Good ideas matter more than party affiliation

INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said he’s living on caffeine these days.

He said the work of running for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat and representing his congressional district keeps him both tired and exhilarated.

Young and I talked by phone a few hours before a legislative initiative that meant much to him was scheduled for a vote before the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill promoted Social Impact Partnerships, which sounds complicated but isn’t. Stripped down to its essence, Young’s bill called for the federal government to reward with funding the businesses, nonprofits, local and state government programs that produce results in dealing with social problems.

Young argued that we too often measure our commitment to a cause or the scope of our compassion by the amount of time, money and energy we devote to solving a problem. In his words, we focus on “inputs” — what we throw at a challenge.

He wanted to reverse that so that we focus instead on outcomes. He said we should ask whether the approach we are using actually works and reward those approaches that help those in need while discarding those that don’t.

Young said the journey that led to this bill began before he became a member of Congress. He volunteered for organizations trying to help people — veterans and others — in need. He noticed that everyone involved worked hard and cared a lot, but it often was difficult, even impossible, to determine if the time and money they spent attacking problems made any real impact.

That troubled him.

In addition to the waste involved, he said, it “bordered on being immoral” to just hand someone in need a check or provide some other assistance and then walk away without determining if it actually helped.

Once in Congress, Young and his staff began to look for ways that might break the pattern.

They found that Social Impact Partnerships — or pay for results programs — already were in place and having an impact in the United Kingdom.

Young had a model for what he wanted to do. He needed a partner.

He approached U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat from Maryland, to serve as co-author.

Young said Delaney wasn’t hard to sell on the idea. Though they disagree on some — maybe even many — issues, he and Delaney, Young said, share a commitment to finding solutions.

They became good friends while working on the measure, in part because both were asking the same question:

What will work?

That’s a simple, even practical question, but it’s not asked as often as it should be these days.

That’s particularly true in politics, where, on both the left and the right, pragmatism has become synonymous with betrayal. Often, too often, the questions asked in the echo chambers that both political parties have become are:

Is this conservative?

Is this liberal?

And not:

What will work?

We spend so much time in this country fighting about the means of solving a problem or helping those in need that we often forget to actually solve the problem and help the people who need it.

I asked Young if the labels — conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican — get in the way of problem-solving.

He chuckled.

“I’ll always own up to being a pragmatic Republican,” he said. “I’m a guy who likes to solve problems.”

The House of Representatives unanimously approved Young’s bill. There’s a companion bill — also with bipartisan support — moving through the Senate.

Should the measure become law — as it seems likely to — both money and muscle will be devoted to determining whether our best-intentioned efforts are succeeding. If they are, they’ll be rewarded. If they aren’t, we’ll know we have to find another way.

This happened because our elected officials stopped arguing — for a moment, anyway — about whether the idea was conservative or liberal or if Republicans or Democrats could take credit for it.

They just asked whether it was a good idea.

There’s a moral to that story.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.