By NEMS Daily Journal
Former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who served as majority leader of the Senate in a time of Republican control, remains a public figure of undisputed Republican credentials, but he also brings to the larger discussion of issues like the “fiscal cliff” the expereince and perspective of a former way of making Washington work with dealmaking.
Lott wrote recently in a commentary for The Washington Post of the difficulty – and the necessity – of mutually reaching out to those in the opposite party and in the Oval Office to accomplish what’s good and essential for America.
Lott, who served 16 years in the U.S. House and 19 years in the Senate, has been part of the working Washington scene for more than 40 years, including his service as a staff member for the late U.S. Rep. William Colmer, D-Miss.
Lott instructively recalls a time when crafting solutions to national problems mattered more than partisan loyalty. He identifies everyone in the loop in assessing blame, including President Obama, but most instructively and authoritatively in recounting the legislative role.
He wrote, “This is not to say that leadership, as an entire concept, has gone missing. We have it in the form of iron wills, party loyalty, vision setting, unflinching principles – all of which can be leadership traits. But legislative leadership is the hallmark skill needed to make it in Washington. Without it, and a willingness from both parties to engage in negotiation, don’t expect results to differ from those of the past two years.”
He also reminds everyone willing to listen that divided government – different parties controlling the White House and one or both of the congressional houses, can work.
“Divided government has, in fact, worked on many occasions. President Reagan always had a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, while President Clinton had six of his eight years controlled by Republicans.
“… Congressional leaders will need to step up to the task. They should begin by staying in session more, and greater communication with each other would help. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and I talked all the time, and by doing so were able to work through difficult and complex issues.”
“… Have robust debate and votes on amendments by members of both parties, in the best traditions of the Senate.”
His key point is this:
“Can this be done in the current atmosphere? We have no choice. I can assure you, it was not easy when Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and I was the Senate majority leader. … We shared the goal of a better future for our country, and knew both sides had to give some in order to get to a deal that could pass.”
We hope those in Congress who can make it work read Lott and remember what working government accomplishes.