The Washington Post

Former Senate leaders to Congress: Hang out more

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Three former senators, two who served as majority leaders, a former Clinton cabinet secretary and a former governor worked a year and a half on a 120-page report explaining why U.S. politics is so polarized and Congress is so gridlocked. They came up with a host of wide-ranging recommendations to make it better.

Among them? Lawmakers need to spend more time in Washington.

That of course runs counter to today’s anti-Washington attitude that makes federal lawmakers distance themselves from Washington as much as possible. They don’t want to be seen enjoying life inside the Beltway too much, lest they are accused of being out of touch with voters back home (a la Eric Cantor and his thousands of dollars at D.C. steakhouses.)

But former senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), former governor/interior secretary/senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) and former agriculture secretary/congressman Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) remember another time in Washington, when politicians hung out socially and spouses became friendly and kids went to school together and the country’s work got done.

Blaming the abbreviated legislative work week and the mad dash back to their districts every weekend, the former pols say it’s impossible for current members to work together because they’re not forming personal bonds or establishing trust.

“Members do not eat together, their families do not interact, and consequently they do not get to know each other well. Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine how members of opposing parties can find the time to make real overtures to each other on issues of shared interest,” the group wrote.

This is not the first time Lott and Daschle have made this observation. They prescribed many of the sames fixes in a Washington Post op-ed shortly after the Democrats went ahead with the nuclear option to get presidential nominees cleared.

The five co-chairs of the the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, which produced the report, said there is blame to share: The Obama White House is also detached.

One of their suggestions is that President Obama should meet with members of Congress monthly and attend joint congressional caucuses twice a year.

“Of course, Congress alone cannot bridge the partisan divide in Washington,” they wrote. “The administration must also be willing to change the way it chooses to interact with Congress. Today, the communication across Pennsylvania Avenue is woefully insufficient in both scale and intensity, particularly in light of the tremendous domestic and global challenges our country faces.”

In other words, Congress and Obama should be getting to know one another. And maybe then they’d learn how to put it their way, but nicely.

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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