“I’ve covered Congress, on and off, since 1990, and I’ve never seen anything like the past two years. What I’m seeing is a tolerance of minimalism and mediocrity that could be a threat to the nation…. In the past, it wasn’t considered an accomplishment that Congress didn’t shut down the government and did raise the debt ceiling.”
National Journal reporter Major Garrett emphasized the polarization of Congress and the difficulty of compromise, both between the two parties and between the House and Senate, in his March 11 remarks before the APTA Legislative Conference.
“In 1982, when National Journal first examined the makeup of Congress, the Senate had 58 members between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. Now there are none,” Garrett explained. “In the House, there were 357 members between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat; now there are seven. Even if someone intends to create compromise, the middle ground is smaller.”
Garrett suggested that the current situation arises from legislators who refuse to consider differing opinions. “People used to begin the discussion with yes/maybe,” he said. “Now, most of the time, the dialogue begins with no.”
In his comments on the state of the presidential race, Garrett characterized the different worldviews of supporters of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney’s backers are “rationals,” he said, who believe he has the best chance of winning the nomination and the election. In contrast, Santorum supporters are “notionals” who “have a notion that there’s someone better out there.”
President Obama now has an approval rating of 46-50 percent, compared with previous figures in the 30s, he said, but Congress’ rating is “mired in the low to mid teens.”
In his welcoming remarks, Richard Sarles, chief executive officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, called on conference participants to “make the case for robust public transportation funding” when they meet with their members of Congress and staffers. “This is a critical time for public transportation,” he stressed. “It’s important that everyone on Capitol Hill knows the importance of public transit—the way it serves riders safely and efficiently.”
URS Corporation sponsored the session.