Reporters Carl Hulse and Robert Pear teamed up in Saturday's New York Times to lament the decline of cooperation in Congress -- a hypocritical stretch in particular for Hulse, whose reporting invariably has a partisan Democratic tone and whose favorite story to write is Democrats pressuring Republicans to knuckle under. (Pear's health-care reporting tends more sedate).
The slant was clear in this survey of wisdom from four retiring congressmen, two Democrats and two Republicans. While dubious talk of compromise emanated from the mouths of fiery liberals Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Tom Harkin, painting themselves in flattering fashion, the Republicans were quoted as having to fend off extremists on their right flank such as the Tea Party movement.
With more than 120 years in the House and Senate among them, four lawmakers offered a bit of parting wisdom to Capitol Hill newcomers: Partisanship is easy, governing is hard.
How convenient that this plea for "governing" arrives from the Times just as Republicans prepare to take over the U.S. Senate.
In interviews, Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa; Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia; Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California; and Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, pointed out the problems of recent years -- failures that contributed to a steep decline in productivity on Capitol Hill as the gulf between the parties widened.
They all agreed that Congress could not function unless members of both parties were willing to find some common ground.
“I’m an unabashed liberal,” Mr. Harkin said. “I’ve been a progressive all my life. That’s who I am. That’s my philosophy. But it doesn’t mean that I won’t make a deal.”
Hulse and Pear buttered up another retiring leftist and highly partisan pol, Henry Waxman.
Mr. Waxman, who proved both a highly skilled legislator and an expert in oversight of government laws and programs during his 40 years in the House, is an example of some traits valuable to legislators: tenacity and perseverance.
It was eight years from his first hearing on a mysterious disease affecting gay men until the signing in 1990 of legislation to combat AIDS. His fight for legislation to beef up the Clean Air Act, which he called “the most successful environmental law we have on the books,” took even longer, nearly a decade.
“Every bill that I authored that became law had Republican support of one sort or another except for one,” Mr. Waxman said, “and that was the Affordable Care Act, where the Republicans just would not support anything because President Obama was for it.”
While Waxman was allowed to fire on the GOP while walking out the door, retiring Republican Sen. Chambliss was quoted about the need to tone down the "ultra right-wingers" and not shut down the government.
Mr. Chambliss, who entered Congress in the House in 1995 as Republicans swept out the Democratic majority in 1994 elections after four decades, said lawmakers need to abandon extreme views when they arrive in Washington if they hope to be effective.
“We were all ultra right-wingers, but we figured out right quick that when you are in the majority, you have to govern,” he said of the 1994 class of House Republicans. “If you are going to govern in this country you are not going to govern on the far right or the far left. You’ve got to figure out a way to somehow get pretty close to the middle, otherwise you are going to do what we did -- that is shut the government down. And we paid a heavy price for it. And you saw that again just a year ago.
Next the Times oh-so-subtly suggested that Republican congressmen stop listening to those "yellers and screamers" in the Tea Party movement.
If lawmakers are to break out of the partisan cycle, Mr. Kingston said, they need to avoid being inundated by their constituents in an increasingly digital world where members of Congress find themselves under immediate pressure as events unfold.
“If new members allow their base to control their behavior up here they are going to be miserable,” said Mr. Kingston, who has seen the rising influence of Tea Party activists on Republican lawmakers. "While the voters might be yelling and screaming at you to do something, that’s not your job."