One-party rule in a divided Congress sure to fail

 As members get set to convene a new session of Congress this week, we will be faced with a number of serious and outstanding priorities left unaddressed by the majority in 2007.

Among the most pressing items on the docket are permanent middle-class tax relief, a long-term fix to our nation’s surveillance laws, a stalled agenda on international trade, and a plan to address spiraling energy prices that have already cost hard-working families $150 billion in new, hidden taxes.

As Republicans continue to look for ways to produce results for the American people in 2008, it may be helpful to take account of some of the obvious lessons we learned in 2007. In a session that saw its fair share of acrimony — broken up by an occasional ray of comity and bipartisanship — two prevailing themes stand out among the rest.

The first lesson, though simple and straightforward, was among the most frequently ignored as the session wore on.

When Democratic leaders sought the advice and counsel of House Republicans — and allowed us to participate fully in the legislative process — the final result was always better.

One needn’t look any further than August’s terrorist surveillance bill for an example. The majority, initially partial to a plan that placed the privacy of terrorists above the safety of Americans, finally allowed a vote on a bill authored by my long-time friend Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) to close the existing terrorist loophole. Thanks to the determined leadership of Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) in the House, that bill was signed into law the day after 41 Democrats and 186 Republicans voted for it.

Republican input also went a long way toward producing a better bill to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. As originally authored, the bill would have rewarded vigilant Americans who report suspicious behavior with the prospect of a lawsuit. But there again, Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) stepped into the fray and came out with a bill correcting that initial oversight. And Republicans were also able to work with Democrats to remove a provision that would have turned authority of a key security initiative over to the United Nations.

From appropriations bills to the supplemental spending bills for our troops, the default mindset of congressional Democrats to exclude their Republican colleagues was eventually eroded by time, circumstance and some old-fashioned persistence on our side. For our troubles, the American people were rewarded with a final appropriations package that came in more than $20 billion lighter than was initially written, and a bill that supported our troops without unnecessary and irresponsible strings attached.

Unfortunately, the majority didn’t follow this pattern very often — which leads me to the other important lesson we learned in 2007. In far too many instances, bills that had no business being dragged through partisan muck were used as convenient vehicles for politically inconvenient things. And in each one of these cases, massive over-reaches prevented what could have and should have been good legislation from ever seeing the president’s desk.

The most obvious, and least responsible, example of this phenomenon was the farm bill of 2007. What started as a bipartisan plan to strengthen the family farm and unlock new markets for American producers was, overnight, converted into a Trojan-horse tax increase — punishing a sector that employs more than 5 million American workers.

The debate over reauthorizing a popular health insurance program for low-income children represented another example of partisan politics run amok, with both sides agreeing the program needed to be expanded — but only one side advancing a plan to do it in a responsible, sustainable way.

The majority rebuffed Republican attempts to add new funding to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) — choosing instead to saddle it with billions in new obligations to cover people who are neither children nor poor. But the more the American people came to learn of the plan, the more they didn’t like. After seeing the writing on the wall, the majority allowed a vote on an 18-month extension of the current program. It passed overwhelmingly in December.

The first session of the 110th Congress now squarely behind us, these next few weeks will go a long way toward determining the extent to which this Congress can improve the lives of our constituents. The only way to achieve this goal is for Democrats and Republicans to work together with common purpose and mutual respect — a standard of progress we failed to meet in 2007.

As the new session begins, the new majority will have to decide what it would like to get out of the upcoming term. If it’s political theater they want, a one-party list of legislative failures is the best they’re going to get. But if they’re interested in using the next several months to produce real, common-sense solutions for the American people, they’ll find a willing partner across the aisle ready to work and prepared to help lead.

Blunt is the House minority whip.


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