But, he noted, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), leader of conservatives in the Senate, has served notice (in Business Week) that he favors complete gridlock.
Collins also implicitly criticized DeMint for violating President Ronald Reagans famous 11th Commandment, Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.
Sitting Senators once refused to campaign against one another, even across party lines, she said. Nowadays, they do so routinely. And lately, she noted, Some Members campaign against incumbent Senators in their own caucus by endorsing their primary opponents.
The personal attacks in campaigns have detrimental effects that last long after Election Day. It is difficult to consider someone a colleague and potential legislative partner who has traveled to ones home state to criticize ones work.
In contrast to Axelrod blaming Republicans for Congressional dysfunction, Collins blamed Democratic leaders.
During the past two years, the minority party has been increasingly shut out of the discussion. Even in the Senate, which used to pride itself on being the bastion of free and open debate, procedural tactics are routinely used to prevent Republican amendments.
That, in turn, causes Republicans to overuse the filibuster because our only option is to stop a bill to which we cannot offer amendments.
She opined that civility might improve with divided government, in which the president has no choice but to reach out and negotiate.
It would be a lot easier for President Obama to resist the hard left of his party if he could say he has to pursue legislation acceptable to a Republican House or Senate. Or better yet, both.
Maybe. But, as virtually all the participants noted, ideological cable news networks and bloggers are in business to heighten contradictions, not bridge them, and increasingly voters get their information strictly from an outlet that ratifies their pre-existing prejudices.
Beschloss suggested limiting the influence of money in politics might help because its raised by demonizing the opposition. But he acknowledged that the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision renders that solution unlikely.
I actually thought the participants underplayed the dire consequences that could befall the country if the partisan divide isnt closed soon.
A polarized political systems continuing failure to deal with the national debt, rebuild crumbling infrastructure, restore economic growth and reform education will render the United States second-rate in the world and diminish the U.S. standard of living, exacerbating social tensions.
A return to civility and a spirit of compromise must be driven by the voters and is not inevitable, Collins said.
I believe in the maxim that what gets rewarded gets done, and for those of us in Congress, re-election is the ultimate reward.
Voting out of office, or not electing in the first place, those who put partisanship over progress, stridency over statesmanship and conflict over compromise will produce a very different climate.
But that is not happening. The Washington Post poll showed that a near-majority of voters (43 percent) consider themselves political moderates, compared with 34 percent conservative and 21 percent liberal.
Yet liberals control the Democratic party and conservatives control the GOP. And, it seems, the twain will never meet.
Schieffer observed that they do meet on occasions of crisis after 9/11, to pass a defense bill and, in the face of impending financial collapse, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
But, right now, polarization is abetting a slow, steady deterioration of Americas economic strength. When it reaches a crisis point, it may be too late.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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