Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

August 20, 2013

LEE HAMILTON: What you need to know about Congress right now

Parties are more divided than they've been for decades.

(Continued)

• Even so, it’s worth noticing that one of the congressional parties is extraordinarily difficult to lead at the moment. The Republicans are fractured and squabbling over their future direction. This makes me sympathize with the formidable task the Republican leadership confronts.

• Hardly anyone out there thinks Congress is doing a good job — it’s consistently below 20 percent approval ratings — and most people think it’s too partisan. Yet members aren’t very concerned. They’ve become quite skilled at running against Washington, even though they are Washington. And they count on the fact that few voters hold their own member of Congress responsible for its shortcomings, however unpopular Congress as a whole has become.

• As lobbyists descend in swarms on Capitol Hill, they hold more power than ever. They rain cash, twist arms, and even draft bills — all the things that powerful congressional leaders used to do. The NRA’s defeat of legislation strengthening background checks for gun purchases, in the face of overwhelming public sentiment after Newtown, was nothing less than an impressive display of political clout and an example of how influential lobbyists and special interests have become. Perhaps this is why a good number of my former colleagues have made a tidy living for themselves by becoming lobbyists.

• Finally, all of this contributes to the emerging themes for the 2014 congressional campaign. Candidates will clearly run against the mess in Washington, and a good number of them, though not all, will talk regularly about the need to be bipartisan. The big question for 2015 will be whether the successful ones can translate their talk into legislation to help move the country forward.

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University Bloomington. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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