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GOP’s Congress Is Out With The Old In With The Old

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In early December, a CBS News poll found the 112th Congress’ approval rating was 9 percent. That’s the lowest rating since CBS began measuring Congress’ approval in 1977. That 9 percent is so close to the margin of error that it might not be possible to sink lower without a shovel.

On New Year’s Day, Congress jumped over the fiscal cliff, trying to pull the nation with it.

Like in an old-fashioned serial, though, the Senate grabbed the edge by its fingertips until House Speaker John Boehner was forced by reality to back off and back down, allowing the nation to crawl its way out of immediate danger.

As we begin a new year, a new Congress and a new term for President Barack Obama, we should all look at how we allow ourselves to be governed.

Why did we go over the brink?

The president tried to negotiate with the House speaker. But Boehner candidly admitted he did not want a “grand bargain” — you know, compromise that might actually help people. Why? Because Democrats wanted it.

Boehner complained that Obama had offered him “nothing” in the grand deal.

The “nothing” Obama offered included almost doubling the income level exempt from the new tax rate — $400,000 is the new middle class — effectively cutting Social Security payments using a different cost-of-living index, and reducing the rate on estate (inheritance) taxes. The rich would have made out like, well, bandits. Just not robber barons.

Boehner went to “Plan B” and found he couldn’t control his own caucus. Even with a solid Republican majority, he didn’t have the votes to pass “Plan B.” So Boehner passed the buck to the U.S. Senate.

Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell then exchanged a series of proposals until, with the cliff 48 hours away, Reid decided enough was enough and said he was done with counteroffers.

In charged the cavalry — or even better, Vice President Joe Biden. Negotiating for Obama, Biden put together a deal with McConnell — a jury-rigged, stripped-down deal — that pulled us back to solid ground.

(A majority of House Republicans still wanted us to plummet into the financial abyss: 151 Republicans, including Minority Leader Eric Cantor, voted against raising taxes on .7 percent of Americans, and against extending unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans.

But don’t breathe easy, because we’re still not too far from the edge. McConnell announced immediately after the deal passed that there would be more cliffhangers to come. Obama retorted by saying he was done with cliff-hanging.

We’ll see.

But what should be apparent by now is that it’s the Republican members of Congress who roadblock bipartisan agreements. On the fiscal cliff deal, all but 16 “nay” votes in the House were Republican. In the Senate, McConnell has used the filibuster, or threat thereof, to block countless bills from coming to a vote in the chamber.

I’ve always told people, “Elections matter.”

But, the mantra of the Republican Leadership has been “Election’s don’t matter.”

Only the Bush-years status-quo matters, and any tactics were justified — even if those tactics weakened the public’s faith in the legislative branch. That’s not a partisan statement, dear reader; it’s factual history.

Our two-party system has changed, radically, in the last 40 years. Until Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” and “positive polarization,” our two parties were basically centrist. But as modern media psychology gained ground in campaigning and winning elections, both parties have moved from the center-right and center-left to further left and right, respectively. Huddled in the middle, and now constituting the majority, are unaffiliated, independent voters.

Political science research confirms this simple objective description: For every step the Democratic Party has moved to the left, the Republican Party has moved three steps to the right. As a result, a minority of a minority controls the party’s primaries. When the general election comes along, the nominees “talk the talk” of moderation, but when it comes to voting, they don’t dare “walk the walk” or they’ll face a primary challenge.

Now we’re coming to more Republican-created cliffs. McConnell announced he plans to hold hostage — again — the good faith and credit of the U.S. to slash the social safety net with crippling cuts and force austerity on the American economy.

Anything to avoid giving Obama the minimum revenue he campaigned on, and that which economists say he needs to balance the budget.

Obama was elected — and re-elected — because the public wants out of the financial ditch (which became an abyss) of Bush economics.

The public wants the American Dream back, achievable through individual hard work and initiative, with mutual support and bipartisan cooperation.

We’re in a new year.

We’ve rung out the old, and rung in the new. We’ll soon see if the 113th Congress represents merely, “Out with the old, and in with the old.”

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)

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