Congress broke a record this year, but hitting the lowest approval rating of all time isn’t what the region’s lawmakers had hoped to accomplish.
Correspondent Matt Laslo talked with the New Hampshire congressional delegation and has a look back at this year’s wild ride in Washington.
Republicans took over the lower chamber at the start of the year…hoping to drastically slash the federal debt. But it now sits at more than $15 trillion dollars.
To address that problem, lawmakers created the so-called super committee designed to slash a trillion dollars from the debt but it devolved into partisan bickering and eventually failed.
That gridlock and other factors have many polls showing less than ten percent of the public approving of Congress.
“They’re right. It’s been very frustrating.” That’s First District Republican Congressman Frank Guinta. He and more than eighty conservative Republicans were swept into office this year with what they say is a mandate to fix the nation’s debt crisis.
While they haven’t gotten all – or even most – of what they want, Guinta says his freshman class is making a mark. “Well, it’s been an interesting experience. I think that honestly we have changed the debate here in Washington.”
New Hampshire Second District Congressman Charlie Bass says Republicans shouldn’t be gloomy because their party has negotiated more than a trillion dollars in budget cuts…even though the bulk of them aren’t slated to kick in until 2013.
“Although it may not go down as the most popular Congress, or at least first session of the Congress, it’s done what the American people wanted us to do which is to get spending under control and to move a different manner than had been done in the previous four years to get the economy jump started again.”
The GOP lead House has been active, passing dozens of bills Republicans maintain will create jobs. Bass says the blame for inaction lies in the Senate.
“I think this has been a very productive year. Obviously the Democrats will say that we’ve done otherwise. But we’ve sent between twenty-two and twenty-seven different job creating bills to the Senate, some of them reduce regulations others promote job creation.”
But the two parties did come together a few times this year… passing three free trade agreements, a national security bill and some long term spending agreements. After a drawn out battle lawmakers also raised the nation’s debt ceiling, although it came too late to prevent the downgrading of the U.S credit rating. But Guinta says the blame for the downgrade shouldn’t fall on House Republicans.
“It’s on President Obama’s watch. I mean in my view. He’s the executive. Look, I was a mayor, and typically when you’re mayor you get all the blame and you get all the credit. We’re here trying to do the right thing as a legislative body, but I do feel there are philosophical impediments in the Senate and in the president.”
As for the Senate, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte says if she were grading Congress this year she’d only be able to give the institution a D.
“We haven’t addressed the fiscal crisis our country faces.”
This fall both Ayotte and New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen urged the super committee to find a compromise to cut at least four trillion dollars from the nation’s debt.
Shaheen says the failure of the special panel to find a solution was a major disappointment in 2011 and it highlights a problem.
“I think it’s important for people in Congress to work together, unfortunately there are a lot of forces trying to keep that from happening.”
While frustration abounds in voters and lawmakers, Congressman Bass says slow movement is to be expected in a divided government and merely reflects the unique US Constitution. “The founding fathers created this system to creak and crank and squeak and groan and moan, but move forward in a responsible and wise manner.”
Lawmakers in both parties admit many disappointments in 20-11, yet both parties also blame each other for the nation’s lingering problems. If that’s any indication it seems neither side is preparing to back down in 2012. Just as the year began, so it ends in Washington: gridlocked.