Four prominent retiring lawmakers said they believe Congress has devolved into a reflection of an increasingly polarized nation.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said a great shock to him is the $16 trillion in debt that the country has accumulated. “I never would have guessed that we would be in this position when we started out,” he said, sitting down to talk with CNN’s State of the Union with three colleagues: Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
“We’re all guilty. We’re all part of it, how it got here, and a couple of presidents contributed too,” Lieberman said.
“I think Congress is reflecting the nation. I think we are very divided. Not in the goal, but in how we get there, and I think America is too,” Hutchison said. “And I think that is reflected, and I do believe that after this election, we now know Americans expect us to go forward, and we have no choice but to go forward.”
Frank agreed with the Texas Republican. “One of the things that’s troubled me about the analysis of Congress is people act as if we’re in a bubble and we just were self-generated,” he said. “I mean, there are few people in this building who aren’t here because they didn’t get more votes than anybody else in the last election. And to the extent the public doesn’t like the results, they should be doing a little self-criticism.”
“I hate it when people say we’re bickering,” Frank continued. “We’re debating the most fundamental issues. Now, we still have to make an effort to overcome it, but where it came from was the American Constitution and the fact that there was on the part of the voters a very drastic swing in their opinion in that two-year period.”
Kyl agreed with Frank on the point that “there’s nothing wrong with robust debate among different philosophical positions.”
“You have this robust contest between the liberal and a conservative idea, and eventually something either wins out or some compromise pertains,” the Arizona senator said. “So the notion that we should just compromise for the sake of compromising isn’t necessarily the right result. And if there is a will, there is usually a way, and sometimes the pressure is just so great that you absolutely have to.”
Frank noted that in the 2010 GOP midterm rout, “some people came to the Congress, particularly in the House, who said compromise is a bad thing.”
“I hope that as the result of the last election, there’s going to be less of that, and every one of us has to be prepared to vote for something we don’t like,” said the Massachusetts Democrat.
“Since we’re talking about the Constitution, I want to go back briefly to George Washington, who in his farewell address warned the future generations of Americans against the danger of political factions to which members of our government would be more loyal than they were to the country. In other words, that they had served their factions more than the common interest,” Lieberman said.
“Partisanship has gone to extreme here, but even more a word that’s come up, the unwillingness to compromise, to approach every issue saying I will not vote for this unless I get 100 percent of what I want. In the end, you get 0 percent,” he added.
Kyl maintained that “this contest of ideas that we talked about I think is critical to come to the right decision.”
“What’s harmful is the contest between partisan Republicans and partisan Democrats, and there’s a difference between ideologies and pure politics, because when politics intervenes, it creates gotcha situations, votes that can be used in 30-second commercials by one side or the other and results in gridlock,” he said. “So I think what we need to try to find here is a way to have the debates about policy and get to the point of compromise when possible, but to do as much as we can to keep partisan politics out of the equation.”