Washington gridlock linked to social funk

BPC's Dan Glickman: "Nostalgia is always great. Sometimes I remember my life as congressman in the '80s positively and my wife says I am dreaming. 'You hated it,' she will say."
CNN
Jan. 25, 2013

In his retirement announcement, Republican Sen. Saxby Cambliss cited "the dearth of meaningful action from Congress" as one reason for not seeking re-election next year.

"The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don't see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon," the Capitol Hill veteran said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin can appreciate Chambliss' sentiments.

When was asked earlier this month about the functionality of Congress, he chalked up the body's poor legislative record to a few problems. The most important one, he said, was the fact that members don't know one another outside of work...

BPC Senior Fellow Dan Glickman

BPC Senior Fellow Dan Glickman

It is a common refrain on the Hill -- the idea that if Congress were more social, more buddy-buddy outside the Capitol complex, that it would be more functional in doing the people's work.

The truth is not that simple, according to former leaders of the Senate and House.

The nostalgia for the "good ol' days," when members would play tennis atop the Hart Office Building and drink whiskey after hours, may be tempting to admire, but it is far from the cure-all for Washington's seemingly unbreakable gridlock, they say.

"Nostalgia is always great," Dan Glickman, a former Democratic representative from Kansas and senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said with a laugh.

"Sometimes I remember my life as congressman in the '80s positively and my wife says I am dreaming. 'You hated it,' she will say," he said.

Glickman was in Congress from 1977 to 1995 then was President Bill Clinton's agriculture secretary until 2001. He said he watched Congress change in the late 1990s and 2000s and wondered about the tipping point.

His synopsis: Congress is like other organizations, except it has 535 independent contractors rather than a business-like structure built around a chain of command.

"Congress is no different than any other organization, if people don't get along, then you get dysfunction," Glickman said. "Basic principles of just human interaction are if you don't like each other and you distrust each other, that is a recipe for an unproductive life."