Frustrated by Congress? So am I09/02/2011
As an institution, Congress is almost never popular. But when the public’s approval of Congress reaches a record low, as it did this summer, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong. Americans are not just unhappy about the bad economy and the size of the national debt, they are frustrated with the way Congress is operating – or failing to operate. As a member of Congress, I am frustrated too.
I have always believed that the job of a representative is to help make life better for his or her constituents and for the American people as a whole, both today and into the future. Doing so necessarily involves compromise, especially when we have divided partisan control of government, as we do now. Unfortunately, many members of Congress seem to have little appetite for compromise and little desire to accomplish anything other than stir up partisan passions. This may help some people get reelected, but it does nothing to help most Americans.
At the Republican presidential debate in Iowa, one of the candidates was criticized for having a record lacking in accomplishments. The candidate’s response was something like this – “I fought against X, Y, and Z.” I am not seeking here to single out one politician or one party, but watching the debate on TV, I found myself thinking, “It’s no wonder everyone is upset with Congress!” Opposing policies one believes are wrong for our country is part of the job of a representative. But when elected officials start to think that saying “no” is the same thing as actually getting something constructive done, we are in trouble. As someone once said – anyone can tear down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.
What Americans want are real achievements that improve life for them and their children. Instead they get bickering and inflammatory speeches that aim to drive us apart. Standing on principle should not mean ruling out compromise altogether. Nor should the fact that one believes someone is taking the wrong approach to fixing a problem lead one to deny the problem’s existence.
In my own case, I did not support the stimulus bill that was passed in 2009 because I did not believe it would be effective in preventing a rise in unemployment. But I offered suggestions on better ways we could get Americans back to work. I also opposed the health care law that passed last year. But I have offered ways to fix its flaws, as well as alternatives to reform our health care system to make it work better for middle-class Americans.
Today, about the only thing Congress seems capable of delivering is gridlock. It’s been nearly two years since the expiration of the last long-term bill to build and repair our road, rail, and transit infrastructure. And it’s been almost four years since the expiration of the last long-term bill to build and repair our aviation system. Frankly, this is absurd, given that passing these bills would put hundreds of thousands of people to work, relieve congestion, and boost long-term economic growth.
America faces many challenges, first and foremost being a lack of jobs. That is why I continue to try to bring people together to find ways to make our country work better. It is not easy to do so in Washington today, but I know that is what my constituents and the American people want.