Currently reading On His Own Terms by Richard Norton Smith / 45 days until 114th Congress / 89 days until Spring Training
These are some difficult times in US Politics, but I still believe that we can strive to accomplish much in 2015 with the 114th Congress. I don’t know if it’s the holiday season or not, but I certainly detect a desire by Republicans and Democrats to work together. In general, Democrats were humbled by the election and say that they are prepared to be more bi-partisan. Of course, bi-partisanship is much more desirable when you’re in the minority. I am thoroughly convinced that Congressional Republicans are eager to prove they can govern responsibly. In the weeks after the election (and before President Obama’s speech last night), I’ve noticed less partisan rhetoric and more compliments about the opposing party.
Last week, I blogged about what it means to say goodbye to defeated and retiring politicians. The Members I’ve been meeting with are reacting differently to their recent “unemployment.” I’ve been disappointed that some seem bitter and angry about their loss. More, however, have accepted their loss and feel thankful for their careers working for the American people. I regret that some have lost sight of what a privilege and rarity it is to serve in Congress.
There is some doom and gloom being spread in Washington—likely aided in some part by the dreary weather in the nation’s capitol. Community Action lost a lot of good friends, and it’s sometimes hard to stay hopeful. Folks are discussing how hard the 114th Congress will be on domestic policy programs, especially low-income programs. We also are facing a new Congress where only around 20% have voted on a CSBG reauthorization bill. This could affect our success in pushing a new CSBG reauthorization bill next year. The make-up of the new Committee chairs in the Senate and House is almost entirely male, which is a step backward in the Senate and a recent standard in the House. There is also concern among Republican and Democratic leadership that moderates will struggle to manage the Tea Party,
Personally, I am sick of this spin cycle after the election. The bottom line is that Democrats got trounced on November 4th. They have lost over 70 House seats since 2010, and their 8-year reign of controlling the Senate is over. Across the country, I heard one message over and over again—Democrats have lost touch. Bernie Sanders believes Democrats are no longer seen as “a party representing the working class in this country.” Democrats and pundits have blamed it on a variety of factors from the President’s unpopularity, low voter turnout and Voter ID laws to big money and outside groups. Sugar coating the situation doesn’t help. If the election was a message directed at the White House—which I certainly think it was—it proved fatal to any possible Democratic gains in Congress.
Despite this, I am an optimist. I like the fact that Hal Rogers is House Appropriations Chair. Congressman Rogers believes in the institution. He believes in making Congress work and passing Appropriations bills. He is adamantly against a government shutdown. In these times, Hal Rogers is the perfect member of Congress for the Appropriations Chairmanship. Additionally, Rep. Tom Cole is set to take over the Labor HHS Subcommittee. He is a moderate Congressman who believes in Congress. He is not a bomb-thrower, and he is likely to accomplish a lot as Chair.
On the Senate side, Mike Enzi may challenge Jeff Sessions for budget chairmanship. Enzi is quite conservative, but is a well-respected Senator and is seen as someone who is able to get much done. If he takes over the chairmanship, Congress has a better chance of accomplishing more. Democrats and Republicans alike believe themselves to be Enzi’s best friend. In Senator Kennedy’s autobiography True Compass, he recounts the successful bi-partisan legislation he and Enzi worked on together.
I also have great hope for bi-partisanship next year. In the lame-duck session so far, many ambassadorships and Presidential appointments that were previously stagnant are passing in the Senate. When Republicans take over the Senate, McConnell has said he is committed to compromise to make the Senate work again. Republicans seem determined to prove themselves as House and Senate leaders. They want to demonstrate they can responsibly govern, and are determined to prevent another government shutdown. The last time Republicans had this sizeable of a majority in Congress, they lost huge the next cycle. Republicans must be willing to compromise and re-engage with Democrats to have a successful 114th Congress.
We may have challenges ahead, but I see new opportunities with the 114th Congress. There are a record number of women and minorities in the upcoming Congress. Republicans and Democrats alike are softening their partisan anger and seem more willing to work together. But, it’s hard not to reflect back sometimes at more favorable times. I still walk by the Russell Senate Office Building and miss catching a whiff of Ted Kennedy’s cigar and thinking of the times where large bi-partisan majorities in the Senate got things done. We must look, however, toward the 114th Congress. I am optimistic that Democrats and Republicans can work together to govern. For the health of the county, I both parties must rise to the challenge.