September 30, 2012

A political and fiscal cliff

Colin Read, Everybody's Business

---- — We are fast approaching a point in which, without an act of Congress or an act of God, our nation will be plunged into a course of action that will help nobody and imperil our economic recovery. If Congress cannot figure out a way to cooperate on behalf of us all, we should expect another recession, as if it does not feel like we are still in one, and an unemployment rate nearing or exceeding 9 percent.

In these economically perilous times, we need our representatives to place policy before politics and bipartisanship before party. I looked at the House and Senate voting records to glean some measures of partisanship and cooperation.

Not surprisingly, I discovered that the party in power in the House and Senate also contains the greatest number of extreme partisans. I guess the power of the majority corrupts some voting records in a winner-should-take-all way. The most partisan politicians are New Yorkers, the Republican Christopher Lee in the House, and the Democrat Chuck Schumer in the Senate. Representative Lee’s record may be distorted because he participated in only a few votes in the 2011 Congress, though. He resigned early over his shirtless-on-the-Internet scandal. Senator Schumer has no such explanation. Partisanship is what he seems to do.

If the party in power dominates the list of the greatest partisans, the greatest bipartisans come predominantly from the party not in the majority. I looked at our representatives who were willing to vote with the other side at least once in every four votes. Of these 18 leaders in the House and seven in the Senate, all but two were members of the minority party. They are listed as follows with rank, party name, state and percent with party:

1, D, Dan Boren, OK, 50%; 2, D, Jim Matheson, UT, 53%; 3, D, Collin Peterson, MN, 56%; 4, D, Mike Ross, AR, 58%; 5, D, Jason Altmire, PA, 63%; 6, D, Heath Shuler, NC, 64%; 7, D, Jim Costa, CA, 66%; 8, D, John Barrow, GA, 67%; 9, D, Joe Donnelly, IN, 67%; 10, D, Mike McIntyre, NC, 68%; 11, R, Walter Jones, NC, 69%; 12, D, Larry Kissell, NC, 72%; 13, D, William Owens, NY, 72%; 14, D, Dennis Cardoza, CA, 72%; 15, R, Ron Paul, TX, 72%; 16, D, Henry Cuellar, TX, 73%; 17, D, Ben Chandler, KY, 73%; 18, R, Christopher Gibson, NY, 74%.

The Senate’s bipartisan group is even more concentrated among the minority party:

1, R, Susan Collins, ME, 66%; 2, R, Scott Brown, MA, 66%; 3, R, Olympia Snowe, ME, 69%; 4, R, Lisa Murkowski, AK, 73%; 5, R, Rand Paul, KY, 74%; 6, R, Mike Lee, UT, 74%; 7, R, Jim DeMint, SC, 75%.

In other words, 96 percent of the bipartisans are from a minority party and are seeking ways to bridge the gap and cooperate to lead on behalf of us all.

In our region, Bill Owens, the Democrat from New York’s 23rd District, representing much of the North Country and Adirondacks, and Chris Gibson, of the 21st, representing the southern end of the North Country toward Albany, are the only bipartisans from our state. Owens is running again in the redistricted 21st that now covers much of the Northway counties and Adirondacks, while Gibson is running in the redistricted 19th that now covers much of the Hudson Valley.

Given how politics polarizes these days, I am sure individual readers can take great exception at some individual votes by even the most bipartisan officials. The point is, though, that some representatives are willing to entertain ideas on their merits, while others will vote as their party goes and in strict opposition to the position of those across the aisle.

Moderate representatives can play a critical role. If the House becomes more balanced so that the majority must reach out to some in the minority, compromise and cooperation can actually occur. Of course, the extreme partisans may never want to cooperate. But, there remains hope that others can. Our nation’s economic future depends on the same pragmatism that regular North Country folk practice every day.

Enlightened capitalism recognizes our interdependencies and forges solutions best for the greatest number. Enlightened politicians should do the same. Fortunately, there must be something in the North Country water that breeds compromise and more bipartisanship than we seem to find elsewhere.

Colin Read is a contributor to and has published eight books on global finance with MacMillan Palgrave Press. He chairs the Department of Finance and Economics at SUNY Plattsburgh. Continue the discussion at