Outlook: How to govern in a deeply divided Congress

Nov 08, 2010

Tom Daschle, a former senator from South Dakota and a senior policy adviser to the law firm DLA Piper, will be online Monday, Nov. 8, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled 'Outlook: 'How to govern in a deeply divided Congress.'

Good morning Mr. Daschle: Somehow over the last decade, we've been told that all taxes are job-killing, economy crushing things. Yet it seems to me that every president prior to President Bush, including his father and President Reagan would raise taxes to meet budget deficits? How do we get back to the point where we can have an honest discussion about taxes and the effects they have on jobs (namely, very little)? After all, as Justice Holmes said- "Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society"

We have lost the opportunity to have fact based discussions because of the unfortunate blurring of news and entertainment, the blogosphere and extraordinary polarization.

Leadership, starting with the President himself,  is so urgently needed.  It is the only thing that can cut through this most unproductive environment.  

You were a great senator and appear ready to stop being attacked and bullied. Please do us all a favor and get back in there. Thanks

Thanks for your kind words!

The voters have returned a verdict and the result is gridlock. Now we're stuck with it for two years. Most of us probably don't want gridlock. Short of a constitutional amendment... How can we/Congress reduce that time frame?

We must have leadership.

There is no alternative to our leaders coming together.

Short of that, you are correct.

Dear Senator, Mitch McConnell recently said: "...our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office." In such an atmosphere, why do you think conciliation, negotiation, and compromise can possibly have a good outcome?

Because the Republicans are going to have to be able to show that being in the majority matters.  

Now, they feel invested in the process as a majority. That wasn't true before.

They have to decided between the political model they have been using or the governance model that they need to use now.

Time will tell.

Yesterday Martin Frost, representative from Texas from 1979 to 2005, said in the Washington Post that "Obama and the people around him must stop thinking and acting like out-of-touch suburban white liberals and figure out how to connect with mainstream America." I believe that this hits the nail on the head. Do you? I thank you for your time.

The President and White House needs to engage the Congress and understand the importance of a strong message.  But the Republicans must reciprocate if anything will ever get done.

Sen.  Daschle, we hear many politicians talking about partisanship and how they plan to fix our broken Congress. Do you have an example you can share that would show us what a working, bipartisan Congress is? When is the last time Congress functioned as a team, a whole?

Crisis drives consensus.  Immediately after 9/11 and then again after the anthrax attack nearly a decade ago, we saw the Congress come together in the most profound way.  But it shouldn't take a crisis of this magnitude to make it happen.

You outline something that makes sense in your article. However, I can't see any way at all that it will happen. What steps would make this happen? What should be done if the Republicans continue to say no? What should happen if they continue to do everything they can to limit President Obama to one term?

The President must make the overtures publicly (and privately). He must make it clear he is seeking common ground.

If they continue to remain uncooperative, the President needs to make that clear, too.  

Perhaps what is needed is to go back to the old days of too much Bourbon and some poker games in the Speaker's office?


With the many tea party-backed candidates that are set to take office in January, will Congress be able to break through this thick partisan divide?

This is going to be a real test for Republican leadership.

They will have those who want to govern and those who want to continue pure politics.

It will be most interesting to see which patch they choose.

What will be the impact of the Tea Party, especially with regards to their stated refusal to compromise?

My hope is that the Tea Party will have minimal impact.

I am hoping the many experienced people who know the importance of good governance will prevail.

But only time will tell.

Thanks for the excellent and timely discussion. It seems like a growing segment have become weary of excessive partisianship dominating the political conversation. What role do you think media has played in polarizing the climate? Is there a missing responsibility in limiting rhetoric on either side? And how can that be achieved when it seems like demonizing the opposition sells?

The media has had a huge role.  In many ways, we have blurred the distinction between news and entertainment.

So called news/talk programs have become far too hyperbolic.

You observed how Ted Kennedy and Phil Gramm could disagree but come together on compromises. It is my fear there are more ideologues in Congress today who seem to wish to win or lose but never compromise. Am I wrong? If not, what may it take to get more in Congress to seek compromise rather than stalemates on legislation?

You are not wrong.

There are many ideologues in Congress today. The only way for progress to be made is for there to be more dialogue, more relationship building, that leads to more trust and then more common ground.

Dear Sir, It would seem that heavily gerrymandered districts result in the election of legislators with a narrow, more extreme constituency; if our leaders are not forced to compromise and govern from the center by their constituents then why should we expect anything other than partisan wrangling? What's your take on this issue. Thank you.

Some states recently have begun to address the gerrymander issue.  California just passed a referendum to do so.  Iowa has had a reformed system for years.  I have little doubt that more of this is coming.

How do Democrats work with Republicans whos #1 goal seems to be, not compromising with Democrats, or getting much needed policies enacted, but instead, making sure the President fails to get reelected and they take control of the Senate in 2012? Their plan to "just say no" seems to be working, why would they change?

The only reason they would change now is that they are more invested.  They have to prove that running the House for the next two years as a Republican majority can have positive consequences for the American people.

They must govern, or there is no case to be made for reelection.

Senator, if Republicans resort to trying to starve health care reform through the appropriations process (assuming they are unable to get stand alone legislation through), what options does the president have to ensure that implementation of the law continues?

Much of health reform is written in "entitlement" law which means that it will take another law to defund it.

The only option the President has on that which is not entitlement driven is to explain to the American people the terrible consequences of eliminating the provisions of the law.

I really hope you ditched those awful red frames, Senator Daschle. You could do so much better.



You are a former Senator who has made millions as a lobbyist. Aren't you represenative of the problem today, and probably more specifically the Democratic Party?

I am not a lobbyist.  

Recently, someone came up to me in an airport and asked if anyone had ever told me I look a lot like Tom Daschle.

I said, "Yes, they have."

He said, "Doesn't that make you mad?"

Sen. Daschle, I enjoyed your article. At what point did Congress become so rancorous? I remember reading that even as recent as the 1970's Democrats and Republicans being good friends in private even if they may had public disagreements.

Congress has become increasingly rancorous as television and the Internet has become more and more dominant. The noise of democracy is louder than ever because everyone's voice is amplified.

Given that the GOP seems intent on repealing the health- care reform bill, what incentive do they have to compromise, as the best time to do that will be before it takes effect? And of course the only way to do that is to win the presidency and Senate in 2012.

The more people actually know, the more supportive they will be.  We need to do a far better job of spelling out what health reform means to an average person.

My brother and sister-in-law are a great example. 

They are retired, spending $800 a month for a catastrophic plan.  They can't afford anything better.

The new law will be of great help to them.

What lessons can the Democrats take from the big win by Governor O'Malley in Maryland, who actually improved in '10 despite the economy, and the victory of Hickenlooper in Colorado, which is a purple/red state?

Governor O'Malley is a perfect example of a political leader who blended the right mix of policy and politics.  He has a very bright future.

I'm sure that you've spoken publically about this, but I have not seen or heard your comments. On the public option, I think what annoys proud progressives like me is that we didn't try. I fully understand that it may have been doomed from the start, that it was going to be a difficult, maybe even impossible task, but sometimes the leaders that you invest in, have to take up the fight even though they may lose. Are you just sick about hearing about this stuff? Are we progressives all wet on this? I wanted to see Obama fight for it, even if it went down in flames. That might get me out to the polls for him, right now, I'm staying home in 2012.

I, too, am saddened that we didn't try harder.

But in his defense, President Obama had to weigh his support for the public option against the need to keep an incredibly fragile coalition of yes votes together. 

He made the decision that this would fracture that coalition and decided to try to win the war even though he lost this battle.

Would you support procedural changes to how things work, such as reducing or eliminating the power of the "hold," and/or modifying the rules for invoking cloture for the filibuster? I mean, shouldn't the senators be forced to actually filibuster instead of this lame procedural filibuster stuff that has arisen with the track system?


We have to adjust. "Holds" are really notifications of intent to filabuster.  We ought to eliminate the filabuster for nominees.  It is getting worse by the year.


How divided are Republicans. Will the Tea Party make it difficult for Republicans to keep their own members together, much less Congress?

I assume the Tea Party will present some difficult choices for Republican leadership.  Do they worry about their base or do they worry about good governance and finding common ground?

What do both sides, Democrats and Republicans, have to do to be more productive legislators on behalf of all the American people?

Talk to each other. Spend time with each other.

Remember that our international competitors will eat our lunch if we aren't able to govern more effectively.

My sense is that there is a growing number of people who want to eliminate the costs created by firms who have inserted themselves between the patient and the physician..... aka insurance companies, pharmacy benefit mgmt firms, etc. Could this House win eventually open the door to a fee for service system?

I can see the country moving away from fee for service.

FFS rewards volume. We need a system that rewards value.

During his first two years in office, Obama's plan has seemed to be to take a soft stance on the big issues and hope that means more congresspeople will go along with him. It didn't work. Even his big health care is seen wrongly by many Americans because he didn't stand up and fight for it while Republicans fought against it. Will these losses cause Obama to be more conciliatory to Republicans and centrist Democrats, or will he fight for his agenda and fire-up the Democratic base that didn't bother to vote in this election?

You will see a more engaged, more focused administration in the next two years.  

What would you tell today's 20-somethings who see a future defined by a mountain of debt and an aging population entirely unwilling to sacrifice their gold plated retirement? Strikes me that if there's a lasting legacy for the post WW-II generation and the baby boomers that followed, it will be their willingness to shift costs onto the next generation. Do you feel at all culpable for this trend?

Your criticism is well-founded.  Passing a 4 trillion dollar Bush tax cut, not dealing with entitlements or old weapons systems we don't need, means we will extend the baby-boom culpability even longer. It is not too late to change and 20-somethings should demand it.

I believe that televising the Senate resulted in an escalation of the rancor because senators appeal to their constituents over the TV. Do you regret allowing TV coverage of the Senate, and should the Supreme Court allow television into their chambers?

Transparency is generally a very good thing in government.  Unfortunately it also has huge negative consequences.  I still think the pluses of CSPAN outweigh the minuses, but is now a closer call.

I would not allow television in the Supreme Court.

Some political analysts have complained that the very organization of Congress is set up to expand the role of government and find new things for it to get involved in. Assuming the challenge of the coming generation is to cut or at least limit growth of spending on defense, old age and health entitlements, how can such consensus be achieved in a system with so many opportunities to achieve gridlock?

The proper role of government has been at the heart of the political debate in the US for two centuries.

Consensus takes strong leadership and cooperation.

The American people are clamoring for it.

What roles can new members of Congress play in governing Congress, especially since they usually are not given large roles in these seniority-based institutions?

New members can be a huge factor in changing the way Congress works.  They have little or no investment in past decision-making.  As a block, they can bring about real change.

The Federal Reserve is adopting aggressive policies that amount to increasing government spending. Under the Constitution, this sort of role is assigned to the Congress through its appropriations policies. Shouldn't the FED leave these issues to Congress to resolve?

The FED would defer to Congress if the Congress acted.

There is no political will to add more stimulus.  So the FED ( who believes that it is essential) is filling the void.

I see a showdown with the Tea Party coming in April or so with the extension of the debt limit in the House. Tea Party candidates are already on record in opposition to the debt limit extension, and Democrats will have no inclination to help out Republicans on this issue. So how will this be resolved. Is there a point in politics where politicians give up their principles for the well-being of the Republc, or are principles more important?

Defaulting on our debt would be an absolute disaster.

It could easily trigger another financial crisis equal, if not exceeding, the last one.

Tea Party folks are playing with a very hot fire here.

I'm concerned that the GOP will strip away the health-care bill of which I was a strong supporter of. How can we ensure that the bill remains in tact and eventually, to include a public option?

Repeal is very unlikely as long as the President holds the veto pen.

We need to make a far stronger case for the provisions of the new law.  The more the American people know, the more they like.

I am old enough to remember the Sagebrush Rebellion and other revolts that flame out when everyone gets to Washington. So I am very cynical that anything can change unless we have a third party movement that creates a new party with guts. Any chances of that?

Third party movements, for the most part, come and go.

However, the Republican party started as a third party, and the rest is history.

Third parties can have significant influence even if they don't last.

Mr. Daschle, what do you make of the Republican's threat or pledge to block funding for the health-care bill? There is the widespread anger against it as they claim; they are playing to their base and the Tea Party. I believe public opinion is roughly 50 percent support the bill; that is not a mandate to repeal or block funding.

I agree completely.

The American people are split 50-50.  That was true of past programs, too, including Social Security and Medicare when they passed.

As people learn more, they support more.

As I read last week's election returns, Americans want divided government and gridlock. It was a repudiation of change that means larger and more oppressive government and larger deficits. The country doesn't want an activist government, is frightened by the increased health premium costs that health care reform will bring, and according to some really are asking for a dramatic cut in federal pay and federal payrolls. I take it you disagree. What do you point to as justification for your view?

The last time I checked, the American people split their vote.  They voted for a Republican House and a Democratic Senate.  They also split their vote on races for governor.

The message:  Work together. Start solving problems.

See some common ground.  They want to see their politicians work together.

Good morning Sen. Daschle, As I recall it, you we're orginally going to have a major role in helping to guide the passage health reform in the Senate before your nomination for HHS (sadly for Americans) had to be withdrawn. After that it seemed strange to have Sen. Baucus set the initial tone for reform on the Democratic side by rejecting both attempts to add a public option in the Finance committee he chaired, letting it fall by a 10-12 vote. Would you have tried to sway your former colleagues to include the option or other elements that didn't make it in to final passage?

I have long supported a public option. Eventually, we will have one.

But this time, the votes just weren't there.

Hi Tom. Aberdeen native here, living in Wisconsin now. This state just booted Russ Feingold out of office in favor of someone I believe highly unqualified for the job. My fear is that the Democratic party will now move even farther to the right, and the ideas of a true progressive agenda...climate change legislation, more advances in health care, mass transportation projects, renewable energy...will now all be put on the back burner once again. What can we/you do to move away from this step backward, and try to gain some ground back on these issues? Thanks!

Circumstances will increasingly put pressure on Congress to deal with the issues you mentioned.

They are too critical and will not be ignored indefinitely.

Good to hear from an Aberdeen native!

Do you believe Obama erred in quashing investigations by Congress into various aspects of the Bush administration that may have been illegal activities or counter to the interests of the U.S., e.g. torture, Cheney relations with oil industry, Iraq, etc.? If they had, it would have kept the Republicans on the defensive.

I worry some about governmental accountability.

The President made a tough call not to look backward, but to make changes in public policy that accommodate lessons learned.

Thanks for all of your great questions.

I enjoyed the session.

I must go now to stay on schedule.

Have a great week.

Tom Daschle

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Tom Daschle
Tom Daschle, a former senator from South Dakota, is a senior policy adviser to the law firm DLA Piper.
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