By Katie Allen
Unproductive. Corrupt. Selfish.
What do these words have in common? According to Pew Research Center, these are the words chosen by the public to describe the current (113th) Congress.
In the past decade we have seen the approval rating of Congress drop so low that a survey conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center showed that two-thirds of the people believe that Congress is moving in the wrong direction. From this the population is able to assume that the Congress just is not working; however, is that truly the case?
Is it possible that even though the Congress is at a gridlock, it is still working to get things done? Especially at a time when the two parties seem to be always at odds with each other?
In our session today we heard from former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, a Democrat, and former Senator Robert Bennett, a Republican. Before walking into the session I had the notion that we would be hearing two very different view points on questions such as:
1. Is our system broken?
2. What is different with our Congress now?
As the discussion began it was not the typical blame game between individuals on the stage that I was hearing. Rather, I was hearing the two men agree on answers and build off one another for a joint consensus. What they came to was a message of hope and optimism. Our system was built for gridlock; it is inevitable. However, by getting more people involved in Congress, possibly with earmarks, and as voters, potentially experimenting with the election process, there could be a far different outcome for the new Congress. They also brought to our attention that although Congress has not been the most productive Congress to date, they do in fact get things done when needed. Stories were shared about how Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, though of opposing parties, were both willing to sit down and come to agreements. Turns out there is quite of bit of work going on after all. Even better, the work is happening across the aisle.
Not only was the message they were sending optimistic because of the ideology they were sharing, but the image of it all left me quite hopeful as well.
Too often we are surrounded with these images and ideas that Congress is split in two by a deep crevice that cannot be crossed. Today I witnessed two men (who are not the only individuals in or outside of Congress to work this way) from different sides of the aisle sitting down and having a conversation about where Congress is, where it is going, where it should be, and how to get there. All the while, they were agreeing.
Although it may seem to the public eye that Congress has been hardly working the last few years, there has been productivity (even if it is less than satisfying). The great news is there is hope that as the 114th Congress is sworn in tomorrow (January 6, 2015), there will be even more work across party lines in order to find solutions to so many of the problems facing Americans today.