The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 22, 2013

Congress should find areas of common ground

Telegraph Herald
Aug. 16

---- — After years of partisan rancor in Washington, it’s hard to imagine members of Congress sitting down together and working out solutions.

Surely there would be fur flying and the discourse would spiral into an ugly debate with neither side really listening.

At least that’s how most Americans probably picture it, given that a paltry 16 percent think Congress is doing a good job. We tend to hear a lot more about what isn’t getting done than what is.

Funny thing, many more Americans tend to think their own representative is doing a pretty good job — about half say they approve of the job the representative from their own district is doing, and that belief is backed up by the fact that voters re-elect most members of Congress in every election.

Could it be that the American people are right on that count? That if you look at members of Congress as individuals, they really do want to make the country better? An Editorial Board visit with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., lent credence to that school of thought.

Johnson was launched into politics by the Tea Party, winning his seat in 2010. He still subscribes to many of the Tea Party planks about smaller government and lower taxes. But when Johnson speaks earnestly about the debt and deficit problem the country is facing, he manages to find a position that’s hard for voters of any stripe to disagree with: Something has to be done.

Johnson was in the first group of 12 senators invited to dinner with President Obama to discuss the budget deficit earlier this year. Johnson said Americans would be heartened by the tone of those meetings. “There was no acrimony,” he said. “We were trying to find the places we agree.”

That’s what it comes to, really, finding the common ground. Johnson said he’d love to see a “grand bargain” achieved, to negotiate all the details of a plan to get the country’s spending back on track. But that’s not a very realistic goal. Instead, he said, he’ll settle for incremental steps.

That’s an approach we’d like to see more of in Washington. Let’s start with the areas in which we can agree. Like the fact that entitlement programs are not sustainable in the long-term. What steps can be taken — small ones now, bigger ones down the road — to fix that problem over the next three decades? Taking a longer view and finding areas of agreement might be ways to make incremental progress.

So many of the problems Washington faces involve trillions of dollars and seem impossible to break down and find solutions. But progress begins with small steps.

The Iowa Legislature did a good job of finding common ground and building from there in the last legislative session.

Through bipartisan compromise — on which both sides made concessions — lawmakers were able to find accord on major policy issues like low-income health care, tax policy and education reform.

If it can happen in Des Moines, it can happen in Washington. If Wisconsin’s senators, Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, can find measures they agree on (and they did — they worked together on judicial appointments) their colleagues in the Senate can find similar common ground.