Ellen Ratner is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for the Talk Radio News service. She is also Washington bureau chief and political editor for Talkers Magazine. In addition, Ratner is a news analyst at the Fox News Channel.More ↓Less ↑
When I worked in the mental-health field, we used to tell families that their seesaw dynamics kept the relationship at the same distance. One member of the couple would do something to move closer to the other and then the other one would back away. No matter who did what, the distance between them would remain the same.
It is getting to be like that in Congress. Until the Gingrich Revolution and the “Contract with America” in 1994, Congress was controlled by the Democrats for decades. With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the cell phones, personal computer, fax machine and eventually the Internet information moved more quickly and so did politics. The seesaw of politics moved more quickly. Instead of decades, huge change happened in an election cycle.
However, like that couple with the same distance between them, Congress risks moving back and forth between parties with the same dynamic and nothing getting done. The Republican candidates are running on a platform of change, but without some fundamental change in the way business is done it is going to be business as usual with a new set of leaders.
It looks to most of us as if the Republicans will take the House of Representatives and, if they are really interested in change and not dividing up the spoils of war (elections), then here is my advice.
1) Be as family-friendly as you say you are. That means not pulling a Newt Gingrich and keeping Congress in session until three in the morning just to show the American people that you can pass an agenda. Gingrich claimed he was family-friendly, but he kept members with children working until the wee hours of the morning, making for exhausted members and their staffs.
2) Don’t be grandstanding time-wasters. Republicans have threatened that they are going to have many hearings investigating the Obama administration. Making the calculation that investigations will win back the White House in 2012 is a bad bet. The impeachment investigations of President Bill Clinton left a bad taste in the mouths of American people and decreased Republican popularity by miles.
3) Cut out access to lobbyists and, if access is provided, then pass a rule that members need to list any meetings with lobbyists on their websites. Provide for real transparency.
4) Take a real assessment of what can and can’t be done. Much of the legislation passed by the House will most likely be stopped by the Senate and, if not stopped by the Senate, then by a veto of the president. Pass legislation that is really going to get through the upper chamber and the White House. If legislation is passed that can’t get through, then it is a waste of time and designed only to impress the base of the party. It will do nothing to advance the American people.
5) Demostrate real leadership. Understand that everything in life and politics is a compromise. It would mean doing something unprecedented, such as writing all legislation from the get-go with both sides of the aisle contributing. A great “what if” would be if the rules were rewritten to require all filed legislation to have co-sponsorship of a Democrat and Republican to advance to committee hearings. It would immediately stop the bickering and legislative trips to nowhere.
6) End the partisan press briefings. I have sat through press events time after time where one side gets up and slams the other, only to be followed with the same thing from the opposite party an hour later. Nothing gets accomplished except a few sound bites for the news cycle.
7) Appoint some real bipartisan advisory committees. Put some of the think-tank folks together from all the sides and demand some compromise. Use those ideas to write legislation that benefits most Americans, not just the ones that have the money to lobby.
If Republicans are serious about leadership and the interests of the American people, they will get off the seesaw and make sure that they are not behaving as victors of battle but as real representatives of the American people. They would keep their majority, and America might be better off for it.