As we look forward to the holidays, we also look ahead to what 2017 may bring once the celebrations of the season are over.
For Washington, January will bring a new Congress and new administration. I believe there is a measure of possibility for returning to governing and legislating in our nation’s capital, but three things will be required: that our lawmakers hear America’s cry for results, that both sides are willing partners in making government work, and that all of us send them constant reminders of our expectations.
As we know, the Republican Party now controls both the White House and Congress. At the same time, the margins between Republicans and Democratic voters nationally remains narrow. Moreover, the 60 vote threshold for forestalling filibusters and passing most major legislation in the Senate continues intact – and Republicans will be short of that number. Therefore, one truth persists: as someone once said, “Bipartisanship isn’t just a political theory. It is a political necessity.”
I have written in the past that the entire rationale for this 60 vote threshold is to ensure that a consensus indicative of something more than mere partisan divide is reached on essential matters. And the obvious principle that this purpose serves has greater – not lesser – application at times in which a politically polarized nation faces difficult problems requiring effective resolution. This is such a moment.
What is key is that both sides have a stake in the outcome of legislation. Hopefully, we can learn from the mistakes of the past: As we have seen, a failure to achieve bipartisanship in major bills enacted by Congress ultimately undermines the credibility and sustainability of those laws. What our country requires now are durable solutions to our biggest challenges that are reflective of the best ideas from all sides.
Sarah Jaffe, a reporting fellow at the Nation Institute and author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, wrote in the New York Times that, “If anything has been made clear by the results of this election, it is that the political and pundit class have underestimated the degree of anger and pain in the United States, the degree to which ‘recovery’ has been recovery for a few and stagnation and decline for many more.”
Jaffe went on to quote a Reuters/Ipsos early exit poll: “Sixty-eight percent believed that ‘traditional parties and politicians didn’t care about people like me.’” Washington will continue to ignore that reality at its own peril.
There may be some prospect for progress. A recent piece by David Brooks in the New York Times, entitled “The Future of the American Center,” stated the opinion that “This may be a Congress with many caucuses – floating coalitions, rather than just follow-the-leader obedience.”
Brooks wrote: “As Bill Kristol told me, the coming Congress may not look like the recent Congresses, when party-line voting was the rule. A vote on an infrastructure bill may look very different from a vote on health care or education or foreign policy.”
I view this as potentially positive news. It means there could be voting blocs in between the traditional positions of the two parties, which may necessitate consensus-building even in an environment where one party controls both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But it will require that lawmakers from both parties who are inclined toward ideological purity decide that it is not, in fact, better to simply take their legislative ball and go home rather than to enact solutions that may fall short of 100 percent of their ideal outcome.
Each of us must insist on it. We should contact our representatives and senators now to let them know we expect them to seek common ground for the good of the nation. For those newly elected, please make certain you send that message as soon as the lines of communication to them are established.
There is a critical and finite window of opportunity for setting Washington on the necessary course, and we cannot afford to waste a moment in demanding that they do precisely that.
We have all heard the familiar phrase “The American Dream” many times. In a recent article by David Leonhardt in the New York Times, he writes that “it comes from a popular 1931 book by the historian James Truslow Adams, who defined it as ‘that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.”
Leonhardt continues: “In the decades that followed, the dream became a reality. Thanks to rapid, widely shared economic growth, nearly all children grew up to achieve the most basic definition of a better life – earning more money and enjoying higher living standards than their parents had.”
And he goes on to explain that recent research bears this out. Ninety-two percent of Americans born in 1940 had higher household earnings at age thirty than their parents did at the same age. Yet, for those born in 1980, the number is just 50 percent.
Surely, we can do better as a nation. Just as certainly, creating an atmosphere in Washington that is conducive to enacting policies that will bolster economic opportunities for all Americans would be an excellent – and essential – start.