When it comes to politics, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina have very little in common.
Booker, the former mayor of Newark, N.J., became a national political celebrity while attempting to position himself as a progressive on issues like unemployment insurance (although his progressive bona fides have been called into question).
As for Scott, he was a rising star in the tea party class of 2010 in the House and is a regular on the conservative-conference circuit, with a 90 percent scorecard rating from Heritage Action.
Booker's score? Zero percent.
But the two—who were spotted having a spirited discussion in the Capitol basement as they made their way to Tuesday votes—have unveiled legislation they hope will increase apprenticeships in America.
The Leveraging and Energizing America's Apprenticeship Programs, or Leap Act, is meant to increase youth employment while building up skills for good-paying jobs. The bill would give federal tax credits to employers in exchange for hiring people who are registered as apprentices, either with the Labor Department or a state agency. The credit is $1,500 for hiring apprentices under 25, and $1,000 for those over 25.
According to the senators' offices, it would be paid for by cutting back on printing costs. Essentially, it would bar the federal government from printing publications that are also online, except for material intended for seniors, Medicare recipients, or places with limited Internet access.
Booker and Scott do have a couple of things in common. They both came to the Senate mid-cycle. Scott was appointed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to fill former Sen. Jim DeMint's seat when the latter departed to head up the Heritage Foundation. Booker ran and won a special election to fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat.
Oh, and they are the Senate's only two African-American members.
Booker has riled up progressives in the past, with his associations with Wall Street and agreeing with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on issues related to school reform, such as expanding charter schools.
But for all the criticism he has received in the past as trying to constantly position himself in the spotlight, he's taken a decidedly more low-key approach to being a senator—you won't find him rushing to the mics or holding court with reporters in the halls of the Capitol.
Scott is a tea-party favorite. At a time when the GOP is struggling to reach out to minority voters, he, for many, represents possibilities for the future of the party. He is the first black Republican to be elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction. But taking a low-key approach on the Hill is very typical of his politics; for instance, when the NAACP's North Carolina chapter president basically called him a "dummy" being used by a "ventriloquist," he declined to fire back. "The best way to respond to attacks from someone you've never met, who's never been there during the most difficult times of your life, is not to respond at all," Scott told National Journal at the time.
So these two low-key yet rising stars in their respective parties have struck some common ground. Whether their bill will make it through the Democratic-controlled Senate in a midterm election year is unclear, especially since Democrats' midterm agenda is focused on party priorities such as minimum wage and equal pay. But this bill and some other pending bipartisan bills, like one reforming mandatory minimum sentencing from another political odd couple (Sens. Dick Durbin and Mike Lee), could get some of the spotlight this year, too.
This article appears in the April 10, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.