How to End Gridlock in the 113th Congress

by Brad McMillian
Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University

Bipartisan leadership and compromise are critical to avert future congressional showdowns.

The 2am New Year’s Day bipartisan vote in the United States Senate and subsequent bipartisan vote in the House to pass the “fiscal cliff” bill reveals a narrow pathway to end gridlock in our nation’s capital. The Senate vote to preserve tax rates for 98 percent of Americans passed 89-8, with three Democrats and five Republicans voting against. The House passed the compromise legislation with the support of 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans. Notably, of Illinois’ 18 House members, seven Democrats and seven Republicans supported the measure, while four Republicans voted against it. Senator Durbin supported the fiscal cliff deal, while Senator Kirk had not yet returned to the Senate, but voiced his support for the legislation.

So what do these votes show? Most importantly, there is the possibility of compromise between President Obama and Congress. Obama campaigned on raising tax rates for households earning more than $250,000. The deal reached preserved tax rates as they were at the end of 2012, except for those individuals earning more than $400,000 and households earning more than $450,000. It also allows taxes on capital gains and dividends to go up and extends benefits for the unemployed.

Congressman Schock, who supported the bill, stated, “We have taken a giant step to provide certainty and keep taxes low for middle-class taxpayers… Now… Congress and the White House must address the larger issues of out-of-control spending and reversing the historic debt and yearly deficits.” Indeed, now that the revenue side of the debate has been resolved, the spending side of our nation’s fiscal crisis must be squarely faced, including entitlement reform.

The narrow pathway to compromise is found in a combination of presidential and congressional leadership. The last-minute congressional vote on the fiscal cliff deal reveals that there are a significant number of members in the Senate and the House who are willing to part ways with the extreme ideologues in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Therefore, the key to ending gridlock is to identify congressional members willing to put the best interests of the country before the extreme elements in their party and to meet with them, listen to them and try to gently persuade them. It is essential for President Obama to lead the way if bipartisanship is truly going to gain ground in Washington DC.

When speaking at a 2007 lecture at Bradley University, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel recalled how he would take small groups of congressional “fence sitters” to meet with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. Reagan was able to gently persuade both Republicans and Democrats about the wisdom of his tax and defense policies that helped end the Cold War. Many of the key votes during President Reagan’s eight-year-term passed by three to five votes in the U.S. House, where Republicans were in a significant minority.

Over the last 40 years, our national government has been divided between the political parties 15 out of 21 times in the two chambers of Congress and the presidency. In the 113th Congress, with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, it is inevitable that neither party is going to get 100 percent of what it desires. To find solutions to our fiscal crisis, immigration reform, the farm bill, a long-range energy strategy and so many other daunting issues will require thoughtful compromises and intentional bipartisan leadership. iBi

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