Recently two rare and positive events occurred on Capitol Hill. Individual members of Congress took bipartisan steps to break the political gridlock that has made this Congress one of the least productive in American history.
First, 98 senators met in closed session in the Old Senate Chamber to discuss their opposing partisan views concerning the confirmation of presidential appointees and the filibuster. There was no television and press coverage – just an honest and open discussion. Instead of two Senate leaders talking to a TV camera in an empty Senate chamber, individual senators spoke with their colleagues
during the three-and-a-half hour meeting. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said the event was “magical.” Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia agreed, and added “not an evil word was spoken, not a voice was raised.”
With the air cleared, the Senate reached a compromise the next day. Republicans agreed to confirm five of the seven presidential nominees, and the Democrats agreed not to use the controversial “nuclear option” to change Senate filibuster rules.
THE EVENT IS newsworthy because this degree of comity is unheard of in today’s Congress. Members met, debated, compromised and took action. This is what Congress is supposed to do! Neither side got everything it wanted, which is what happens in the real world.
The second positive and rare event was three days later. The 81 members of Congress who belong to No Labels’ Problem Solvers coalition announced nine bipartisan, commonsense bills they have introduced. The Problem Solvers, nearly equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, are representatives and senators who have agreed to work together and put country ahead of party. They have not given up their party ideals or loyalty, but they do understand the need to work across the aisle to solve difficult problems.
On that day, nearly 70 of the 81 Problem Solvers appeared together on Capitol Hill, in brutal heat, to demonstrate their solidarity. Each one spoke briefly about why they belong to the Problem Solvers coalition. Georgia Rep. John Barrow said, “In Washington, compromise has become a dirty word. Having folks who are willing to work together to actually get things done is a breath of fresh air for the American people.” Another Georgian, Rep. Sanford Bishop, also spoke. Georgia Problem Solver Rep. Jack Kingston was unable to attend because of an Appropriations Committee meeting.
I ATTENDED the rally on Capitol Hill, and it was an amazing experience. To hear senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats, declare that they are focused on breaking the gridlock and improving Congress, was truly remarkable.
The Problem Solvers legislative proposals are bipartisan, and focus on improving governance and the budget process. Examples are “No Budget, No Pay,” a two-year budget cycle, and improving care for our injured veterans. To learn more about all nine bills, go to NoLabels.org.
The website also lists the 81 Problem Solvers. If your senators and/or representative are not on that list, ask them to join. Shouldn’t they all be Problem Solvers?
Readers of this column know I am a critic of Congress, and its waging of perpetual partisan warfare rather than carrying out the difficult work of compromising and legislating. But I also believe in recognizing good behavior, and the Senate and the Problem Solvers did just that recently.
Realistic observers will have reasonable doubt that this Congress can become functional. I’m no Pollyanna, but building on the good will and trust that emerged in Congress earlier this month is a positive move toward solving the nation’s political gridlock. We must start somewhere.
(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)