“Let’s get to work—together”

By Neil E. Weisfeld

(Published in Trenton Times, Christmas Day, 2006)

Incoming Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can set the tone for the 110th Congress.  I imagine their address to the nation:

--Good evening to you all!  I am Nancy Pelosi of California, the new Speaker of the House.

--And I’m Harry Reid of Nevada, the new Senate majority leader.  We have asked the networks for this air time, a week before President Bush’s State of the Union address, in order to present you with our vision for the new, Democratically led 110th Congress.

Our vision is born of necessity.  You the voters have elected Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress during a Republican presidency.  And, this divided government arises at a time when our nation faces extremely serious problems, from a war that is not going well to growing economic deficits to international crises in the Middle East and Asia--from dependence on foreign oil to challenges involving homeland security, the climate and environment, health care, education, immigration, law enforcement, and ethics in government.

In this situation, Democrats and Republicans in Washington must roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We must meet each other halfway.  As President Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.”  We must put the nation’s interest above our respective parties’.

We pledge to cooperate with the President in meeting all these challenges, and others, assuming he approaches us in a spirit of cooperation.  Politics, after all, means compromise.  Democracies advance when leaders are united in pursuing common goals.

--Our history offers wonderful examples of bipartisan cooperation.  In the 1940s, Republicans turned away from isolationism and supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to win World War II and President Harry Truman’s Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe.  In the 1950s Democratic Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson supported many of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s foreign and domestic policy initiatives.  In the 1960s, Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen and his colleagues gave crucial support to civil rights legislation proposed by Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

President Bush can usher in a similar era of achievement and cooperation.  First and foremost, the President can do this if he collaborates with Democratic leaders in developing a way out of the stickiest aspects of the War in Iraq.  Our 140,000 brave and dedicated American troops deserve to come home healthy, full of life, and proud of their service to our country and to the beleaguered people of Iraq. 

We understand that the President’s priority is to avoid abandoning that country, and so we say, let’s work together to find a way forward.  As Republican former Secretary of State James Baker has eloquently said, wars cannot be fought on a partisan basis.

--President Bush will win our cooperation if he makes several other moves too:

If he proposes a comprehensive program, including investment and conservation, to drastically and swiftly reduce our dependence on foreign oil;

If he offers a budget that demands a measure of sacrifice by wealthy people, holds down future deficits, and protects the poor;

If he turns mainly to diplomacy, rather than military force and threats, to build security and stability in the world;

If he shows true leadership in confronting the danger of global warming;

If he agrees to help fix the problems with Social Security without privatizing it;

If he appoints judges who are widely respected for fairness and impartiality;

If he shows respect for scientists and educators and researchers, and holds out a helping hand to veterans; and

If he seeks common ground with us on the key issues of immigration, protection of civil liberties, and rebuilding our military.

--Of course, Congress has to do its part to improve government.  We need to exert leadership to prevent ethical abuses, include the minority party in decision-making, stop secret legislative handouts called “earmarks,” hold to a serious work schedule, and maintain fairness in our votes and other procedures.  Reforms are badly needed in all these areas.  

We in Congress also are taking other steps to make government more responsive, such as passing a long overdue increase in the minimum wage.  Democrats’ immediate agenda in the House includes reducing the influence of lobbyists, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to safeguard homeland security, and cutting interest rates on student loans.  Our agenda includes negotiating Medicare drug prices, ending subsidies for the big oil companies, and moving forward on stem cell research to give hope to families everywhere.

And, from time to time, congressional committees will be conducting focused investigations into actions by the administration that need to be made more transparent.  These investigations will be intended to develop better procedures for the future, not to blame and punish.  We want all investigations to be bipartisan.

In short, we believe that the spirit of compromise is coming alive.

--For the past 12 to 15 years, the air in Washington has been poisoned by excessive partisanship.  That simply has to stop.  Speaker Pelosi and I are determined to embark on a new approach.  We hope and pray that President Bush will join us in that journey—and that you as citizens will demand the best from us.

God bless America always, and good night, everyone.