undertakings. She worked with the “Super Committee,” a special joint committee of Congress charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction to avoid automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Many national media outlets and political pundits pronounced the Super Committee a failure, but Bozell offers a different take on the experience.

“While the Super Committee wasn’t ultimately able to agree on one cost-saving proposal, it did lay a lot of the ground work for us to work in a bipartisan fashion on subsequent legislation—the payroll tax extension,” says Bozell. “Thanks to relationships forged during that period, we were able to work together in a more collaborative way to get that bill over the finish line. In the end, the payroll tax extension was successful because both sides gave a little.” The bill was signed into law by President Obama in February 2012.

Bozell joined then Congressman Jim McCrery’s legislative team just after graduating from Centenary in 2001. She served for five-and-a-half years in McCrery’s office before moving to the House’s Ways and Means Committee, where she worked an additional five-and-a-half years.

Bozell, who recently joined the bipartisan, D.C.-based Cornerstone Group as a vice president, credits the Centenary classroom with providing an early example of how to work together respectfully and collaboratively. “The small classroom size at Centenary encourages open dialogue. Professors also encouraged open discussion and never discouraged students from sharing their viewpoint, even if they didn’t agree with it,” offers Bozell.

“At Centenary, there was always an emphasis on being honest, on being people of integrity,” she adds. “That goes a long way in this town. Ultimately, you earn the trust of the people you’re working with by being an honest player.”