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America — not Utah — embroiled in partisanship

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The United States is suffering through a highly contentious phase of politics, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress so angry and polarized they will not work together to solve the country's biggest problems. This raises important questions for Americans and Utahns:

Which political party deserves the most blame for congressional dysfunction and acrimony?

Webb: The Democrats have been in charge of Congress for nearly four years. They've controlled both the presidency and Congress, enjoying large majorities, for nearly two years. If they stay unified, they can ram through whatever they want. So they're running things; they have the power, and they get the blame.

Certainly, Republicans have not been cooperative. But when the Democrats are taking the country far to the left, often against the will of the people, and won't even seriously consider most Republican proposals, Republicans have no incentive to play nice.

Pignanelli: "In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times." — Winston Churchill

I truly appreciate LaVarr's response to the question above, BECAUSE IT DEMONSTRATES EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH POLITICAL DISCOURSE TODAY. Republicans and Democrats have traded the governance of this country for 150 years, and both share the blame for the current acrimony. Moreover, LaVarr's allegation about Democrats ignoring "Republican proposals" is disingenuous. The courageous Republican Congressman Paul Ryan has developed thoughtful detailed proposals to reduce our country's deficit that require sacrifice and self-reliance from Americans. Yet only a handful of his GOP colleagues have dared to cosponsor this endeavor. Without a credible alternative, polls demonstrate Americans view GOP attacks against Democrats as the typical shallow partisan sniping.

Does Utah politics suffer from the same turmoil that is plaguing Congress?

Pignanelli: Most conventional budgetary and administrative issues are decided by the Legislature and the governor, with occasional consultation with Democrats. However, on major policy deliberations, Utah lawmakers have set the gold standard of consensus-building and outreach between the parties. Politicos still speak in amazement of the tireless efforts by Republican state Sen. Dan Liljenquist to develop bipartisan support for dramatic overhaul of the state pension system. Republican House Speaker David Clark constructed health care reform through a very inclusionary process. House Minority Leader David Litvack garnered Republican support for his hate crimes legislation. (These examples are just in the last five years — our state history is rich with even more.)

Webb: No. Republican legislative leaders listen to the minority Democrats. Significant legislation is sponsored by Democrats. What's more, Republicans and Democrats in Utah deal forthrightly with the major issues facing the state. We don't have the stalemates and acrimony that plague Congress.

Will things improve nationally after the November elections?

Webb: Yes, but only if Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress, which would be the best thing that could happen to President Barack Obama. He should be out campaigning for Republicans. If Republicans and Democrats share control of the federal government, it will force both sides to work more cooperatively and collaboratively to address problems.

Right now, voters don't care much for either party, but they're especially mad at the party in power. If Republicans and Democrats share power, voters will expect results, or they will turn on both parties. After big Republican victories in 1994, President Bill Clinton enjoyed the best successes of his presidency. Obama may have the same opportunity if Republicans take control of Congress.

But competing priorities will exist. In sharing power, Republicans will need to perform, solve problems and take responsibility. Obama will be forced to listen to Republicans and compromise. However, that little matter of the 2010 presidential election will intervene to sharpen partisanship and acrimony. I'm not sure voters will stand for two more years of stalemate.

Pignanelli: The cultural animosity in Washington, D.C., is deeper than the traditional competition between Republicans and Democrats. For example, the voices and faces of the Republican party are not elected officials, but media types: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, etc. Their livelihood and popularity is dependent upon the inflammatory rhetoric they dish out to the public. The existence of left-wing organizations (i.e. MoveOn.org, Daily Kos) depends on castigating Republicans and pushing Democrats to the left. These individuals and causes actively work against cooperation between the parties and will not disappear until a majority of Americans stop feeding them with attention.

What are the issues, nationally and locally, that will require cooperation and compromise to solve?

Webb: The economy overshadows everything. Businesses need stability and predictability in tax policy, deficit reduction, energy policy, immigration reform and entitlement reform before they will feel secure enough to hire, invest and expand.

Pignanelli: National leaders must realize that the threat to our nation is not from the other side of the aisle, but from terrorist groups, developing economies, a changing environment, etc. Victory is constructing resolutions to these challenges, not winning the sound-bite war.

In Utah, we hope the political goodwill will be utilized for important efforts: reforming public education system, maintaining a quality work force and developing a diversified economy.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously, he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.