Congress broke a record this year, but hitting the lowest approval rating of all time isn’t what the Commonwealth’s lawmakers had hoped to accomplish. Hoping to drastically slash a federal debt that now sits at more than fifteen trillion dollars, Republicans took over the lower chamber. In the Senate, the GOP also made big gains in 20-10, electing a handful of tea party Republicans, including Kentucky’s Rand Paul. Looking back at his freshman year, Paul takes a deep breath before recounting only one legislative highlight.
“I think we’ve done one good thing. We’ve passed the free trade agreements which I think are helpful to creating jobs,” said Paul.
In that first year, Paul has made a name for himself in the Senate. He’s become a thorn in the side of many colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans…often delaying popular bills. But Paul wears the scars from those legislative battles with pride.
“I think I’ve been right in the mix of a lot of the debates, and tried to influence things, we have not always coming out winning,” said Paul.
The GOP controlled House had a busy year…sending more than twenty bills to the Senate. Republicans maintain those bills will create jobs mainly through unwinding regulations, many govern clean air and water quality. But those anti-regulation bills coupled with an effort to convert Medicare into what amounts to a voucher program haven’t sat well with Democrats like central Kentucky’s Ben Chandler...
“I don’t think this Congress has really done a lot,” said Chandler.
Chandler says Republicans have failed to seriously address the nation’s lingering jobs crisis. And Chandler blames the freshmen class for ratcheting up partisanship in Washington.
“It’s very important for members of Congress to work together and I think one of the biggest problems that we have up her has been an increasing level of gridlock and I think the advent of the tea party has lead to that,” said Chandler.
Needless to say Republicans disagree. As chairman of the Environment and Power Subcommittee, Congressman Ed Whitfield helped craft numerous environmental bills okayed by the House. Whitfield says the GOP carried through on its promises to unwind regulations that are costly to energy companies, such as the coal industry.
“Well I think on the House side we did just about everything we had hoped to do. I’m specifically about my committee,” said Whitfield.
Whitfield’s not alone. The perennial complaint in the House is the Senate has blocked or refused to take up dozens of bills approved by the lower chamber.
When it comes to procedure, senior House Republicans say an important change was reestablishing an open amendment process. Now, all members have the opportunity to change legislation. Even though they don’t grab headlines, Hal Rogers, who represents southeast Kentucky, says procedural changes can rebuild public trust…
“My goal has been to restore regular order to the federal government,” said Rogers.
This year lawmakers also raised the nation’s debt ceiling, but only after their delays prompted a downgrade in the U-S credit rating. As the head of the House Appropriations, or spending, committee, Rogers is proud Republicans forced the president to accept more than a trillion dollars in budget cuts...
“This session of Congress, this year, we’ve reduced spending for the second year in a row, which is historic,” said Rogers.
Lawmakers in both parties admit many disappointments in 2011, 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 20-12. Just as the year began, so it ends in Washington: gridlocked.