Gridlock gets in the way of good government. Instead of working across the aisle with each other like adults, partisan politicians refuse to budge.
If they don’t get their way, they take their marbles and go home. The bunker mentality flourished during the Newt Gingrich years.
But the intransigence today on Capitol Hill is beyond belief. The sophomoric circus that surrounded the deal to avert the fiscal cliff was painful proof.
The next showdown is coming soon. Political posturing over raising the debt ceiling has begun.
Conservatives vow to take a stand even if it means defaulting on debt or shutting down government. Political theater again threatens to waylay pragmatic work on a serious fiscal crisis.
Meaningful negotiations to pare the biggest budget busters — entitlements and Pentagon spending — will languish as political combatants conspire for all-or-nothing agendas. The intra-party war roiling the House GOP could bring the country to its knees. This is not politics as usual. This is destructive conduct by a few that carries grave consequences for many.
Our collective welfare is held hostage by political crusaders who abhor compromise. They’ve dug in to wage war, suspending progress on stabilizing the fiscal outlook, reforming Medicare and Social Security, or shrinking the military-industrial complex.
Solutions are stymied when political rivalries hold sway. Ohio mirrors the polarization that divides red and blue. We too lean in opposite directions, depending on districts.
My district is largely rural with small towns. Thanks to the 129th General Assembly, the redrawn 4th District runs close to the Indiana border, down to Clark County, and up into parts of Erie and Huron counties. It is represented by Jim Jordan, a Republican from Urbana.
Adjacent is the 9th District, a strange slice of lakeshore constituency represented by Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo. The 9th is largely metropolitan. It stretches from Toledo to the west side of Cleveland.
The two districts and their representatives couldn’t be more different.
Mr. Jordan is a Tea Party favorite. Miss Kaptur, Ohio’s longest-serving member of the House, is a moderate. She voted to avert the fiscal cliff. He did not. She voted to approve a $9 billion measure for Hurricane Sandy victims. He did not.
After the Sandy vote, Miss Kaptur expressed the same frustration that Mr. Jordan did with Washington, but for separate reasons. Miss Kaptur lamented a power struggle inside the House GOP that pits House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, against Mr. Jordan.
“The divide affects everything,” she said. “A faction of the [Republican] party is always uncompromising, always voting no.” The conservative faction, Miss Kaptur said, is less connected to what’s happening in the country and more to “the Club for Growth [conservative organization] and Grover Norquist [conservative lobbyist].”
“They’re throwing a wrench into the wheel of the republic, shutting the economy down,” she said. At a time when Americans want a job done and the economy to recover, “a wing of one party is causing a great deal of consternation,” she added.
Mr. Jordan had a different take on Capitol Hill theatrics. About the fiscal cliff bill, he told me: “Washington won and American families lost.”
“Politicians didn’t do anything to address fiscal and financial problems, didn’t do anything to reduce spending,” he said. “They never come through with spending cuts across the board, lowering gargantuan debt, dealing with debt crisis in the near future by simplifying the tax code.”
As a leading House conservative, Mr. Jordan adamantly opposes raising any tax rates. He insists that “compromise is what got us into this [fiscal predicament],” and “it’s time to stop the madness that has continued to build up debt.”
He sympathizes with those who were affected by Sandy. “I want to help fellow citizens in need,” he said, but “we have to pay for it [disaster relief], find the money, offset what needs to be paid by reducing spending elsewhere in government.”
The gulf between red and blue bunkers is wide. Communication can close the gap. Miss Kaptur suggests Ohio become a catalyst for congressional consensus-building.
She encourages key players in communities from business to education, medical to agriculture, to invite all the members of the Ohio delegation home to explore common ground, build bridges. Make it a regular affair.
It’s worth a try. We have to stop what gets in the way of good government and wastes precious time.
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org