With yet another budget showdown and possible government closure looming next month in the nation’s capital, a freshman U.S. senator warned his colleagues recently, “The people despise us all … because we’re not doing the job we were sent here to do.”
Rarely does a senator’s first speech get as much attention as the blunt message Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse waited a year to deliver.
Sasse is no stranger to how things work - or don’t work - in Washington. He is a historian by training, former college president and professor with multiple academic degrees who also held several federal positions. After devoting a year to discussing the Senate with his colleagues, Sasse concluded: “No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation. No one.”
Petty politics absorb attention, while the most important problems are neglected. Why? Because there is no overarching strategy to put the small-ball fights in perspective.
“We need to agree on what problems we are trying to solve before we begin bickering about which programmatic levers might work more or less well,” Sasse put forth. “But there is something else we need as well. Beyond policy advocating and policy clarifying, we need an overarching narrative. We need to pause to regularly recall the larger American principles that bind us together.”
Sasse certainly is not alone in his studied views. His comments came on the heels of Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE, a Democrat and Washington fixture since the mid-70s as a senator, saying, “I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. … for the sake of the country, we have to work together.”
Supporters of No Labels, the growing nationwide organization of Republicans, Democrats and Independents we co-chair will be watching how Sasse’s and Biden’s appeals resonate as Congress and the White House approach yet another self-imposed budget crisis Dec. 11.
No Labels advocates bipartisanship and planning to solve the nation’s most pressing problems. We agree with Sasse. When senators and representatives merely blame each other for why Congress doesn’t work and what plans there are to fix it, “we don’t get it.”
A week ago the House, Senate and Obama administration agreed to lift the $18.1 trillion debt ceiling until March 2017 and on a two-year budget that increases spending $80 billion through Sept. 30, 2017 - split evenly between domestic and military programs.
Appropriations committees are rushing today to determine how those trillions of budgeted dollars will be distributed the next two years. Their work will be the focus of votes scheduled in about a month.
A spending plan free of ideological amendments or riders would represent a breakthrough, clearing the decks of dramatic budget crises, short-term solutions and shutdown threats until a new president and Congress take office in 2017. But if ambushed by riders from the left or right, passage would be jeopardized of legislation necessary to continue funding the government. And that would lead to another short-term, kick-the-can-down-the-road non-solution.
Passage would buy time for Congress to begin returning to its ignored budgeting process that has not been completed fully in over a decade.
Americans can only hope that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) and Democratic leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.), as well as new House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), were paying attention to a young senator who took the political risk to challenge his colleagues.
Sasse did the Senate, Congress, and all Americans a favor by rhetorically holding up a mirror so elected officials can see themselves as their constituents see them. Those disturbed by what they see should resist the temptation to curse the mirror.
They should listen to Sasse and Biden, put aside petty, partisan, counterproductive bickering. And get to work.
Cardenas is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. McLarty is a former White House chief of staff for President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE. The two serve as the national vice-chairmen for No Labels.