The New York Times headline was representative of what lots of papers said about the seating of the new Congress this week: "Republicans say they'll act fast to push agenda."
The new class includes 13 new senators and 58 new House members. Both the House and the Senate now have Republican majorities.
The article by Carl Hulse points out that "Republicans hope to strike early with measures that are known to have bipartisan support."
One area of reported agreement is the Keystone XL pipeline, a nearly 1,200-mile oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, down to Nebraska that's being touted as a way to boost America's security and economy. Another is redefining a full-time worker under the Affordable Care Act from someone who works at least 30 hours to someone who works 40 hours.
I see the seating of any new Congress as a chance to change the tone of the national discussion and to try to figure out what will best serve the entire country, without a lot of regard to partisan politics. The fact that Congress is expected to seek first those areas where there's agreement between both Republicans and Democrats may bode well for an attitude of cooperation that lasts. But I'm trying not to get my hopes up unrealistically.
There's something terribly tempting about demanding your own way when you are part of the dominating party. We've seen Democrats do it. We've seen Republicans do it. And it's not just Congress, either. A president whose arsenal includes a party majority in the House and Senate can be pretty heavy-handed, as well.
It's a pattern that goes back through our history as a nation. The problem is, it doesn't always serve the country as a whole very well.
Numerous news reports have highlighted potential areas for compromise, pointing to taxes, trade and public works as areas where cooperation could craft something of value to all of us.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will largely set the tone for what happens and how relations go with Democrats. He replaces Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as Senate Majority Leader. And he's given some indication that he'd like to work well with members of both parties on key issues.
I don't think anyone expects a member of Congress to abandon basic tenets of his or her party just to play nice together. But it sure would be nice if they could figure out what really matters and work together for it, without a lot of bickering and backstabbing. My discussions with friends and family lead me to believe most people would like to see discussions that are civil and aimed at solving problems and strengthening the country, rather than simply positioning players for the next round of elections.
When it comes to politics, Americans at all levels of involvement have forgotten some of the very basics of civility. Partisan politics hijacked not just how we discuss issues, but whether we even bother to learn actual facts about those issues at all. Too many of us — and our leaders — hear only our own voices when we confront a tricky issue like immigration or health care or national security. The problem with only listening to yourself is you never learn anything new and that makes it hard to solve a genuine problem.
We've also forgotten that two people can disagree and still be friends, neighbors and countrymen who respect and want to help each other.
American security, prosperity, exploration, family life, education, environmental challenges and everything else that shapes our country are vitally important. They deserve robust discussion and examination of many viewpoints to see what works and what doesn't.
The 114th Congress can view the challenge of governing as if they had a clean slate to do the job right. Here's hoping.
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