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Entries in Bipartisan (2)

Sunday
Sep112011

Carol Shea-Porter - Can Congress compromise? If so, when? 

People are disgusted with Congress. Does Congress deserve its current approval rating of just 12%? What are they fighting about? Can't they compromise? Before citizens throw their hands up, let's look at some divisive issues, and place them in context.

While citizens are disturbed that Congress is so divided, they have to realize that so are the voters.  The well-respected Pew Research Center just completed a major study that shows the high degree of polarization in US politics. Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Center, said, "What we see is a much bigger and increasingly diverse middle...What's striking about it is that they're not so moderate. People in the middle have some strong, well-defined ideological points of view." This confirms my experience while teaching Politics, working on campaigns, and then serving in Congress. There is a real hardening of positions among voters and politicians.

Often there is unwillingness to compromise because one side wants to keep or gain control. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was blunt but truthful in 2009 when he told National Journal, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." On the House side, Congressman Pence said, "You bet, we want those policies to fail." This is not leadership, nor is there a hint of compromise in those statements, and that view is clearly shared by many others. But sometimes there is another factor in play. Sometimes it is not just a refusal to play nice. Sometimes it really is a deep ideological belief that the other guy is so wrong that it will hurt the country if they yield. That belief may be right or wrong, but it does cause politicians to stand their ground and refuse to budge.

Many of these issues have just one position--for or against. For example, pro-choice or the opposite, anti-choice. You cannot have it both ways, and most people start at a certain moral or legal point that does not allow much room to compromise. I, for example, believe this is a privacy issue and the government needs to stay out of it. NH has two Republican members of Congress.  One says there can never be an abortion, not even to save the life of a mother, and the other is a member of the Republicans for Choice PAC, elected several times to the House with that position. Who can compromise with whom in that scenario?

Another issue is taxes. Even though the United States has a high corporate income tax that should be lowered, most corporations actually don't pay any federal income tax, thanks to politicians. While most who wrote these favors into the tax code had political reasons to do so, some truly believe that if we tax corporations, they can't create jobs. Never mind that they pay taxes to other countries and create jobs there-some still believe it will hurt jobs so they won't compromise. 

Politicians and citizens are all over the map on health care. Some want it for seniors, some want it for vets, some want it for nobody, and some want it for all. People who are desperate for health care and cannot afford it need advocates who will fight, and people who have good jobs and good health care want "their side" to stand their ground also. These issues and others create gridlock and frustration.

There are some answers though. First, voters should choose the team they most identify with, Republicans or Democrats, and then send that team to run the country. Teamwork is key to success, and the two parties can't work well together at this point. Second, voters need to compromise also. They should ask the candidate about positions, but they also need to allow a good candidate to fail the 100%-purity-about-every-issue test. Voters should not give up, thinking politicians are all the same, because they clearly are not. 

Citizens need to choose their team, and then tell team members that when a compromise is good for the country, they will understand a hard vote. Encourage courage. Reward courage.  At least, accept it, if there is to be compromise. Finally, people must remember that America has faced gridlock before, over issues as diverse as Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, Health Care, Asbestos, Abortion, Immigration, etc. We are guided by a Constitution and by decent people of all persuasions. We will be bruised and battered, but with faith and optimism and good will, we will survive.

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Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election.  She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages.  She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.

 

Thursday
Feb102011

Bill Frist Op-Ed in Politico - Come together on education reform

By Bill Frist, M.D. and John Podesta
Politico, February 9, 2011

Though bipartisanship now feels like a footnote in a history book, both parties have an opportunity to work together again on a big issue: education.

The revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind, passed in the Senate and House with overwhelming bipartisan support under George W. Bush. Now, Congress must come together again to reauthorize it.

No Child Left Behind made a good first pass at making school boards and districts responsible for all their students' achievement. But its outdated approach needs to be revised. Strengthening the law in reauthorization could help ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed through public education.

There are four compelling reasons to act here. First, the law's current accountability framework is outdated. No Child Left Behind provided pressure and political cover for local school boards and district officials to spur improvement. But the way the law measures results is flawed.

School districts are now required to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. Each year, however, the current accountability framework penalizes more and more schools that may not have met the standards but actually made real strides in improving academic performance.

Second, our schools need an overarching principle that reflects the challenges we face in the 21st century. In particular, economic competitiveness requires that all students graduate from high school ready for college or a career.

A revamped law, focused on college and career readiness, would reward states for voluntarily developing clearer, higher academic standards consistent with this goal. It should encourage schools to share best practices and implement better assessments to gauge students’ progress. The law must do more than label failing schools based on proficiency rates.

Third, a reauthorized No Child Left Behind law should integrate competitive grant programs, especially ones spurring innovation, which Congress has funded but not authorized. Many states, including Race to the Top winner Tennessee, used data collected under No Child Left Behind to build comprehensive plans to transform K-12 education.

Competitive grants reward excellence and innovation with a less prescriptive federal role. The new Investing in Innovation program, for example, enhanced the country's educational research and development capacity. The Teacher Incentive Fund program overhauled the way we pay teachers and principals in participating states, districts and charter schools.

Finally, it's urgent that Congress act on the most important finding of No Child Left Behind: The caliber of teachers and principals is the most important lever for improving academic achievement.

Action starts with recruitment. We know that countries that draw teaching talent from the top third of their college graduates outperform the United States in student achievement.

Encouraging districts to use meaningful performance evaluation systems for both teachers and principals is also an important step toward putting the best possible teachers in the classroom — particularly for the kids who need the most help. Another is to require teacher preparation programs to track and publish information about the characteristics of candidates entering their programs and these candidates’ success in promoting student learning gains once they begin teaching.

Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind provides an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together to develop important solutions on a key policy issue. Including these initiatives will go a long way toward making sure our children - especially children living in poverty - receive the comprehensive, globally competitive education they deserve.

Bill Frist, a former Republican Senate majority leader, is chairman of the nonprofit State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

John Podesta is president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.