Attention, Mr. President and members of Congress: The American people are fed up with dysfunction in Washington and have just about reached the boiling point.
A poll by The Wall Street Journal/NBC News unveiled this week says optimism about the U.S. government, at 30 percent, has reached the lowest point in 40 years. A mere 29 percent said their congressional representative deserved re-election, and the leaders on Capitol Hill — Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat — hit their highest negative ratings ever.
Republicans came out especially bad as a result of the shutdown, with only 22 percent of Americans holding a positive view of the party, an all-time low. Democrats don’t have much to smile about, either. Their party is viewed favorably by only 37 percent.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s job approval rating has fallen to 42 percent. For the first time, more Americans view Mr. Obama negatively rather than positively. No doubt the clumsy rollout of the Affordable Care Act had something to do with that. After all, the buck stops you-know-where, Mr. President.
There’s a message embedded in these findings for the White House and leaders of Congress, if they could stop quarreling long enough to hear it: Forget about gridlock. Work together. Compromise. Make government work.
And here’s a suggestion about where to start — with the bipartisan congressional panel tasked with arriving at a budget deal to avoid another government shutdown in January. The 29 members of the committee are supposed to agree on a spending blueprint by reconciling House and Senate budget measures.
Not so long ago, the goal was a “grand bargain,” getting Democrats to agree to cutbacks in programs such as Medicare and Social Security in exchange for GOP agreement to get more revenue from tax increases or tax reform.
Today, the atmosphere in Washington is so toxic that no one is thinking big any longer. Instead, the narrow focus is how to offset the “sequester” cuts of about $100 billion a year that neither party likes by either slicing other government programs or raking in more revenue — or a combination of both.
Unfortunately, both sides came out swinging on the day of the initial meeting, with Democrats Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declaring there would be no deal without new revenue and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., saying that if taxes become the issue, “We’re not going to get anywhere.”
Did they learn nothing from the shutdown?
Any sensible plan has to be a combination of new spending and greater revenue. It doesn’t have to be a tax increase, either. Rep. Tom Cole, R.-Okla., says he’s open to expanding oil and gas leases as a way of bringing in more money or — better yet — a reform of the tax code to eliminate loopholes for special interests.
Nor do the entitlement programs that affect the elderly necessarily have to be on the table this time around (although they will eventually). The White House has indicated that it might agree to cuts in other entitlement programs, such as agriculture subsidies, to ease the sequester cuts.
Clearly, the outlines of a deal are there, even if it’s not a long-term grand bargain. That will have to wait until sometime after the next election. But for now, there’s a way — if only there’s a will.