Congress damaged its reputation, but it's not too late for compromise

Congress damaged its reputation, but it's not too late for compromise
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In the past month, we have seen Congress rocked by scandals involving allegations of sexual harassment, disclosures of previous settlements using taxpayer funds which were kept secret, and the passage of a tax cut bill which may be the most unpopular piece of legislation in decades.

It may be possible that Congress’s reputation with the American people has fallen so low that it is beyond repair. In addition, a significant majority of Americans are fed up with the inability of Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to get things done.

The contention, polarization and antipathy that exists between the two major parties seems irreparable as well. Notwithstanding all of this, I still believe that Congress could turn the corner if it acted in a bipartisan fashion to pass significant legislation involving infrastructure and immigration, in the first three or four months of next year.

Ironically, to do so, it would take members of both parties adhering to the message of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE’s campaign song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. That song depicts the very essence of the compromise that is needed to make bipartisan progress work.

Way back in my college days, one of my best friends worked at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. He worked at the Pepsi Pavilion where the soda giant unveiled, for the first time, the ditty, “It’s a Small, Small World.” He relayed to me that they played that everywhere inside the building, including employee locker rooms, bathrooms and cafeteria. By the end of the summer, it had almost driven him crazy.

So, I suggest that we play the Rolling Stones’ ditty in all of the same places throughout the Capitol until it is seared into the consciousness of every member of Congress. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that the second line of the Stones’ song is, “but if you try sometimes you just may find, you’ll get what you need.” Hallelujah! It’s as easy as pie. That’s the secret formula.

The essence of reaching bipartisan agreement is understanding that compromise will often help you achieve your goals, but not 100 percent of them. A week after I completed two terms as governor of Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper wrote an editorial which examined my main campaign promises in my 2002 election and concluded that I had made progress towards achieving each and every one of those goals. The truth is, I never achieved 100 percent of any of the goals, but we did make substantial progress on each of them.

We did it because I understood that dealing with a Republican legislature meant that I couldn’t always get what I wanted, but if I tried I might get what I needed. For example, when I took office, a comprehensive education funding study found that Pennsylvania needed an additional $6 billion for its 501 school districts to achieve an appropriate level of funding throughout. So, for each and every one of the eight years that I was governor, including 2009 and 2010, we increased education funding significantly. In eight years we didn’t reach $6 billion, however, only $4.2 billion. I had to compromise with the legislature, but $4.2 billion is a whole lot better than zero.

To achieve this progress, I had to significantly increase funds to the educational investment tax credit, which allows wealthy individuals and businesses to get tax credits for contributing money to any school, whether public, private or parochial. Though I didn’t think this was a terrible idea, it was sort of a backdoor voucher system, and I would have preferred for all of our resources to go to improving public education, but I knew it was necessary to gain Republican votes to bolster public education funding. You can’t always get what you want.

How could this apply to Congress? Take immigration for example. We Democrats should understand that Republicans need to take back to their base significant upgrades in border security and enforcement. So, we should agree to significantly improving e-verify, paying for a substantial increase in border guards, and maybe even building something that President Trump could claim was the same as a wall but much less costly. In return, Republicans would have to agree, once and for all, to protect the “Dreamers” and to establish a pathway to legalization for the more than 11 million immigrants who need it.

Neither side would be crazy about giving in on those issues but “you can’t always get what you want,” and if they did, we would get a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would actually work to resolve our crisis, once and for all. So, okay, guys and girls in Congress: We give you four months to get both of these projects done, or else we install Mick Jagger and his friends in every public area in the Capitol!

Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania and a former mayor and former district attorney of Philadelphia. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center.