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Excerpt from "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress" by Olympia Snowe. Copyright 2013 by Olympia Snowe. Reprinted with the permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress" by Olympia Snowe. Copyright 2013 by Olympia Snowe. Reprinted with the permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.

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Excerpt from "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress" by Olympia Snowe. Copyright 2013 by Olympia Snowe. Reprinted with the permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.
Excerpt from "Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress" by Olympia Snowe. Copyright 2013 by Olympia Snowe. Reprinted with the permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.

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IntroductionWhen I announced I would not run for reelection to the Senate in February 2012, many people asked me the same question: Was I relieved? The implication was that I wasweary of the increasing bickering of recent Congresses and that I was worn down by it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never backed down from a fight and Irelish a good debate.Some of these same well-wishers went on to express the hope that I would finally beable to relax. No chance.I have no intention of retiring. I love to work as much as ever.But the Senate, as well as the 112th Congress, whose term ended in January 2013,was no longer a legislative body where the key issues facing the country could beresolved. I decided not to seek reelection only when I came to the sad conclusion that Icould more effectively serve my country from outside the Senate than from within.What motivated me to dedicate myself to public service for nearly two-thirds of mylife was the chance to produce results for those people who entrusted me to be their voiceand their champion. I found it exceedingly frustrating that an atmosphere of polarizationand my-way-or-the-highway ideologies had become pervasive in our governinginstitutions, compromising our ability to solve problems at what was a time of monumental challenge for our nation.The Senate as a whole simply was not doing the job granted to it under theConstitution. The Founding Fathers gave individual senators considerable power and influence, yet we were unable to offer solutions to problems on the floor of the Senate because we were prevented from proposing amendments. Few bills even reached thefloor, and when they did, debate was frequently stifled or curtailed by overuse of thefilibuster and other procedural gymnastics. Senate committees traditionally prepare billsthat can and should be thoroughly talked through in debate, but in recent years that work has been bypassed. All too frequently, a bill was drafted behind closed doors and reported to the floor, then a quick up-and-down vote was forced on the entire proposal.It was a stunning measure of our dysfunction that we were unable to pass a federal budget. After 2009, the last year in which a budget became law, the legislative branchfailed year after year to fulfill one of its most basic functions. And year after year,Congress could only enact temporary provisions to keep the country running, let aloneundertake any of the work essential to the nation’s long-term economic health likeregulatory reform, changes to the creaking tax code, and reducing our crippling deficitsand debt. How could we ever hope to balance a budget if we were never even able to passone?
 
At the same time, our two parties had become more extreme and more ideologicallydriven. Fair-minded legislators were reluctant to reach out across the aisle lest they bringon an intra-party challenge like the ones faced by Senator Bob Bennett in Utah, Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, and Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware when he ran for the Senate.Outstanding colleagues have had their distinguished careers derailed by a tightlyorganized subgroup within the main Republican Party that is more interested in takingdown individuals with whom they don’t agree than in electing representatives who willfind bipartisan legislative solutions to America’s problems.Democrats were not immune to the new political reality. In 2010 in Arkansas, unionsspent an estimated $10 million trying to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln. She narrowlysurvived a primary run-off with Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, but was defeated in thegeneral election. I served with Blanche on the Senate Finance Committee and sawfirsthand her tenacious commitment to her state.Democrats even turned on a former vice presidential nominee when in 2006, JoeLieberman lost a primary in Connecticut to a more liberal candidate, Ned Lamont, only torun and win as an independent. Joe had built a distinguished record on national security, but was viewed as too conservative and too close to then-President Bush. These were both instances of outstanding public servants being targeted by their own party.As the same take-it-or-leave-it divisions have been echoed in the media, more and more constituents told me they simply no longer watched the news. I understand why somany Americans are fed up with government. The 112th Congress was almostuniversally derided as the worst ever. It was the most polarized body since the end of Reconstruction, according to one study, and I grew embarrassed by its partisan bickering,inactivity, and refusal to address the vital challenges facing America. Our job approvalratings were deservedly terrible—in some surveys the percentage of Americans whoapproved of the Congress’s performance plummeted into historically low single digits.When someone mentioned to Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) in 2011 that Congresswas at a 13 percent approval rating, he replied, “I want to know who those 13 percentare.” Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) published a chart that showed that our popularitywas on a par with that of Hugo Chavez and significantly less than perennial favorites like bankers, lawyers, and the Internal Revenue Service.I’m not a person who tends to rhapsodize about the past and how things used to be better, but I know enough Senate history to understand that the 112th was not typical.Earlier in my own career, and throughout its history, the Senate has transcended itsdivisions, risen to the occasion as an institution, and earned its status as the “world’sgreatest deliberative body,” a description that in recent times is often tinged withsarcasm.
 
One triumph was the Senate’s rebuttal of President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court with sympathetic justices in 1937. FDR took it for granted thatthe loyal Senate, controlled by his vice president, John Garner, would rubber-stamp hislegislation that was designed to thwart any Supreme Court challenge to New Deallegislation. Instead, individual senators did what the Constitution mandated them to doand stood up to the President, and the deliberative body did what it was allowed to dowhen it conducted unlimited debate, both in Judiciary Committee hearings and on thefloor of the Senate. Several senators made impassioned speeches in favor of judicialindependence, including Josiah Bailey of North Carolina, whose powerful oratorychanged other senators’ minds. Seduced by his own overwhelming popularity, Rooseveltoverplayed his hand and was ultimately thwarted by a bipartisan coalition of Republicansand conservative Democrats.Historian Robert Caro describes this episode in
 Master of the Senate,
part three of his indispensable biography of Lyndon Johnson. In 2005, Harry Reid drew the passage tomy attention when he sent me a photocopy of it, along with a handwritten note sayingthat it reminded him of me. It is the kind of friendly and collegial gesture that senatorsoften make toward each other.Harry’s note coincided with a systematic Democratic filibuster of President GeorgeW. Bush’s judicial nominees, which was a corrosive force in the Senate. The RepublicanMajority Leader sought to break the logjam by exercising the so-called nuclear option, bywhich a “cloture” motion to end a filibuster could be passed by a simple majority rather than a sixty-vote threshold.A cloture motion ends debate at once and moves the issue straight to a vote. Makingthis process easier was perceived by many, myself included, to be a severe diminution of the rights of the minority. Fourteen like-minded legislators, seven Republicans and sevenDemocrats—we were known as the “Gang of 14”—came together in a bipartisan spirit toforestall the nuclear option by agreeing we would support a filibuster of judicialnominees under “extraordinary circumstances.” The agreement was the verymanifestation of consensus-building and the power of trust. It is not always the rules thatrequire changing but rather how we use them.When I departed the Senate in 2013, its landscape not only was very different fromwhat it was in 1937, but had even changed substantially from 2005. More recently,legislative outcomes are often preordained, and positions have usually solidified along party lines before a bill even reaches the Senate floor. Today, people rarely rush fromSenate offices and cloakrooms to the floor and the galleries to hear a consequentialspeech. We might take solace from the fact that it wasn’t always like this in Congress,nor does it have to be this way in the future. I came to Washington in 1979 determined tomake an impact (when I became a member of the House that year, I joined a cross-partywomen’s caucus whose work yielded real practical results), and possessed of the samespirit, I intend to continue this effort now on another stage.

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