Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the various events associated with the opening of the 113th session of Congress. As a guest of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland's Congressman for the Eighth District, I was able to witness first-hand this biennial tradition. Those representatives and senators who were either re-elected or were selected by the voters of their respective districts for the first time will now begin the challenging task of helping to govern our great nation.
Like many others, I hope that the next two-year session of Congress will ultimately prove to be far more productive than the session that just concluded. Looking back, the ineffectiveness of the 112th session of Congress will certainly be seen as legendary, rivaled only by the gridlock seen in the "do-nothing" 80th Congress. Legislators during that session (which ran from 1947 until 1949), worked to obstruct President Harry Truman's attempts to enact pragmatic programs meant to ensure both domestic prosperity and international security for the United States.
I am however cautiously optimistic that things could change in 2013. A series of developments took place within the U.S. Senate that offer a glimmer of hope that some legislators may wish to take a different path. In the depths of the acrimony associated with seeking to avert the so-called fiscal cliff two individuals sought to move beyond the rancor.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked together to craft a compromise that was acceptable to senators from both sides of the aisle. In the end, this proposal—enacted as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012—was approved on an 89-8 vote in the Senate and a 257-167 vote in the House of Representatives. While neither side got everything they wanted, both sides could claim credit for helping to avert a larger crisis.
What Biden and McConnell chose to do was to put their politics aside and rely upon the mutual respect and personal relationship they had developed as a consequence of serving together in the Senate for nearly twenty-five years. This was certainly the correct approach. While there will always be real differences of opinion regarding policy matters in our republic, we must not let these differences overwhelm us. If Americans—both those in elected office and citizens generally—continue to view those they disagree with as somehow "evil or villainous" because they see things another way, then we will never rise above our differences.
I believe that there are legislators in the House of Representatives who would also prefer to employ the collaborative approach used by Biden and McConnell. In remarks made after being sworn in for his sixth term, Representative Van Hollen noted that "Congress needs to be a group of people that come together to find real solutions to difficult problems." Let's hope that most of his colleagues can agree with this statement, and do what is necessary to live by it.