Moderated By Tom Sabulis
Immigration. Health care. Federal spending. Deficit reduction. The grand political issues of the day, which resonate deeply in Georgia, can be stonewalled in Washington by a lack of compromise in Congress. Democrats and Republicans seem as polarized as ever, as if politicians were more interested in seeking ways to posture and deny rather than solve and achieve. Today, we asked two elected leaders to discuss the importance of negotiation and compromise and write about some of the ways in which they’ve reached across the aisle.
Commenting is open.
By Saxby Chambliss
When I travel around the state of Georgia, I often hear both praise and criticism for my willingness to work across the aisle on major issues facing our country.
Many mistake this bipartisanship for sacrificing my conservative beliefs for the sake of a deal. I’ve always seen it as the recognition of when to stand your ground, and when to seek common ground.
While my voting record continues to be one of the most conservative in the Senate, I have always believed the best leaders in our nation’s history have been the ones who found common ground solutions, while still maintaining their principles.
I was elected as a strong social and fiscal conservative to represent all Georgians. I came to Washington to find solutions to the country’s most pressing issues. I made a decision early on in my career that I would not take the politically safe route by sitting on the sidelines. I came to Washington to be a player.
In today’s divided government, failure to seek bipartisan solutions on legislation often means doing nothing. Likewise, sometimes taking no action is preferable to passing flawed bills, which is why I voted against immigration reform in 2007 and 2013.
However, with issues such as our nation’s growing debt and deficit – the biggest issue facing our country today – there are no simple solutions. No party has a monopoly on the good ideas. We can’t expect to change the way Washington works unless we can convince elected representatives to hold firm to their principles, but to seek common ground with others. Solutions can’t always be found, but these days many folks are not even willing to engage in the process.
I came to Congress in 1994, as a small town lawyer who wanted to get things done. I didn’t care if you were an independent, a Republican, or a Democrat. If you and I could work something out that benefited Georgia and our nation, then I wanted to talk to you.
People knew what they got when they elected me: a conservative from Georgia who wanted to make my state and country a better place. That has not, and will not, change. My colleagues across the aisle didn’t try to change me, but they did try to find areas where we could agree.
That’s how I was able to craft four bipartisan farm bills with colleagues such as former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, saving taxpayers $24 billion in this year’s bill, while still providing a safety net for agriculture and the nutritional well-being of low-income Americans.
That’s how Sen. Mark Warner and I came to agree that spending cuts, simplifying the tax code, and entitlement reforms had to go hand-in-hand for any deficit reduction deal, changing the focus of our nation’s fiscal debate.
And that’s how I was able to pass the ‘Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act’ with Sen. Chuck Schumer, and ensure those who defend our freedom and democracy are also afforded the right to participate in it.
I’ve always found that when you do the right thing, the politics take care of itself. It is high time members of both parties decide our country is more important than any individual career or individual party. It is time to check our political hats at the door and fight for a better, safer America for our children and grandchildren – before it is too late.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
In October, America will once again hit the debt-ceiling limit. President Obama and Congress will be presented with another opportunity to solve our nation’s fiscal crisis. Let us learn from the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and avoid legislative gridlock and partisan posturing.
We are all the stewards of our democracy and America’s future. We don’t have to sacrifice our core beliefs to find solutions to the problems we face, but we must change the conversation, and begin to work together.
Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, is a U.S. Senator from Georgia.
By Hank Johnson
The events surrounding last month’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington provide a good illustration of the partisan divide.
Although Republican leadership – including both Bush presidents, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor were invited to speak at the landmark event – all declined.
It’s part of a larger pattern of Republicans snubbing Democrats, and especially the President, at all costs. They simply refuse to reach out to engage the president for fear their extreme base will punish them.
How can we get anything done when this extreme hyper-partisanship exists over something as symbolic and iconic as the historic March on Washington?
A case in point is retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss – who announced his retirement earlier this year, explaining: “I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon.”
It’s a sad day in America and for our political system when a member of Congress who reaches across the aisle to try to solve big problems is lampooned as a “traitor” by the very core of the party he or she represents.
I am optimistic that gridlock will gradually give way to cooperation. But as long as people like Sen. Chambliss are retiring (or being forced out) over threats to their careers because they seek bipartisan solutions, then we’re in real trouble.
We got into this mess in large part over campaign spending – to truly fix the problem we need to curb the ubiquitous influence of corporate cash in Washington policymaking.
Lawmakers will have to show courage for there to be compromise on issues such as the budget, tax reform and immigration.
I know bipartisanship is possible because I’ve done it. I have secured Republican co-sponsors for several bills I have initiated including my APPS Act — co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, both Republicans — that protects consumers’ privacy on mobile phones and iPads. I also received Republican support for my RARE Act – which will help secure rare earth elements crucial to technological manufacturing.
When I worked to help ensure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities, clean energy and metro Atlanta’s solar industry were getting the boost they needed in the National Defense Authorization Act, I reached across the aisle to get it done.
When I tackled the high costs of prescription drugs that accompany crippling diseases – mostly for our elderly – I made sure I had Republican support. And when I dealt with increasing awareness and funding for hepatitis and emerging diseases of poverty, I turned to both Democrats and Republicans for support.
It’s why when I offered legislation to give start ups and small businesses tax breaks to help their bottom line, I enlisted Democrats and Republicans to get the job done.
This is the kind of spirit we need in Washington. We should never fail to reach across the aisle and seek bipartisan support for good ideas and legislation. I will continue this practice.
Leadership is not paying homage to political orthodoxy above all else. To govern is to lead and seek solutions – and that means compromise.
I urge all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue dialogue and search for the points of agreement rather than contention. When we put country above party, we accomplish great things.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, represents Georgia’s 4th District.