The editors of Roll Call asked Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to share some of his perspectives on the House to mark this day, when he has become the longest-serving Member in the history of the House of Representatives. Here are his thoughts in his own words.
Most Members of the current Congress wouldnt remember this time, and for many people who follow Capitol Hill, this may seem hard to believe, but we used to pass bipartisan bills frequently. It wasnt uncommon for an important bill to get 400-plus votes.
This also may seem remarkable, but Republicans and Democrats not only worked well together, but they socialized together, too. Republicans daughters dated Democrats sons. Our spouses all knew each other and spent time together. I used to play paddleball with Republican colleagues on the House courts with frequent challenges from friends like my Congressional colleagues George H.W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.
We got along. We did good work. It wasnt perfect, and we certainly fought a lot, but we werent paralyzed by partisanship either.
Passing legislation was a much different process we frequently started from the center and reached out to each side of the political spectrum, and we didnt stop just because we had 218 votes. In the 21st century, we seem to be locked into this system of starting from the far left or the far right and then doing just enough to get a bill passed. It works in getting a bill done, but its not a system designed to produce the best bill that does the most good for all Americans.
President Barack Obama has taken a bold step promising to lead us into a post-partisanship era. I applaud this because I believe that increasingly ideological bickering has seriously damaged not just our ability to act on behalf of the American people, but also further threatens our standing with those people whom we are supposed to govern.
And we cant afford to govern in this manner any longer. Right now, Wall Streets former financial titans are like zombie companies more dead than alive. Our health care system is broken, failing more people than it helps despite the fact that our doctors can provide the finest medical care in the world. Were too scared to spend, even though we know many businesses are facing bankruptcy. We wont shop for homes because we know banks wont give us the loans to pay for them and home values continue to plummet. We wont buy cars because we worry about the future of the people who make them and service their warranties.
America is looking to Congress and the president to do something about it.
Our president has asked us to put aside our past divisions for the good of the nation and I cannot put it in any way more eloquently or gracefully than he has. But what I can tell you after 19,420 days of service in the House of Representatives is that bipartisanship can work and does work better than what we have now.