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Juan Williams: Reach out to break gridlock

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A Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month had an eye-catching finding.

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Hidden among the now-standard disgust with the do-nothing Congress was a spark of agreement between voters on the left and right.

With 86 percent support, the number one quality being sought across party lines that would “make voters more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress,” was a willingness to “work with the other party and compromise.”

The poll found that 89 percent of Democrats ranked that quality as the number one trait they want in a member of Congress. Among Republicans, the capacity to compromise with the other side drew 81 percent support.

Those are big numbers calling for members of Congress to start making deals and show they can get something done.

The big numbers also hint that something is changing in our politics. People always say they want everyone to get along. But for the last five years, Tea Party Republicans have been the exception due to their furious distaste for President Obama.

Now even the hard right seems to be calling for working with the other side.

In September, a Gallup poll found only 38 percent of Republicans said compromise was important. In fact, 36 percent of all Republicans said they wanted their GOP leaders to stick to conservative principle and not compromise.

Among Tea Party Republicans in a July Pew poll, 53 percent agreed that “the party has compromised too much with Democrats.” And another 30 percent said the party’s intransigence in dealing with Democrats was “about right.”

Overall, the July Pew Research found 35 percent of Republican voters felt “Republicans [in Congress] have compromised too much,” and another 32 percent said the congressional party’s approach of taking a hard line and blocking Obama’s nominees and Democratic legislation was “about right.”

That fierce, no-compromise attitude on the right led the GOP to shut down the government last fall. It remains the driving force in halting any compromise between Democrats and Republicans in the House. It is the heart of gridlock.

This “no deals” stand stirs fear in every Republican that he or she could be challenged in a primary by a right-winger who is less willing to compromise.

The take-no-prisoners attitude among core Republicans also triggered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to employ the so-called “nuclear option,” last November in an effort to stop Republicans from blocking all of Obama’s nominees with filibusters.

But in the last month, as the midterm elections approach, Republicans in the Senate seem to have noticed polls showing the increased appetite among GOP voters for compromise. Led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the GOP agreed to limit partisan attacks during debates on legislative proposals. In exchange, Democrats, led by Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Reid, agreed to open the legislative process to more GOP amendments.

The first fruit of this budding tree of harmony was passage of a childcare bill to give federal aid through state agencies to working class families. Another blossom recently appeared when the Senate agreed to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Both Senate bills face an uphill fight in the still gridlocked, Republican–controlled House.

But even in the House, home to the Tea Party’s hardcore members, there is reason for hope. Republicans and Democrats are showing support for passing an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a Child Tax Credit (CTC).

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wants to raise the CTC and shift the formula for calculating how much a family gets from the EITC.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have not embraced Camp’s overall tax reform package but there is the hope for using the Senate’s bill in conjunction with the Camp proposal to create common ground for legislative action that produces something.

For Democrats and Obama, the bills fit with their effort to help working families and reduce income inequality. For Republicans, they fit with their effort to encourage people to take jobs (even low-paying jobs) and to limit spending on safety net programs and entitlement spending.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), seems to be on board. “It gives families flexibility. It helps them to take ownership of their lives,” he has said.

In the Senate, Tea Party Republican Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) has his own tax reform plan that leaves the EITC in place and increases both tax credits for working individuals as well as the CTC.

Across the political aisle, New York’s liberal Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), has proposed a major increase in the CTC as part of an effort to boost incomes for working women.

The midterm election is near. But with polls showing that voters are disgusted with Congress, both parties now have a sliver of political incentive to show some ability to compromise.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t burst my bubble.

Juan Williams is an author and political 
analyst for Fox News Channel.