The 57-day postelection lame-duck Congress so far has been a major
disappointment. Stuck in postelection bitterness but still trying to preen
pre-election plumage, the House leadership has been unable to address urgent
national issues -- from the farm bill to the "fiscal cliff."
That should change, we hope, when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. Republicans will still have a majority in the House. But that majority will be smaller and have fewer rigidly ideological tea party-supported conservatives,with 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats.
And it will have a lot of new members -- 48 Democrats and 35 Republicans -- continuing the largest period of turnover in the last half century. In 2010, 96 seats changed hands; this year, 84 -- a junior class of 180 members (more than 40 percent of the House).
Between these new members and relative parity of the parties, Americans should hope to see a new tone coming out of the nation's capital.
The California delegation, with 11 new Democrats and three new Republicans -- can play a role in setting that new tone. On health care, in particular, the new class in the House includes two Democratic doctors from California -- Ami Bera of Elk Grove and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.
With implementation of major parts of the Affordable Care Act coming, these two and 24-year veteran Jim McDermott, D-Washington, must step up as a counterweight to the 16 House Republicans in the GOP Doctors Caucus -- whose mission has been "complete repeal of Obamacare."
Unfortunately, in the first round of committee appointments, neither Bera nor Ruiz got seats on the coveted Energy and Commerce Committee -- whose health subcommittee oversees Obamacare.
Californians should contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to put a California doctor on that committee during the second round of assignments.
But regardless of their committee assignments, Bera and Ruiz should launch a bipartisan doctors caucus that aims to work constructively to carry out the new health law.
As Bera told The Bee's editorial board this month, he believes Congress will have to build on the foundation of Obamacare and "start to address the high cost of care." Bera and Ruiz should be able to work with Republican doctors in the House to address costs -- including new models for payment other than the traditional "fee-for-service" model that rewards quantity of service over quality.
Bera also has his eye on committees where he would be able to play a part in making the Sacramento Valley the "Silicon Valley of the agricultural sector," as he puts it.
In the first round of assignments Bera, the son of immigrants from India, won a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and hopes to land on the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee to help better link the Sacramento region and California to growing markets in the Indian subcontinent -- with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the core.
Bera also is interested in the Science, Space and Technology Committee and would like to be on its Technology and Innovation Subcommittee to work on a range of issues from agricultural to biomedical research.
The 2011-12 House has been the least productive since World War II. In a complex country with 312 million people, it passed fewer than 200 bills by the end of November -- including must-pass bills to keep the country moving.
By comparison, the so-called "do-nothing" Congress of 1947-48 passed more than 900 bills to address post-World War II issues.
The 48 Democrats and 35 Republicans in the freshman class will have to set a new tone for effectiveness -- or expect another big round of turnover in the election of 2014.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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