Bass’ experience offers practical advantages. He wasn’t forced to wait with the other freshmen for Friday afternoon’s lottery to select his office (the Rayburn suite of ousted Democratic Rep. Brian Baird of Washington). He is also quietly confident about being assigned to the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, his home until Rep. Paul Hodes and the 2006 Democratic wave briefly knocked him out of Congress.
Environmental issues, including limiting carbon emissions, are among his priorities, Bass said. In the tradition of moderate New England Republicans, he previously sponsored a cap-and-trade effort, but he blamed Democrats for recently pushing a bill that he said was too aggressive and largely destroyed the idea’s prospects in the 112th Congress.
“It’s very disappointing. Now the environmental debate has been set back, rather than moved forward,” he said. “And I believe we’re going to have to think of a new approach.”
Twelve years of federal legislative experience also give Bass perspective about the limitations on freshmen, who arrive expecting to make an immediate impact. “These people don’t want the status quo, they don’t want to abide by the old traditions. They don’t want to have to be seen and not heard and that kind of stuff,” Bass said.
But he also noted that most freshmen have already tempered their campaign trail rhetoric about repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul. “I don’t think there’s a single freshman who thinks that total repeal is going to pass,” he said.
Looking at the big picture, Bass predicted that Democrats and Republicans are poised to improve their working relationship in the next Congress, despite the widespread belief that the political atmosphere is more toxic than it has ever been.
“Most of the Democrats in Congress now have served in the minority status. So I think that the ability of the House to work next year is going to be better than it was in early 1995” when House Democrats were still reeling from their ouster from power, he said.
In 1994, he said, the only group more surprised than the wave of new Republicans was the new Democratic minority.
“They were embittered and angry. They had been in charge for 40 years. They didn’t expect to lose control, and it created an absolutely poisonous atmosphere,” he said. “When [Georgia Republican and former Speaker Newt] Gingrich, who’s obviously a lot more declarative and aggressive than John Boehner in terms of his approach to leadership, made all these pronouncements, the Democrats felt more under siege.”
Having served through the rise and fall of House Republicans, Bass is hopeful that his colleagues learned from their mistakes. “The Conference needs to remember what this election was all about — not in January or February, but four years from now,” he said.
After gaining the majority in 1994, “Republicans really lost the memory of why they came to power,” he said, adding, “Maybe that’s part of what is wrong with this system. If you’re here very long, you tend to forget.”