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OPINION: Hope for a More Effective Congress

New evidence of relationship building and compromise that emerged as part of deliberations to avert the fiscal cliff are clearly a positive development that must be replicated throughout Congress.

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.

Mike the house buyer January 07, 2013 at 02:09 PM
If you're seriously hoping and counting on the government, to solve 300 million folks issues with the economy, then you're in for a long wait, and a sad one. JMO.
Paul Amirault January 07, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Jeff, I appreciate your optimistic outlook. However, I have this oceanfront property in Kansas I have been trying to sell. ;-)
Hank January 07, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Politicians just gave me a 2% pay cut. Your opinion sucks.
DAJ January 07, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Last I heard, it takes both parties to compromise. I only seen the Congress (GOP) compromise. The President made no cncessions on spending cuts. I share your hope that the President and Dems will now move from a political position of forcing a tax hike that will fail to even pay the interest on the debt to a grown-up position of reining in spending.
FIFA January 07, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Not to question your reading comprehension, but the President wanted $1.6 Trillion in tax increases and accepted $600 Billion. What do you call that?
FIFA January 07, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I guess when you got the 2% pay increase you liked it?
Tim January 07, 2013 at 05:46 PM
You should've never gotten that 2% pay raise to begin with. Unfortunately, robbing from Social Security is a federal government pasttime. It's been happening for decades. Then, they turn around and claim it's run poorly and going bankrupt in 25 years - so let's let our corrupt cronies in the private indutry run it. Hypocrisy at its finest. Folks should be more angry that the BTCs were made permanent. Yes, I'm suggesting they should have ended - within a couple years - for EVERYONE. Tax rates go back to 1999. The BTC's were not intended to be permanent, they were implemented because back in 2000 they could be afforded at the time (thanks to the dotcom boom and proper fiscal management at the time). These tax cuts should've been ended the moment we started invading countries and funneling trillions into the middle east - not to mention damaging millions of families for no good reason over the past decade. All this fiscal cliff deal did was screw us more in the longer term. Ending the BTC's were the easiest way to raise revenue. They could've done it gracefully over 2-3 years, to account for the recovering economy. It also didn't involve creating a new tax. It simply involved ending tax breaks our nation hasn't been able to afford for about 8 years now. However, the average rabble rabble see increased taxes, without being willing to see the bigger financial picture for our grandkids.
Tim January 07, 2013 at 05:50 PM
and before the conservatives get started, I absolutely want to see spending cut - far more then is currently being done. 2 to 1 ratio (spending/revenue) is my own standard, perhaps 2.5 to 1.
Chris Megert January 08, 2013 at 08:49 AM
Republican & Democrat alike:When a company falls on difficult times, one of the things that seems to happen is they reduce their staff and workers. The remaining workers must find ways to continue to do a good job or risk their job would be eliminated as well.Wall street & the media normally congratulate the CEO for making this type of "tough decision", Our government should not be immune from similar risks.Therefore:Reduce the House of Representatives from the current 435 members to 218 members.Reduce Senate members from 100 to 50 (one per State). Then, reduce their remaining staff by 25%.Accomplish this over the next 8 years (two steps/two elections); of course this would require some redistricting.Some Yearly Monetary Gains Include:$44,108,400 for elimination of base pay for congress. (267 members X $165 ,200 pay/member/ yr.)$437,100,000 for elimination of their staff. (Estimate $1.3 Million in staff per each member of the House, and $3 Million in staff per each member of the Senate every year)$108,350,000 for the reduction in remaining staff by 25%.$7,500,000,000reduction in pork barrel earmarks each year.(Those members whose jobs are gone. Current estimates for total government pork earmarks are at $15 Billion/yr) ....
Chris Megert January 08, 2013 at 08:51 AM
The remaining representatives would need to work smarter and improve efficiencies. It might even be in their best interests to work together for the good of our country!We may also expect smaller committees might lead to a more efficient resolution of issues as well. It might even be easier to keep track of what your representative is doing.Congress has more tools available to do their jobs than it had back in 1911 when the current number of representatives was established. (Telephone, computers, cell phones to name a few)Note:Congress does not hesitate to head home for extended weekends, holidays & recesses, when what the nation needs is a real fix for economic problems. Also, we had 3 senators who were not doing their jobs for the 18+ months (on the campaign trail); still they all accepted full pay. Minnesota survived very well with only one senator for the first half of this year. These facts alone support a reduction in senators and congress. Summary of opportunity:$44,108,400 reduction of congress
Chris Megert January 08, 2013 at 08:53 AM
members.$282,100,000 for elimination of the reduced house member staff. $150,000,000 for elimination of reduced senate member staff.$70,850,000 for 25% reduction of staff for remaining house members.$37,500,000 for 25% reduction of staff for remaining senate members.$7,500,000,000 reduction in pork added to bills by the reduction of congress members.$8,084,558,400 per year, estimated total savings. .
Chris Megert January 08, 2013 at 08:53 AM
(That's 8-BILLION just to start!) Corporate America does these types of cuts all the time.There's even a name for it."Downsizing."Also, if Congress persons were required to serve 20, 25 or 30 years (like everyone else) in order to collect retirement benefits, taxpayers could save a bundle.Now they get full retirement after serving only ONE term.IT’s time to "downsize" Congress The 26th amendment (the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, 7 took 1 year or less to become the law of the land all because of public pressure. CONGRESSIONAL CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM Term Limits. 12 years only, one of the possible options below..A. Two Six-year Senate terms B. Six Two-year House terms One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms No Tenure / No Pension.A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.Congress (past, present and future) participates in Social Security
Chris Megert January 08, 2013 at 08:55 AM
sheep off to slaughter and We the People have ourselves to blame.
FIFA January 08, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Questions for you Chris, after that lengthy diatribe, it wasn't copy pasta was it? Have you totaled up your savings by whosoever plan this is?
FIFA January 08, 2013 at 11:12 PM
OT, that is a typical loser move by you. I wanted the President to allow the tax rates to return to 2000 levels across the board. He compromised and I ain't happy.
FIFA January 08, 2013 at 11:13 PM
PS - OT, the tax cuts were schedule to expire, so now you call that a tax increase when it happens. Get real, you are a joke.
FIFA January 08, 2013 at 11:24 PM
OT, the tax cuts in 2001 should have never happened. They were a payoff to the wealthy. They then become an "entitlement" when they are scheduled to expire.
FIFA January 09, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Sorry OT my reply appears to have been held up in permanent "pending approval", it follows: OT, I have been "good". But words like "gazillion" irritate me. Perhaps a flaw in my personality. "Enough" is never enough in my mind when it comes to the wealthy. When the Walton family net worth (top 6 members) is equal to over the total net worth of the bottom 40% of Americans, something is incredibly wrong. Yes, one family's wealth equals the total wealth of more than the bottom 40%. What do you think about that OT? Okay or is something smelly? Go check my numbers, we are a sick society when it comes to extreme wealth. Of course your number, if true as I have yet to check it, excludes the payroll taxes paid by workers as they are not "income" taxes but those taxes for Medicare and SS are considered "entitlements" and are the first on the list of the Repubs to cut benefits.
Chris Megert January 09, 2013 at 08:44 PM
I read the idea 4 years ago and sat and thought about the small company I ran and how making payroll monthly wasn't always easy. Many months we 3 owners went without! Feel free do the math my point was only food for thought. I believe all American people have thoughts and ideas worth discussion. Regards
FIFA January 09, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Chris, although you may have proposed some changes I may agree with, you failed to answer my basic question, which is what is the total of all of your proposed cuts? You quote an $8 Billion number plus some other cuts from retirement benefits it appears. That said, I'll give you a $10 Billion number just to give room for ample cushion. You state you run a small business, I hope you are better at math than what you have proposed. The US deficit problem is $1.2 Trillion (with a T), you have just described less than 1% savings. We still have a 99%+ problem. Please don't respond with "at least it is a start".
Chris Megert January 09, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Ran a small business. The problem can't be fixed tomorrow however I don't think the smartest folks are going to solve any issue unless the.incentive is lower the debt increase income for the Country. If I thought my voice would be heard I'd work on it in more depth feel free to help me see what I am missing. Yes it's a start. Sorry

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