Making Congress work

| Staff Columnist

Over the past year, Congress has had to endure many delays to its agenda: Republican obstructionism, the miscellaneous twists in the health care debate, a “snow-pocalypse” as the media calls it, and so on. Yet, still, they seem to take just about every other week off. You would think that they would have a sense of urgency, given that the November midterm elections are only 10 months away and the Democratic resignations just seem to keep piling up. On Monday, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., announced his retirement, joining Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota in retirement and making the Democrats’ hold on the Senate appear far more tenuous. At this time, the Democrats do not appear to be in danger of losing control of the Senate; but they will certainly have to work with Republicans much more closely.

Already, we are seeing an attempted shift in strategy, though it is unclear how well it will work. In case you haven’t heard, next week the White House is getting together with congressional leaders to try to resurrect the health care reform effort. Senator Bayh cited the partisanship and obstruction in Congress as his primary reasons for quitting; it is doubtful that there will be a change in that atmosphere at the summit, and some Republicans are suggesting that the summit is not even worth it in the first place. I tend to agree with them, for now, anyway; we do need health care reform, but it is time that we address the rest of the agenda.

Except, we’ve already started to. Congressional Democrats tried to take a shot at the jobs picture, and the effort was even bipartisan, yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada canned it and replaced it with a scaled-back version. More than one Republican senator has already stated something to the effect that Reid is the real problem in the Senate, not the GOP. Certainly, Reid’s leadership style is an interesting contrast to that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We have seen over this past year how much trouble Senator Reid has had holding the Democratic caucus together in the Senate, while Pelosi has just about turned the House into a well-oiled machine. Part of this is due to the more stringent rules in the House than in the Senate, but the personal characteristics of the leaders in each body also play a large role.

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But enough abstract talk of leadership styles; it is clear that something needs to change in Washington. If the election of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., was not enough of a wake-up call, consider this: The Republicans only have to defend one more seat than the Democrats because of a resignation. Given the advantage incumbents typically enjoy, this is huge; both parties have used circumstances like these to swing the balance of power in their favor. First, Senator Reid needs to reinstate the Grassley-Baucus jobs bill. Concerns over adding to the Federal deficit are certainly legitimate these days, but seriously, is missing a chance to restore some sense of bipartisanship really worth saving about $70 billion over 10 years, the difference between the estimated costs of the bills? Second, the GOP needs to meet the Democrats halfway on health care—stop talking about this nonsense of starting over as a prerequisite to negotiations. Oh, and of course, get rid of those elected officials who fail to live up to their duties of governing rather than campaigning in November. This may sound like idealism, and it certainly is more difficult than it sounds, but it could really work if it is done right. At the very least, the last item will definitely be effective.

Charles is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at charles.herrera@wustl.edu.