At this time when members of Congress and the president are seeing some of the lowest approval ratings in modern U.S. history, it continues to be disheartening to watch political stances harden to the point of total impasse. American politics has become embarrassing.
In an interview this week with The Times Argus Editor Steven Pappas, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch pointed to several reasons for the all-or-nothing attitudes in Washington, D.C., that are leading to both parties holding one another hostage over certain issues and principles. On the public access show “City Room,” Welch said that gerrymandering and the politics behind getting members of Congress elected are taking a tremendous toll on both elected bodies. The river of money being pushed through campaigns is equally to blame. Third, news media providing entertainment in the name of politics are broadcasting lies and half-truths and forming legions of followers on their own side of the aisle.
Welch called the gridlock a crisis, and he’s correct.
Fortunately, Welch and both our senators are trying to be part of a solution.
Vermont has something to be proud of. All three members of its delegation have made concerted efforts — many of them put into action long before the partial government shutdown and the debt ceiling deadline — to not only keep reaching across the aisle to their Republican counterparts, but working with all stripes of lawmaker in a show of cohesion and cooperation.
Our senior senator, Patrick Leahy, also made headlines when in his role as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman he brought some conservative star power in Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to support more flexibility in mandatory minimum sentencing. The political odd couple, who have worked together in the past, have voiced their mutual respect for one another despite the chasm between them politically on many issues. Leahy embraced the same technique on some of his earlier anti-land mine measures — which passed handily.
The House-Senate conference on the farm bill began last week, again bringing both sides together. Leahy is the most senior Senate conferee from the Senate Agriculture Committee. As a member and as chairman of the Agriculture Committee years back, Leahy developed a long history of bipartisanship in producing farm bills. In the end, his closest friend in the Senate in recent years was (now former) Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.
Leahy’s long list of bipartisan accomplishments over his decades of service have made him the go-to guy on both sides.
Bipartisanship is not unusual, of course. But punching above the usual wheeling and dealing signals an attitude of moderation. And the middle ground is where discussions are had and decisions are made.
Sanders, too, is making great headway. Take the headline today on community health centers. This program got a big boost in the Affordable Care Act with the support of Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who was then the ranking Republican on the health committee. Earlier this week on CNN’s “Crossfire,” support for the community health centers, Sanders’ drumbeat, was echoed by both Sen. David Vitter and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Sanders also worked with former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to pass the provision that ended up in the Dodd-Frank Act calling for the first-ever audit of the Federal Reserve during the period after the 2008 financial crisis. And he’s teamed up with Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa on a provision to limit the number of foreign guest workers a company that laid off American workers could hire.
All three members of the delegation have worked with Republicans on privacy concerns about the National Security Agency sifting through the emails and phone records of millions of Americans.
Welch is known for his close relationships with Speaker John Boehner’s floor staff and worked closely with Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia to secure disaster assistance for Vermont after Tropical Storm Irene. He serves on a highly publicized problem-solver coalition, No Labels, that includes 37 Republicans and 43 Democrats. The group included Welch’s energy-efficiency legislation in its recently announced legislative agenda. Welch also regularly hosts bipartisan home-cooked dinners at his apartment in D.C.
Asked this week if anyone in Congress exemplifies his definition of a leader, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, one of the most conservative members in the House, singled out Welch.
All three members of the delegation have reached across the aisle on other issues, including the budget, agriculture, energy policy, foreign affairs, education and telecommunications — all issues important to Vermonters.
All three can take the hard line on issues. But when Vermonters look to the work our delegation has done in Washington, citizens can point to principled positions taken with the benefit of constituents in mind. Many members of both parties would do well to strike the same respected balance — exactly what we expect from our elected officials.
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