This week the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed from retired Congressman David Dreier. Congressman Dreier, who chaired the House Rules Committee and was a member of Main Street Partnership, addressed a question that has plagued many of us in the past four years: just how bad are things in Congress? Dreier’s answer might surprise you.
There is no question that the majority of the public is NOT pleased with the job that Congress is doing. A recent Gallup poll shows that Congressional approval hovers around 16%, the lowest number heading into a midterm election since Gallup started tracking Congress’ job approval. A rash of stories have been published recently pointing out that the infamous “Do Nothing Congress” (the 80th Congress, from 1947-1949) passed significantly more legislation that our current Congress is on track to pass. Both parties point fingers and blame the others for being obstructionists and based on the Gallup numbers, the general public seems to agree that the current gridlock is the fault of Congress. But is it really?
“How did we get here? For starters, the United States is large and tremendously diverse. Americans are opinionated and passionate. We have strong ideas about issues, we want our voices heard, we want results, and we want them now.
Further, we live in a nation founded in the aftermath of a revolt against tyranny. Our framers explicitly sought to ensure that no one individual, faction or institution could consolidate power. We have a Constitution that is, as one scholar put it, “an invitation to struggle.”
Dreier’s point, it seems, is that the struggles we see in Congress are a reflection of the deeper struggles the exist within the American public. Our current Congress is composed of individuals who were elected by people with a mind-boggling variety of beliefs and values. As representatives of their District or state, these individuals are compelled to vote in a way that reflects the beliefs and values of their constituents. This results in deep division not only within Congress, but even within the individual political parties. It is indeed a struggle.
So what is the answer? How do we dig our way out of this hole? Dreier suggests a solution:
“If Congress is deeply divided, it is because we Americans are deeply divided. Reaching consensus poses great challenges that must be met, not only by congressional and presidential leadership but by the nation. In the meantime, we should recognize that our voices as citizens are heard and that those in Congress are finding ways to move forward amid a divided public.”
We at Main Street could not agree more. Our goal since our inception has been unity and pragmatism over division and ideological dogmatism. We will continue to strive to find those who support these goals and work with them to build a stronger country and Congress. We hope you will join us in our work.