Douglas Working To Change Divisiveness In Congress

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(Host) Former Governor Jim Douglas says he’s "profoundly disappointed" by the inability of both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to come together on a meaningful debt reduction plan.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Douglas is now working with a bipartisan group of former Senate leaders to try to change the culture of Washington.

(Kinzel) The group is known as the Bipartisan Policy Center and it includes four former Senate Majority leaders; Republicans Bob Dole and Howard Baker and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell.

Douglas says the goal of the organization is to encourage Congressional leaders to adopt a bipartisan approach to the major issues facing the country.

That’s something that Douglas says is sorely lacking in the current debate over the nation’s deficit.

(Douglas) "What we’ve seen now in Washington is a perpetual campaign mode. Already a year and a half before the election everybody’s saying well we can’t agree, we’ll fight it out in the next election. Well, come on that’s a year and a half away. The American people don’t want constant campaigning. I think they expect people down there to get something done. So that’s profoundly disappointing."

(Kinzel) And Douglas says the perpetual campaign mode of Congress encourages members of the House and the Senate not to support solutions that might upset certain constituency groups.

(Douglas) "That focus on re-election, on keeping their jobs seems to me to make it difficult if not impossible to make some difficult choices that might cost them re-election but which in the long run would be good for the fiscal and economic health of our country."

(Kinzel) Douglas argues that any debt reduction compromise must include two elements; more tax revenue and changes to key domestic programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

(Douglas) "There are too many people in Washington who are drawing lines in the sand at the outset of this process. A lot Republicans say we’re not going to raise another dime in taxes, a lot of Democrats say we’re not going to touch Medicare and Social Security and with those entrenched positions that’s not going to lead us where we need to be….everything has to be on the table."

(Kinzel) Douglas strongly opposed raising income taxes during his 8 years as governor but he says he can support new revenue at the federal level now because the problems facing the national economy are so large.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.




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