Houghton: Voters Are Right to Be Angry at Partisanship

Posted June 7, 2010 at 4:09pm

Bipartisanship is not dead, but it is certainly on life support. This year’s health care debate was one of the most bitter, partisan affairs I have ever seen. The partisan rancor on Capitol Hill during this debate made the Clinton impeachment proceedings seem downright congenial.

[IMGCAP(1)]I believe that too many people in Washington, D.C., have misread the mood of the country. Yes, there is a growing and real anger among voters all across this country. This anger, however, isn’t partisan. This Democratic Congress, like its recent Republican predecessors, enjoys abysmal approval ratings. Even President Barack Obama, who rode a wave of optimism into the White House, has seen his approval numbers tumble in the face of growing voter discontent. Unfortunately for Republicans, the news isn’t any better. The Republican Party’s brand continues to suffer, even as we enjoy the politically opportune “party out of power” status.

People are angry because they believe Washington doesn’t work. People are angry because they believe Washington’s priorities are not their priorities. People are angry because they think Washington is more focused on playing election year politics than they are in finding pragmatic solutions to the challenges this country faces.

Sadly, the people are right to be angry.

If we want to restore Americans’ faith in government, then we need leaders who are committed to making Washington work. To make Washington work, we need to put policy before politics; we must commit to working across party lines to find common-sense solutions.

We should never have allowed hyperpartisan politics to poison the health care debate. Health care was too important, and too personal to all Americans, to allow a meaningful policy debate to be replaced by the partisan food fight voters were treated to.

We can and should, however, learn from the lessons of the health care debate. In the coming weeks and months, Congress will be tackling other important issues, issues where our leaders on the Hill can demonstrate the political courage to stand up to those in their party who continue to push for an angrier and coarser debate, and show that there are still some in Washington who understand what public service means.

On issue after issue, broad consensus can be built.

Take energy and the environment as an example. We all know that we need to implement policies that will end our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and do so in a way that protects our environment for future generations.

We must recognize that energy and environmental policies are inextricably linked and that job creation can — and should be — a critical component of any energy and environmental reform legislation.

We should acknowledge that global climate change is real and should support implementing policies that seek to reduce emissions. Additionally, we should recognize that climate change is occurring and should take reasonable steps to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

As our energy needs are expected to grow 40 percent to 50 percent by 2030, future U.S. energy policies should not only encourage the deployment of renewable energy sources and new technologies, but expand and improve the efficiency of existing energy sources and traditional power generation. There is no question that nuclear power must be an important component of any comprehensive energy and environmental legislative package.

We should recognize that energy is a regional issue — any comprehensive legislation dealing with energy and the environment should recognize the regional consequences and afford for those regional differences

For the free market to truly work, all energy sources should be treated equally — the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. Only by unleashing the innovative power of the free market can we expect to find long-term environmentally friendly energy solutions.

Finally, unlike with health care and the financial services debate, energy and environmental legislation should not be held hostage by the most expensive and controversial provisions.

Too many people in Washington today believe that hyperpartisanship is here to stay. I fundamentally reject that notion. Yes, politics is always going to be a part of the equation on Capitol Hill, and yes, partisan politics is always going to complicate the legislative process — particularly during election years.

The all-encompassing hyperpartisanship we see today, however, has not always been the Washington way. I know firsthand that Congress can work across the aisle to craft legislation that makes our country a better place.

Partisan politics is easy. The whole world is black and white. Bipartisanship is hard. It requires political courage, thoughtful debate and tough decisions. It’s time for Congress to do the hard work that governing requires — it’s time for real bipartisanship in Washington.

Former New York Rep. Amo Houghton is founder and chairman of the board of the Republican Main Street Partnership.