If members of Congress really represented the public, they would cooperate more. After all, that’s what the overwhelming majority of the public wants, according to a new poll.
Instead, lawmakers spend too much bickering and blaming others for why they can’t get much done. And then they wonder why Congress’ approval rating is in the toilet.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 68 percent of all adults think that it is more important for politicians to cooperate across party lines than stick to their positions. The percentage is higher among Democrats (74 percent) and independents (72 percent), though even 62 percent of Republicans (including 58 percent of conservatives) said that cooperation was more important than ideology.
Of course, compromise and cooperation often sound better in the abstract than on specific issues, such as abortion or taxes. And people tend to have different perspectives on how much they and others compromise.
Still, as U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, said recently: “This Congress is terribly unpopular, and for good reason: Next to nothing is getting done.”
And that’s because lawmakers aren’t reaching across party lines.
Jenkins explained the math: “In a divided Washington, neither Democrats nor Republicans can get things done unilaterally. Either we work together to fix problems, or we achieve nothing.”
There have been a few encouraging signs of cooperation recently. Republican and Democratic senators negotiated an immigration-reform bill and a new student-loan plan, and they agreed not to change rules on filibusters. About 80 Senate and House members, including Jenkins, joined a group called No Labels that is trying to break the partisan gridlock.
But Congress is mostly a big, hot mess. It’s gotten so bad in the House that GOP leaders are now trying to spin the infighting and inaction as a positive: that they are preventing bad legislation.
There was a time not so long ago when lawmakers believed that they needed to get results, not just posture. Americans were reminded of that last week when Bob Dole celebrated his 90th birthday. Many who wished Dole well recalled his ability to bring Republicans and Democrats together.
In an interview last spring with The Eagle, the former Kansas senator said that gotcha politics and saying “no” to everything aren’t effective. Such tactics may score points with partisans, but they alienate everyone else and lead to gridlock.
“Compromise is not a bad word,” he said.
So if compromise gets results and is what the public says it wants, why don’t lawmakers do it more? A big reason is that the people who tend to vote in primaries, especially Republicans, are the least likely to value cooperation and compromise. In some recent elections, compromise has even been treated as a moral failing.
Until voters start choosing candidates who seek common ground and rejecting those who don’t, Congress (and our nation) will stay stuck in the mud.