Gridlock in Washington could cost you your job. Or torpedo your 401(k). Or
endanger your Medicare benefits. That's how important it is for President
Barack Obama and congressional leaders to break through the legislative logjam
and work together to solve the country's monumental money problems.
These Democrats and Republicans only have until Jan. 1, for example, to avoid a "fiscal cliff' that could raise taxes for all, slash funding for most federal programs and throw the economy into another recession.
The Observer asked political experts how they would fix a broken Washington. They proposed some reforms to the system. But mostly what we heard was a call for a new burst of leadership, one that understands -- as the best past leaders did -- that doing "the people's business" requires compromise, bipartisanship and roll-up-your-sleeves bargaining.
"Compromise is at the heart of any democracy that's working," said the Rev. Doug Tanner of the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington.
Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at UNC Charlotte, offered this: "You go down in history for solving the big problems."
Are House, Senate more dysfunctional than ever as key issues loom?
Stories by Tim Funk
Norm Ornstein -- Capitol Hill scholar, "Roll Call" columnist and author of several books on Congress -- says the current Washington scene is "the most dysfunctional in our lifetime."
"Maybe not quite as bad as during the Civil War, the War of 1812 or the 1890s," he says. "But these are not great periods to compare yourself to."
His view is echoed by Sarah Binder, a George Washington University political scientist who studied the history of congressional gridlock for her book, "Stalemate."
"All indications are that (this) is one of the more stalemated Congresses post-World War II," she says. "They left on the table quite a number of the big issues of the day."
She ticks off the list: debt, now estimated at over $16 trillion; Medicare, set to go broke by 2024 if no action is taken; immigration reform, which could resolve the legal status of 11 million undocumented residents; and a farm bill, desperately needed at a time of record droughts.
Some bills and judicial nominations were casualties of what's become a weekly filibuster in the Senate. "It's fair to say that the level and intensity of obstruction has increased," Binder says.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently told "60 Minutes" that he's had to try to override 248 GOP filibusters during his tenure. His 1950s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, only had to deal with one, Reid said.
Much recent legislation, Binder says, languished because one side or the other just wouldn't compromise: "This is a Congress that had a very hard time coming to the table and taking half a loaf."
Just last year, Standard & Poor's cited "less stable, less effective" governance and the "political brinksmanship" over whether to raise the debt limit as the reason for its first-ever downgrade of the United States' credit rating. Another low last year: Congress' public approval rating plunged to 9 percent -- its lowest since polling began in1976.
Some current members of Congress dispute the notion that Washington is broken.
"It's similar to the way it's been for 200 years," argues U.S. Rep.
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