David Dreier: Congress Is Divided Because America Is Divided

Monday, 21 Jul 2014 05:52 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Congress is neither perfect nor efficient —  and was never meant to be, says former California Republican Rep. David Dreier.

In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, the Brookings Institution fellow and founder of the Dreier Roundtable at Claremont McKenna College argues that the public's "deep-seated negative views of Congress" are understandable —  and amply demonstrated in polls —  but are also misinterpreted.

"Throughout my time in Congress, and particularly since leaving the House of Representatives last year, the question I'm asked most often is some variation of 'Just how bad is it really?'" he writes.

"Frequently the question is answered before it is asked: 'Congress is completely controlled by big money and special interests, isn't it? It's more partisan and dysfunctional than ever before, right?'"

"To answer the original question: Honestly, it's not really that bad," he insists.

Congress "has never been perfect, nor was it ever intended to be efficient," he points out. "It is, however, intended to give voice to a broad range of views and prevent the rise of authoritarian power. Its role is to be a forum for the ugly, messy, difficult process of democracy."

After all, he notes, "we live in a nation founded in the aftermath of a revolt against tyranny" and we have a Constitution that's "an invitation to struggle."

If Congress is divided, Dreier writes, it's because "we Americans are deeply divided."

"Reaching consensus poses great challenges that must be met, not only by congressional and presidential leadership but by the nation," he writes. "In the meantime, we should recognize that our voices as citizens are heard and that those in Congress are finding ways to move forward amid a divided public."

Dreier says his time in Congress showed him that "many voices" of his constituency "were absent from the debate" despite thousands of letters pouring into his office, and that the "work that Congress actually gets done is also often lost in the partisan din," including on the issue of free trade.

"Four major votes on free-trade agreements, and the granting of permanent normal trade relations, passed with big bipartisan numbers during my final term in Congress," he writes. "Steady progress like that doesn't grab headlines, but it does demonstrate that breaking through gridlock is possible."

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