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Opinion: Voters did not choose gridlock

A divided Washington could work together on compromise solutions to vexing problems, rather than dig ideological trenches and lob grenades at each other

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Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is shown waving to supporters after a win that secured Democratic control of the Senate.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., waves to supporters in Las Vegas on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, before a news conference celebrating her U.S. Senate race win. Cortez Masto beat Republican candidate Adam Laxalt, securing a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

Ellen Schmidt, Associated Press

As the messy process of American democracy continues to slowly play out, the prospect of a divided Washington once again looms as a possibility.

Democrats have retained control over the Senate by gaining at least 50 seats, which would allow Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes, if necessary. But control of the House remains in limbo, with neither party holding a majority at the time this is being written. Regardless of which party ends up controlling the House, the margins will be too small to call a mandate.

Some may say Americans have voted for gridlock. That implies some sort of intent, which is unlikely. Yes, national party politics, especially the role of a former president, loomed large in the outcomes, but the truth is that each race hinged, as well, on its own unique issues. That said, however, there is nothing inherently wrong with a divided government. 

For one thing, it keeps a check on extremes and one-sided legislation. 

Democrats have been talking about pushing another economic package, including health care measures. Adding additional federal spending to an economy already suffering from inflation would be a bad idea.

Republicans, for their part, had talked about launching investigations into the Biden White House, including probes of its COVID-19 response and of outgoing infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. Some in the GOP also had talked about filing bills with articles of impeachment against the president.

These would have inflamed divisions rather than united the country. Now, such efforts would be doomed for lack of votes.

Instead of ideology-laden spending programs or partisan vengeance, a divided Congress should seek genuine compromises and pass meaningful legislation.

Immigration is an issue begging for such a solution. Rather than continuing an endless blame-game, the two sides could find ways to secure the border, allow for an orderly influx of workers or asylum seekers and protect the children of undocumented parents.

If economists are correct and the nation slides into a recession, a tempered approach to extended unemployment benefits and other relief would be prudent, as well. Bipartisan efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit might save the country from a crisis that lurks in an uncertain future.

It could happen. In the 1990s, a Republican-led Congress and a Democratic president passed meaningful welfare reform legislation. 

Of course, moderates were more plentiful then. Today’s hyperpartisan atmosphere may prompt either side to ignore tough issues or to stir up demonstrations, such as letting the government shut down rather than lifting the debt ceiling.

But then, voters this month seemed to say they don’t want that sort of government. While they may not have consciously voted for gridlock, people were not happy with candidates who denied the 2020 election outcome or who supported former president Trump’s more outlandish statements. 

Even those members of Congress who won with vitriol-filled campaigns must see that voters are growing weary of such tactics. 

The missing ingredient in recent years has been political courage. As we have said before, nations don’t build monuments to milquetoast leaders who cower behind the safety of partisan coattails. Compromise takes hard work, but it ultimately builds public confidence in institutions, which is sorely needed at the moment.

We don’t blame the skeptics. Divided government’s accomplishments are difficult to identify, and politicians of both parties have overspent yearly tax collections by large margins. Both parties have found it easier to dig ideological trenches and lob grenades at each other, letting whoever is president attempt to solve problems through executive orders that ultimately get decided by the Supreme Court.

Enough of that! While voters in 2022 may not have consciously chosen gridlock, we’re certain they also didn’t vote for Congress to ignore solutions to real problems, either. The key to retaining power in Washington is to get things done.