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Ben Nelson: 'Get Rid Of This Aisle!'


"Now the question is not whether we can sit together. It's whether we can stand together."

January 26, 2011 - Today, Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson made these comments during his weekly conference call with Nebraska media reporters after many members of Congress broke with custom the night before to cross the political aisle and sit together during the President's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

"At the State of the Union address I joined many colleagues in Congress taking a symbolic step by literally walking across an invisible line that usually divides the House chamber by party--Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. Instead of the partisan separation that too often turns the State of the Union address into political theater--with members of the President's party cheering and the other essentially sitting on their hands--we all were Americans sitting together.

"I enjoyed sitting with my Nebraska colleagues and looking out across the House chamber at the happy confusion of comity. We should do more of that. In fact, my hope is that the Tuesday night picture of partnership will become the everyday practice of bipartisanship in this 112th Congress.

"Now the question is not whether we can sit together. It's whether we can stand together.

"We must move beyond symbol and stand together, working across party lines--like we do in Nebraska at the Legislature--for the good of the country. America faces serious challenges and remarkable opportunities. Neither will be met or achieved if we continue the partisan, hyper-critical, one-side-wins-the-other-loses battles that have marred too many of our days in Washington over the last several years.

"Nebraskans want us to work together. And we must in order to create the jobs that will grow our economy, to develop more American-made energy so we don't rely so heavily on foreign oil and to tackle the far too large national debt.

"So, to paraphrase former President Reagan, whose declaration about the need for unity rings true today in a different context, I hope colleagues will join me and say, 'Get Rid of This Aisle!'

"Let's close the Partisan Divide and let the Democrats, Republicans and Independents all sit together. I'm going to advocate--if there truly is an interest in working together--that we get rid of the aisle on the Senate floor. We could sit not by party but by state, or by alphabet, or some other way that erases the partisan divide. Others will probably join in. We've already gone through the exercise of last night so it should not be difficult to get others to sign onto the idea. The idea would be to send a joint letter to the leaders suggesting mixed seating.

"It's time we take Tuesday night's symbolic seating arrangement and turn it into substance, partnership and results."