Members of Congress from Georgia know that the American public isnt happy with the institutions collective performance, and several who represent Middle Georgia are grappling with that issue.
I am disappointed and in fact disgusted with the apparent dysfunction of Congress as an institution, said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who was in Macon on Monday. I think it has to do with the partisanship and the polarization, and in order for our system to work in the way that the Founding Fathers intended for it to work, we have to be able to sit down -- even though we as members may disagree on particular issues -- to try to work out a consensus. Our government is a government that requires consensus.
A series of McClatchy-Marist polls in mid-July found that only about one-third of respondents approve of congressional Democrats, while only about one-fifth approve of congressional Republicans; and President Barack Obamas approval rating is only about twice what Republicans command.
That signals public frustration with government inaction on issues including the economy, immigration reform, the federal budget and rules for domestic surveillance programs.
Monday, The Telegraph sought to reach others who represent Middle Georgia and received emailed responses from two. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, was unavailable for comment Monday afternoon, said Marie Gordon, his deputy press secretary.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, wasnt reached directly, but Lauren Claffey, his communications director, referred to his Jan. 25 explanation of why he wont run for a third term in 2014.
This is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nations economic health, Chambliss said then. The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I dont see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon. For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy.
And Amanda Maddox, communications director for U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, pointed to Scotts recent involvement in four bipartisan votes on defense-related issues.
Congressman Scott has consistently worked with members on both sides of the aisle on the House Armed Services Committee and others in Congress to protect the warfighters at Robins Air Force Base and the service personnel who play a critical role in supporting our national security, she said in an email. With our national security and jobs in Middle Georgia at stake, he has made every effort to mitigate the impact of defense cuts, and continues to work in a bipartisan manner to preserve and grow the workforce at Robins AFB.
Bishop said he thinks there is now some interest in bipartisanship from both sides of the aisle, and pressure from the general public, business and religious groups may soon produce action on immigration. The remaining hang-up is a small group of Republicans that seeks to block a vote on any bill that might pass without majority Republican support in the House, he said.
Thats the opposite of trying to form a consensus, Bishop said.
Unfortunately because of the polarization, as a result of redistricting that created very, very homogeneous districts where many members are more concerned about getting out of a primary than a general election, that means that they are much less likely to find a consensus, he said. They will totally play to their base.
Congress has become deservedly unpopular, and only a bipartisan commitment to enable job creation, work toward a balanced budget and support education will change that, Bishop said.
Now, however, he hopes help is on the way through a group called No Labels Problem Solvers. Thats an 81-member group of House and Senate members: 37 Republicans, one independent and 43 Democrats, plus members of the general public, who have met regularly since January to create collegiality and collaboration. Its members include Bishop and fellow U.S. Reps. John Barrow, D-Augusta, and Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, but no other House or Senate members from Georgia, according to the groups website.
On July 18 the group announced a nine-item Make Government Work! legislative package that includes withholding congressional pay if Congress cant agree on a budget and spending bills by the time the federal fiscal year starts in October. It also calls for putting the government on a two-year budget cycle to match congressional terms. The other seven items all deal with federal agency cost-cutting.
Really the solutions to the problems, the challenges that our country faces -- the solutions are not Democrat or Republican solutions, theyre American solutions, Bishop said. And weve got to act like that as members of Congress.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.