Toy story: New caucus reaches across the aisle

Hill groups a way to bond, boost districts

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Although not much can garner bipartisan support on Capitol Hill these days, Legos and Super-Soakers apparently can bridge the aisle.

The new congressional Toy Caucus is just one example of a unique cause for which members of Congress band together in their free time. Almost 400 caucuses — groups of lawmakers united by common interests — have been formed to promote awareness on topics including home brewing, zoos, peanuts — and now toys.

The Toy Caucus was formed to raise the profiles of issues facing the U.S. toy industry, a statement from the caucus said. Led by Rep. Ron Kind, Wisconsin Democrat, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, the 11 members of the caucus have either toy companies in their districts or an interest in promoting the industry, a spokesman for Mr. Kind said.

“Members of the Toy Caucus recognize the toy industry’s significant impact on the U.S. economy and the critical role of play in the lives of children,” Mr. Kind said in the founding statement. “We look forward to working with representatives of the industry to advance discussions on topics ranging from toy safety and the value of play to the growth of small toy businesses.”

There is a policy angle as well. Caucus members say they want to highlight concerns by American toymakers about the threat of excessive federal regulation and damaging trade restrictions and barriers.

Ordnance disposal expertise

Not all caucuses are related to industries or products.

Rep. Eric A. “Rick” Crawford, Arkansas Republican, is a former disarmament technician in the Army and founded the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Caucus in 2011 to lend support to the small community of military bomb defusers among the services.

“I just felt like they needed to have a voice up here,” Mr. Crawford said. “Very few people know about who they are, what they do and their mission. In this environment, [roadside bombs] are the weapons of choice of our enemies.”

The 25-member caucus tends to attract representatives who either have military experience or have explosive ordnance disposal units in their home districts. At two major events a year, units conduct demonstrations on Capitol Hill to “give people a firsthand look at what goes on in the EOD field,” Mr. Crawford said. New bomb-defusing robots and the clunky suits specialists wear are big draws, he said.

Mr. Crawford said it is important to maintain funding for ordnance disposal technicians who continue to be involved with security interests in countries where combat activities are either over or winding down.

“We’re basically bringing the war on terrorism back here to our shores,” he said. He noted that a National Guard explosive ordnance disposal unit was one of the first responders at the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

“They played critical role in helping to mitigate that incident,” Mr. Crawford said. “They’re going to be called on to do even more as we see potential for things like that to escalate.”

He also sees a use for personnel along the U.S.-Mexico border as drug cartels adopt tactics used by international terrorists, including roadside bombs such as those that targeted U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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