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The 112th Congress                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Jan/11/2011 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Politics & Gov,

It is January 2011, and the Republicans in Congress are entitled to a bit of gloating as they settle into their new positions of power and get down to work. With the election behind them the Republican Party now holds a majority in the house and therefore also heads all the major committees. The GOP also made inroads in the Senate though they do not hold a majority. They said the voters made this change because they were unhappy with the way President Obama and his congressional allies were governing. It is very difficult to say if this is true or not, but it does seem clear that the Democrats over estimated the mandate they were given in 2008.

The victory in 2008 by the Democrats’ clearly showed an alignment with President Obama’s campaign promise of “change”. But being disenchantment with the Bush administration’s policies of 8 years is not a blanket endorsement of a long standing Democratic agenda that had been waiting on the shelf. Missing this point the 11th Congress took their eyes off the target and focused for two years on an agenda that while productive, was not what the American people most needed.

With the 2010 election behind us it is time for the Republicans to stop gloating and starting listening to some of their own words. If you were to listen to the sound bites it would be easy to believe that their recent electoral gains were a sweeping endorsement of the Republican agenda. I beg to differ on this as it seems clear to me that this would defy their own logic. It is important to pay attention to how many Republicans’ also took a beating in the 2010 election. It seems clear to me that whether you look at the 2008 election, or the 2010 election, the American voter is trying time after time to elect a Congress that focus on the immediate issues of unemployment, overburdening pensions, national debt and decline public education system.

The Democrats still control the Senate by a simple majority of 53 to 47. The Republicans have a 242 to 193 majority in the House. Neither of these majorities is by any means a clear mandate to run with a distinct agenda from one side of the aisle or another. Effectively; Neither party has an unfettered mandate to act as it sees fit. And yet that’s how they have been behaving in both the upper and lower houses of congress for years. The result of this partisan divide is endless warfare. Sometimes one side gains ground, leaving the other side more determined than ever to win it back, as we’re seeing in the health care wars. More often, they fight each other to a standstill, as they’ve done on energy and climate, immigration, job creation and the ever-growing deficit. They act like a pair of aging boxers from some old black-n-white news real. One moment they are locked together too tightly to move, the next moment they are taking turns whacking each other in the jaw while clearly too worn out to life an arm in any semblance of a defense. Boxing like this keeps the players and their fans entertained, but it leaves the rest of us in the general public out in the cold.

The current moment offers an opportunity to pause and try something different. Instead of focusing on how to win in 2012 — or, more generously, how to bring about their private visions of the perfect world — the leaders on both sides could sit down and map out a middle path. I could be naïve, but I always thought that negotiating for a mutually beneficial middle ground was supposed to be what went on in Congress. Agreeing on a plan that puts money in consumers’ hands while prodding business to invest in American jobs is an important agenda item. Creating incentives for businesses to burn less carbon while ensuring them a stake in a new, greener energy sector not only ensures new jobs, it also lowers our dependence on foreign oil. Agreeing to start sealing our national borders as firmly as is humanly possible while addressing immigrant hardships in ways that don’t circumvent the fundamental rules of law is desperately needed. Above all, leaving everyone to feeling like they’ve won something they really needed in the debate is critical.

It has often been said that voters choose a divided government in Washington because they want it that way. Voters are smarter than most professional politicians might give them credit for. They recognize the checks and balances that have to occur when each of the rival parties is forced to work with the other. When the various political parties are forced to work together, they end out governing from the middle and no single large agenda is pushed through without something that supports the other side of the isle. I know, this interpretation of the voters’ will might be just the happy talk of too much optimism, or too much beer (could be that one lead to the other). This optimism obviously ignores many of the deep divisions that currently hinder America. Whether your concern is the decline of a once dominate middle class, the growing financial gap between the haves’ and have not’s, or the ever looming role that money appears to have in politics, the reality of our situation remains. Divided government is a fact, and has actually been a fact for most of our countries history. The parties in Congress have no responsible choice but to cooperate with each other and find ways to compromise. There is simply too much to get done to mire in the concept of a “Deadlock.”

There is no doubt that the stakes are high, just as important…the American people have spoken. There is a lot of work to get done and just blaming the other party is not an acceptable outcome. We teach our children to negotiate and to share; hopefully our members of Congress have not forgotten this simple but important lesson in life.

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