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Austin-Hillery: Congress Should Make Efforts Toward Cooperation

After months of partisan gridlock, the Senate voted 96-3 to pass the STOCK Act, which would prohibit Members from trading on insider information — a bill that President Barack Obama vowed to sign into law.

The House is set to consider the measure this week.

Unfortunately, while these votes offer a glimmer of hope, they are not likely to signal the dawn of a new working relationship in Congress and with the president.

But they should.

At the very end of Obama’s State of the Union address, he reminded us that no matter how we may choose to divide ourselves along racial, class, gender or party lines, our greatness as a nation stems from our ability to “work together as a team” and to “get each others’ backs.” We seem to have lost sight of that simple truth. The best example of this is the devolving relationship between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and Republican Members and the president.

The Congress and the presidency exist to get the people’s business done. But the people’s business is not getting done. The Washington Times recently reported that, during its first session, the 112th Congress passed only 80 bills, “fewer than any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947.” The report noted that this Congress “set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history.” And daily polls tell us that the American people believe the president is also failing to get much done.

Both parties, and the president, bear some share of the blame for this state of affairs, but not equally so. For his part, Obama has often failed to move quickly on key issues. For example, the administration recently announced that the president’s annual budget would be late for the third time in his term, and he has been criticized for taking an inordinate amount of time to submit many of his nominees to the Senate.

While the president has often moved too slowly, Congress has often failed to move at all. Last summer, when the nation was fast approaching the limit of its borrowing ability, Congressional Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless it was accompanied by deficit reduction, taking the nation to the very brink of default before a deal was reached.

Senate Democrats have failed to produce a budget resolution for more than 1,000 days.

In addition, Congress’ failure to act on the president’s federal judicial nominations has left one out of every nine federal judgeships vacant, precipitating what the Washington Post termed a vacancy “crisis.” Congress has also failed to act on the president’s nominations to leadership positions at key agencies, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, forcing him to fill those positions through recess appointments that have left him open to criticism.

Obama has made more efforts to compromise with Congressional leaders than they have made to compromise with him. In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama proposed freezing federal spending at then-current levels for five years, albeit at record-high levels.

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