If there is one thing I have learned in my first year in Congress, it is how deeply divided and dysfunctional Congress truly is. Before coming to Washington, D.C., to represent Florida’s 24th district, I spent eight years in the Florida House of Representatives where I worked with Members on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that was in the best interests of all Floridians.
Although there were differences of opinion between the House and Senate, our legislative body as a whole functioned as it should. The House would pass legislation and send it to the Senate. The Senate would then amend the legislation, we would conference to work out our differences, pass the legislation and then the bill would be signed into law.
However, to the detriment of the American people, this centuries-old process seems to be lost on Congress. A tremendous amount of work goes into bills in the House that never receive a hearing in the Senate, and that’s a shame. The Senate doesn’t have to agree, but it needs to take up legislation so we can discuss it in a transparent process. Unfortunately, over the past year the Senate has refused to take part in the process, in most cases waiting until the last minute to pass legislation, then claiming the House is holding up progress when we demand time to negotiate.
My colleagues in the Senate have failed to follow through with their most basic duty: to govern. We have seen this with their outright refusal to pass a budget or address any of the issues facing our country. When my colleague from Wisconsin, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R), introduced a bold, responsible budget outline in April to address our ballooning national debt, the Senate refused to have an up-or-down vote on the legislation.
And rather than introducing a budget of their own, they recklessly made false accusations about the content within the legislation. Their accusations that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” were even deemed by PolitiFact as the “Lie of the Year 2011.”
At a time when Americans desperately need a president who can unify Congress, President Barack Obama has only deepened the divide. He has circumvented Congress every chance he gets and refuses to work with us on issues that are important to the American people. This is evidenced by his unprecedented appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and his three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board without the Senate’s consent. These appointments, made while the Senate is still in session, are in direct violation of our Constitution.
When I first came to Congress, I knew passing legislation and finding common ground would take work, but I never expected that a Senate and White House controlled by the opposing party would simply refuse to have a conversation about policy issues affecting all Americans. We have a legislative process that is laid out in our Constitution for a reason. Our Founding Fathers knew our government would be divided; this is why they built a system that required checks and balances, discussion and an orderly system of debate.
Congress and the president have a duty to make decisions that will benefit the American people. Unfortunately, when one body of Congress refuses to follow the legislative process, nothing gets done. I know the process works. I saw it work for eight years in the Florida House.
Even though this is the culture in Washington, I came here to change a broken political system. I will continue to strive to reach across the aisle to find reasonable solutions to our nation’s problems. Despite the difference of opinions on policy issues between the House and the Senate, we can still work together to find common ground.
The American people want leadership from their elected officials, and that includes having open and honest conversations about policy and taking difficult votes. My hope is that in the coming year, Congress can put aside its differences and work in the best interests of the American people.
Rep. Sandy Adams serves on the Judiciary and the Science, Space and Technology committees.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.