September 9, 2011

Iam saddened by what I heard when I was home for the August congressional recess. The American people are fed up with finger-pointing, blame games and infighting by all of us in Washington — the president, Congress and the media.

They are angry and frustrated, and they want Congress to do its constitutional duty. Only 12 percent think we are doing a proper job. It is easy to see why the public is losing confidence in the federal government.

In our debates over the fiscal 2011 spending bill and the debt limit, Congress put off its duties until the eleventh hour in favor of partisan squabbling and stubborn political games. I am ashamed of our performance — of us all, on both sides of the aisle. As a member of Congress who takes pride in this institution and holds its history and procedures in high regard, I am deeply disappointed by the unwillingness of members of all parties to come together for the common good.

Our Founding Fathers intended no parties when they created this institution. And until recently, members took the time to stay in Washington and learn the substance of issues, as well as the rules laid out by our forefathers in the Constitution and by previous generations in Congress. We learned how to draft good, bipartisan bills. Most members of Congress wouldn’t remember, and for many Americans this may seem hard to believe, but there was a time not so very long ago when Republicans and Democrats worked well together. We worked long hours, typically five days a week or more for months at a time. Members of both parties came to the table ready to work, debate and negotiate.

For many years, legislation was drafted from the middle, and we passed bipartisan bills frequently. It wasn’t uncommon for an important bill to get 400-plus votes; we didn’t stop just because we had 218. Members didn’t engage in partisan misbehavior for the sake of a good Twitter hit or the opportunity to call out the other side on cable news. Rather, members had respect for one another and for the political spectrum. They managed to limit outside parties from disrupting the legislative process for political gain.

We in Congress are tearing our country apart and weakening the foundation established by great leaders before us. Is anyone in Congress truly proud that we have not produced a budget? That we caused the downgrading of U.S. government securities, as well as appalling disorder and confusion in financial markets? Or that this situation caused the lack of job creation and economic growth that has contributed to the hopelessness and misfortune of millions of Americans?

Wrangling by all parties, from the top down, cripples our work, and media that encourage confrontation instead of negotiation fuel the fire. Being locked into this system of starting from the far left or the far right and then doing just enough for passage may get a single bill done, but it’s not a system that produces the best law that does the most good for all Americans.

This partisan viciousness needs to stop.

I am ashamed of our recent record. I am disgusted with our performance, Republican and Democratic alike. There has been failed leadership and, worse, failed following within the ranks — and we owe the country far better. My daddy taught me that if God had wanted us to talk more and listen less, he would have given us two mouths and one ear. In our most combative moments, we must remember that no cause is greater than this institution and the ideals on which it was founded; no single man or woman is greater than this body and the collective wisdom we are capable of exhibiting. If we hold on to that core principle, we can make changes that will be better for Congress as an institution and for the American people.

We must all help this body improve and call upon our colleagues to join in doing better. It is our duty. If we do not, the people, in their righteous and justified outrage, will get rid of us all — as well they should. I beg my friends in Congress and the administration to put the interests of this great nation before partisan political interests and not let the rivalries of the past prevent us from acting in ways that will better the future of our nation.

The writer, a Democrat from Michigan, is dean of the U.S. House of Representatives and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.