The hateful rhetoric arising from Washington, D.C., is an insidious disease infecting our national conscience and fanning the fires of divisiveness.
It is also unnecessary.
Six years ago I founded the Center Aisle Caucus together with Steve Israel, D-N.Y., to arrest these counter-productive tendencies. Our efforts have not lived up to our hopes on the national stage.
Interestingly, however, among the 40-some members of our caucus — equally divided among Republicans and Democrats — there is mutual respect and collegiality.
We meet routinely with leaders of government and industry both to enlighten and inform.
Guests have included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, senior officers of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Executive Director of the World Food Programme Josette Sheeran, former debt commission co-chair Sen. Alan Simpson and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Members of the caucus try to lead by example, some by sitting with colleagues from across the aisle during State of the Union addresses.
We have discussed House protocols and rules of debate that would limit the rancor.
Some of us plan to propose — again — the idea moving to a two-year budget cycle, an idea that I think would reduce the incessant argument over dollars-and-cents and allow for more substantive discussion of meaningful fiscal reforms that would actually save taxpayer dollars.
These are all worthwhile endeavors undertaken by people of good will. Unfortunately, these voices are drowned out in the cacophony of discord on the cable television shows, radio programs and social media outlets. A definition of news is conflict. Civility doesn’t make for good theater.
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But civility is not just good for good manners’ sake. It’s good for the economy. The rationale of Standard & Poor’s for downgrading our debt was pointed in that regard.
“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed,” the rating agency wrote in its rationale.
“The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently.”
Political bargaining chips. The quarreling clearly was a factor in the rating agency’s decision.
I am not so naïve as to think our problems will be solved if we just start saying please and thank you. But I also know it’s a lot harder to enter productive negotiations with each side railing against the other.
We don’t have to abandon our ideologies to reach a common goal of restoring faith in our economy. That confidence is much of what Wall Street and Standard & Poor’s, and more importantly, what the people of this country seek. We should heed them.
Our Congress — and, in particular, the House of Representatives — was uniquely structured for us to be listeners, not lecturers, and statesmen, not cynics.
I ask my colleagues to abandon the vitriol as we prepare to return to Washington, D.C. We are not the House of Commons. We are not the streets of London or Tripoli. We are the U.S. Congress. It is our nation’s best interests, economically and morally, to start acting like it.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson is a Republican representing the 15th Congressional District.