A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, conducted by respected pollsters Bill McInturff, a Republican, and Peter Hart, a Democrat, found that a puny 12 percent of the nations registered voters approve of the way the U.S. Congress is doing its job. The really bad news is that those numbers have been dropping steadily for many months.
If there is any good news in those numbers it may be that Americans can finally agree on something Congress is extremely unpopular and doesnt seem to work very well.
Many observers have concluded that the core cause of the poor congressional numbers and the equally poor congressional performance on important issues is the deep polarization in our politics, a condition that seems to have made compromise and bipartisanship next to impossible. At the same time, most everyone agrees the nations pressing problems the economy, the deficit, sustainable entitlement programs and tax reform demand bipartisan solutions.
On Sept. 18 at Boise State University, the Andrus Center for Public Policy will honor a public figure who, despite our polarization, has been able to work across the partisan divide and stimulate a national discussion about fiscal policy and debt reduction. Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson has labored for months with Bill Clintons former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to push a comprehensive plan that could begin to get the nations fiscal house in order.
Simpson will talk about the work of what has become known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission and accept the first Andrus Center award for political leadership. Its hard to imagine a more worthy recipient. Simpson, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate, can be a tough partisan. He served for years as his partys whip in the Senate, but also worked across the aisle to pass the last major bipartisan immigration reform legislation and performed valuable national service on the bipartisan Iraq Study Group during the administration of George W. Bush.
When we approached former Idaho governor and interior secretary Cecil D. Andrus with the idea of creating an annual award in his name, he agreed with one important condition the award must stress bipartisan accomplishment. Anyone who is familiar with Andrus long career knows that he, like Al Simpson, could be a tough partisan. Still some of his most important and enduring accomplishments featured a deep commitment to working across the political divide.
Andrus collaborated with Idaho Republican Sen. Jim McClure to draw the boundaries for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. He worked with former GOP Gov. Phil Batt on nuclear waste issues and once empowered Batt, another tough partisan, to get to the bottom of a major computer snafu at the state Department of Health and Welfare. Andrus, McClure, Sen. Frank Church and Rep. Orval Hansen, two Republicans and two Democrats, all got on the same page to help create the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Its not well remembered any longer, but incumbent U.S. Sen. Dan Evans of Washington, a Republican, endorsed Andrus for election in 1986, just as Oregons GOP Gov. Tom McCall had done in the 1970s. Andrus, of course, reciprocated with his own endorsement of both men who, despite party labels, were very close friends.
Al Simpsons hard work as co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is proof that bipartisanship doesnt have to die. Hes a sterling example of the kind of leadership the nation craves candid, no-nonsense and bipartisan which is why The Andrus Center is proud to honor him and his commitment to put our countrys interests before any partisan interest.
Dr. David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs and director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. Marc C. Johnson is the volunteer president of the Andrus Center.