THIS summer America's great Midwest has been devastated by some of the worst flooding in recent memory. Even though Congress debated how to pay for emergency assistance, Republicans and Democrats are united on the need to move swiftly to develop a substantial relief plan for flood victims. It seems Democrats and Republicans can agree on the urgency of the situation in the Midwest and respond accordingly, but are unable to act courageously as a flood of red ink threatens the future of this nation.
Bipartisan cooperation has been practically nonexistent in Washington this year. Not one Republican in the House or Senate voted for the Congressional Budget Resolution. Not one Democrat voted for the Republican alternative. Democrats refused to allow Republicans to offer any amendments to President Clinton's economic stimulus bill; Republicans retaliated by successfully filibustering it.
Now, whether one agrees with these actions or not, this represents a very disturbing trend.
This sharpened polarization has not yet caused the legislative process to grind to a halt. A Democratic majority has allowed legislation to advance at a relatively quick pace. However, the noticeably decreased cooperation gives the nation great reason for concern. Eliminating the deficit and paying down the national debt will require all the efforts and skills of legislators on both sides of the aisle. Tough choices must be made.
Needless bickering between the parties prevents politicians from working to break the barrier between the people and their representatives. If politicians are too busy combating their opponents, they neglect to educate their constituents about the sacrifices and choices that must be made to eliminate the deficit. This kind of education must occur if Congress wants to build the political support it needs to eliminate the deficit. Otherwise people will continue to place blame for the deficit on marginal is sues like government waste and foreign aid instead of on entitlements - the real cause of the deficit.
How do we transcend narrow, partisan politics? The partisan squabbling that dominates budget negotiations did not prevent Congress, in the end, from addressing a national emergency: the terrible flooding in the Midwest. Politicians know that the American people demand quick action on behalf of the national interest. However, mounting budget deficits and a debt that exceeds $4.4 trillion present the nation with an even greater threat.
Our fiscal crisis represents a national emergency, and our leaders in Washington should put their differences aside and get to work on eliminating the deficit.
It is up to us as citizens to become active in the political process. Members of Congress must be reminded that they are there to act on behalf of the general interests of the country, not to represent Washington's numerous special interests. If members of Congress feel pressure from educated, informed constituents to make the tough choices required to lower the deficit, they will respond.
Unfortunately many people in Washington think that Americans are not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to regain control of our fiscal destiny. They should find hope in people's reactions to the floods. Polls have shown that they are also willing to do the same to eliminate the deficit.
Clearly there is still much work to do, and we must remind Congress to join together to fight the deficit, not each other. And we expect them to start working with their constituents to build support for effective deficit-reduction policies. This is the only way we can restore America's fiscal stability and pass on a productive nation to our children.