For a Democrat recently re-elected in a district drawn to favor a Republican, U.S. Rep. John Barrow says he’s still optimistic about the long-term prospects of overcoming the Congressional partisan divide.
In an interview Monday during a recess swing through the 12th Congressional District, the chairman of the House Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats said the No. 1 complaint he hears from constituents is about Washington’s gridlocked partisan atmosphere.
“It’s not that people don’t want to work together – it’s just they can’t work together with somebody who doesn’t even talk the same language,” Barrow said. “If the person on the other side of the aisle doesn’t even agree with you on what the problem is, it’s kind of hard to agree on what the solution ought to be.”
With districts gerrymandered to represent heavily Republican or heavily Democratic majorities, Congress has become a body in which “you’ve got 90 percent of the districts that are more partisan than the country as a whole, and the members of the districts are more partisan than their districts – the worst of all possible worlds,” Barrow said. “People look at Congress and they just see two warring tribes.”
As a result, Congress takes action only when forced to do so, he said, though such gimmicks as continuing resolutions to keep the government funded rather than passage of complete budgets – or gridlock on the so-called “fiscal cliff” and budget sequestration.
“This sequestration thing is a very rough and imperfect way of trying to put a burden on Congress,” he said. “Just as the leadership set this trap for itself, they’re caught in it – they can’t find a bipartisan solution to the problem.
“I do think a step in the right direction is for the leadership on both sides to recognize that since they failed the sequestration test … they’ve at least decided to
allow the executive agencies, the defense department, the departments that administer these programs, the discretion to figure out how” to make the cuts necessary to meet the targets of the sequestration.
As he tours the district during the Easter recess, Barrow says in addition to frustration about congressional partisanship he also hears from constituents concerned about this year’s increase in payroll withholding taxes and rising health-care premiums that have squeezed individuals’ paychecks.
That’s why he voted against the “fiscal cliff” bill, he said, and why he has never voted in favor of a budget while he has been in Congress.
“We’ve never had one that I thought was reasonable,” he said. “Republicans want to cut benefits on Democrats, and Democrats want to raise taxes on Republicans. That seems to be the ruling formula up there. There have been variations on that theme, and some have been more extreme. But that’s essentially what it comes down to.”
Now in his fifth term, Barrow also is asked about his future – particularly since the announced retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss that already has prompted his 10th District neighbor, Republican Paul Broun, to announce he’ll run for Chambliss’ seat. Several other Republicans are exploring a run, and Barrow, now an Augusta resident, frequently has been mentioned as a Democratic candidate.
If he’s considering running, he’s keeping it close to the vest.
“Everybody else is seriously thinking about it, but I’m focusing on my district,” he said. “I’m totally focused on doing the job I was elected to do.”