Editor’s Note: Joe Lieberman is a former US senator from Connecticut and was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000. He is a national co-chairman of No Labels, a group dedicated to ending partisan gridlock and establishing a new politics of problem solving. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.
Joe Lieberman: We must address Washington's partisan paralysis
This breakdown can be fixed -- history tells us so, he says
While Washington fiddles, the American people are angry. While our elected officials descend further into frenzies of partisanship, voters feel left out. Their kitchen table concerns are repeatedly ignored, forcing many families to face the twin economic disruptions of globalization and the advance of technology on their own.
Enough already. Washington has to get down to business. Our health care system needs reform; our infrastructure is out of date; we are underemployed and undereducated for the new jobs of today and tomorrow; economic growth is weak; debt is skyrocketing; murder rates in cities are rising; and the world is in turmoil with rogue states such as North Korea growing their arsenals.
But Congress is paralyzed. Republicans can’t even agree with other Republicans. And for the most part, Democrats have endorsed a deliberate strategy of gridlock and resistance. Washington is perpetually engulfed by anonymous leaks and diversions. The end result is that the people’s business has taken a permanent back seat to politics and division.
Now, more than ever, we have to recognize the importance of bipartisan action. Every major political reform in this country since the 1930s (with the exception of Obamacare) has been enacted with votes from Democrats and Republicans willing to compromise and work for the common good. That was true of the Civil Rights Act, of Medicare and of welfare reform.
But in an era of partisan media, unchecked Internet trolling and ideological polarization, the Constitution’s blueprint for balanced government has been lost in a political fog. Unlike the parliamentary systems that provide for one-party rule, our system is based on checks and balances. In other words, American democracy centers on the expectation that the two parties will resolve their differences to move the country forward.
The underlying discontent of the voters is reflected in the polls. In the last Harvard-Harris poll, majorities disapproved of the actions of both parties. Who is winning this battle? No one. Each side is landing blows, resulting in a weakened system with flagging public faith on both sides.
This breakdown can be fixed – history tells us so. In our lifetimes, we saw President Ronald Reagan work with Speaker Tip O’Neill to reshape budget and tax policies. We saw President Bill Clinton work with Speaker Newt Gingrich to achieve a balanced budget. Despite vast differences, they worked to bridge disagreement to get things done for our country. Eighty-nine percent of the American people believe the two parties should put aside their disputes to find compromise to get things done. It’s one of the few questions you can ask today that Democratic, Republican and independent voters answer in the same way. It is the right path forward for America.
By all means, Congress should carry out its function of investigating important matters such as Russian covert activities and the possible illegal unmasking and leaking of classified information. But these investigations cannot be allowed to take a car already moving at only 5 mph and grind it to a halt. I was there in the Senate in 1998 during the impeachment inquiry and trial of Bill Clinton, and we learned to investigate and legislate at the same time. We didn’t stop what we were there to do – we put progress over partisanship. It’s an important lesson for today.
Fortunately, a glimmer of hope has emerged from inside Congress. A group of 40 members of the House of Representatives, split evenly among the Democratic and Republican parties and organized and led by Reps. Tom Reed, R- New York, and Josh Gottheimer, D-New Jersey, have formed the Problem Solvers Caucus. Like so many ordinary Americans, they’ve had enough of the status quo. They’re intent on forging substantive and bipartisan solutions to America’s biggest problems, such as infrastructure and tax reform. They helped avert a government shutdown in April. They’re working now to avert a debt ceiling debacle over the summer.