Governing means seeking solutions
By Hank Johnson (as it appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013)
The events surrounding last month’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington provide a good illustration of the partisan divide.
Although Republican leadership — including both Bush presidents, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor — were invited to speak at the landmark event, all declined.
It’s part of a larger pattern of Republicans snubbing Democrats, and especially the president, at all costs. They simply refuse to reach out to engage the president for fear their extreme base will punish them.
How can we get anything done when this extreme hyper-partisanship exists over something as symbolic and iconic as the historic March on Washington?
A case in point is Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who announced his retirement earlier this year, explaining, “I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon.”
It’s a sad day in America and for our political system when a member of Congress who reaches across the aisle to try to solve big problems is lampooned as a “traitor” by the very core of the party he or she represents.
I am optimistic that gridlock will gradually give way to cooperation. But as long as people like Sen. Chambliss are retiring (or being forced out) over threats to their careers because they seek bipartisan solutions, then we’re in real trouble.
We got into this mess in large part over campaign spending. To truly fix the problem, we need to curb the ubiquitous influence of corporate cash in Washington policymaking.
Lawmakers will have to show courage for there to be compromise on issues such as the budget, tax reform and immigration.
I know bipartisanship is possible, because I’ve done it. I have secured Republican co-sponsors for several bills I have initiated including my APPS Act — co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio and Joe Barton of Texas, both Republicans — that protects consumers’ privacy on mobile phones and iPads. I also received Republican support for my RARE Act, which will help secure rare earth elements crucial to technological manufacturing.
When I worked to help ensure Historically Black Colleges and Universities, clean energy and metro Atlanta’s solar industry were getting the boost they needed in the National Defense Authorization Act, I reached across the aisle to get it done.
When I tackled the high costs of prescription drugs that accompany crippling diseases — mostly for our elderly — I made sure I had Republican support. And when I dealt with increasing awareness and funding for hepatitis and emerging diseases of poverty, I turned to both Democrats and Republicans for support.
It’s why, when I offered legislation to give start-ups and small businesses tax breaks to help their bottom line, I enlisted Democrats and Republicans to get the job done.
This is the kind of spirit we need in Washington. We should never fail to reach across the aisle and seek bipartisan support for good ideas and legislation. I will continue this practice.
Leadership is not paying homage to political orthodoxy above all else. To govern is to lead and seek solutions — and that means compromise.
I urge all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue dialogue and search for the points of agreement rather than contention. When we put country above party, we accomplish great things.
Hank Johnson represents Georgia’s 4th Congressional District.