We hear it every day. Americans have had it with Congress. They hate the gridlock, hate the partisanship and hate the feeling that nothing is getting done. A recent Gallup poll of voter sentiment showed an abysmal 18% approval rating for Congress, nearly the lowest in history.
So it came as a surprise when one of the preeminent leaders of the House of Representatives told an audience in Washington recently that voters themselves bear a responsibility — and a significant capacity — to help. In short, it’s no longer a matter of Congress doing its job and Americans just sitting in judgment. Everyone has a role to play and a challenge to become involved.
Last week our firm hosted a roundtable discussion featuring incoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster talking about important issues facing our nation. The event provided a unique opportunity to hear what was on the mind of one of the most influential leaders of the 113th Congress.
The Chairman did not disappoint. While his insights and ideas about transportation and infrastructure were compelling, what really galvanized attention was Chairman Shuster’s candid discussion of the difficulties facing elected officials in Washington. He directly appealed to those in attendance to help him and his congressional colleagues do a better job of governing.
Chairman Shuster encouraged each person to work harder to educate incoming freshman members, not just about pet issues, but about how to achieve meaningful results in the political world that will resonate in the real world. He reminded those around the table that for incoming freshman members of the 113th Congress, who will soon face tough policy decisions, Washington is a far different place than the campaign trail that led them to the nation’s capitol. He wisely noted that new members, and sometimes, even veteran members, often forget that governing is vastly different, and much more difficult, than running for election. And he asked for help from all of us who might otherwise stand on the sidelines, but need very much to be in the game.
I found this message especially compelling. On the heels of an extremely partisan election season, the tendency is to stand even more firmly behind one’s ideology. Yet as we’ve all witnessed over the past couple of years, that approach hasn’t worked very well for either political party. Partisan bickering led to little progress on the vast majority of tough policy issues, while congressional approval ratings continued to tank.
Perhaps as we enter the new year, all of us in the business of communicating to our elected leaders should pause for moment and think about what we can do to share with those on Capitol Hill not only our opinions on specific interests, but also our best ideas and perspectives about what our democracy can and should be, how it should work and how it can and must help all citizens. Through education, collaboration and consensus we can mutually achieve meaningful results. Perhaps, if we can demonstrate that compromise is not a dirty word, those on Capitol Hill will as well.
Make no mistake, serious issues continue to grip our nation, and members of Congress have a tough job ahead. Whether resolving the imminent fiscal cliff crisis or responding in a meaningful way to the tragic Newtown elementary school shooting, it’s going to take more than ideology to achieve substantial outcomes.
We owe it to Chairman Shuster, and his colleagues, to do our part to help Congress, and ultimately, our nation, succeed.
We owe it to ourselves to accept the responsibility and address the challenge.