MIKE MICHAUD

Glimmers of hope in a dysfunctional Congress

Posted Aug. 06, 2012, at 4:18 p.m.

When Congress adjourned for a five-week break, I voted against it. I opposed August adjournment because there is so much that remains unaddressed, and it’s going to be impossible to get it done responsibly during the upcoming two-week September session.

Here are just a few examples of what remains on Congress’ plate:

A bill revamping our nation’s farm programs, which would finally move away from subsidies for major agribusinesses and focus more on farmers such as those in Maine, was left withering on the vine.

There has been no progress whatsoever on moving a comprehensive jobs bill or addressing the “fiscal cliff” facing our county in January if a deal isn’t struck on debt reduction.

Not a single appropriation bill has been passed into law either. Instead, the United States has operated under so-called “continuing resolutions” that simply keep government operations and programs flat funded with little to no change, despite revamps that are desperately needed to save taxpayers money or shift priorities.

An agreement on how to renew tax cuts has met a similar fate. Knowing that the prevailing bills in each chamber were going nowhere, speeches were made and condemnations flew, but no resolution was reached. Extending tax cuts for the middle class is something Democrats and Republicans agree should be passed. Why couldn’t we move that forward while making sure taxes on higher earners don’t adversely affect small businesses? Election year politics seems to be the only answer.

And that’s the real problem. Congressional leaders in Washington are almost solely focused on playing politics, gaining the upper hand, and making the other side look bad. What they should be doing is solving problems and delivering results that actually improve the economy and matter to the American people. It’s no wonder opinion polls have congressional approval ratings at record lows.

Reasonable people can disagree, but they should also be able to work out solutions at least some of the time. Compromise should not be a dirty word.

Thankfully, not all Congress does is as bad as the bomb throwers on cable news would have you believe. While the majority leaders and minority leaders talk past all of us, I’m pleased to report that there have been a few glimmers of hope in this dysfunctional Congress.

Democrats and Republicans in both chambers are coming together to fight for fairer trade agreements. Just last month I was joined by members of both political parties from both chambers to press for policies that will protect domestic shoemaking jobs in a new free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a result, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk accepted my invitation to visit Maine to see firsthand the good work being done here. That’s good news for local jobs, including hundreds of New Balance employees in Norway, Norridgewock and Skowhegan.

I’m also pleased to report that a bill I wrote is going to be signed into law by President Obama on Monday. In the final week of session, the House passed a package of veterans bills that included one I have been pushing for years to ensure severely disabled and elderly Maine veterans get the care they need at our state veterans homes. This new law will benefit state veterans homes in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris, and Machias by helping ensure they get properly reimbursed for the cost of the care they provide to our veterans.

And each week more members of Congress are cosponsoring a bill I’m pushing to ensure Congress doesn’t get paid unless they pass appropriations and budget bills on time each year. While this is just one reform to Congress that is needed, it might be the wakeup call lawmakers need to break the cycle of dysfunction that has plagued Washington lately.

American families and businesses want political standoffs ended. Though it may seem frustratingly difficult, I’m hopeful Washington can get beyond the failures of the past few months and finally legislate with the priorities of our country in mind, not political bases or special interests.

U.S. Representative Mike Michaud is a Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

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