Congress: The Art of the Impossible
Otto von Bismarck, known as the "Iron Chancellor" of Germany during the 19th century, described politics as "the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best," in recognition of the give and take nature of political interaction. Since the rise of constitutional republics and other democratic forms of government, these social contracts have at least implicitly endorsed the practices of dialogue, compromise, and negotiation. This is certainly true in the United States where the Constitution itself is the product of multiple compromises which determined among other things, the structure of the legislative branch.
While some of our Founding Fathers were skeptical of political parties, since the Civil War, the two party system has generally been a source of stability for our country. Coalition governments which can crumble at any point have not been characteristic of our system, for a long time this order allowed the economy to grow and diminished the significance of politics in the individual lives of citizens. This all started changing some three decades ago. Fueled by television cameras in the House and Senate, cable networks, social media, uncompetitive districts, politics as career, hubris, and selfishness, our politics today are toxic, divisive, and have paralyzed our government - especially the American Congress. The most recent and longest-ever government shutdown is a clear example.
This study group will focus on the causes and consequences of these still new political dynamics. We will bring into focus some of the most divisive issues in the country including climate policy and immigration, and recent activity related to these issues in Congress. Rep. Curbelo will share his personal experiences including efforts to bridge the partisan divide on climate and the discharge petition process he led on immigration. We will learn from each other and think about ways we can heal our country's politics and make the government more responsive to more citizens. We will also invite special guests to share their thoughts, experiences, and insights.
The schedule is subject to change depending on the availability of invited guests and news of the day.
Week 1: Introductions / Overview
Let's get to know each other and share our thoughts regarding politics and government in our country. Since the individual is the most basic unit in an egalitarian democracy, we'll all share our own vision for the country and for our society and discuss how the political status quo facilitates or inhibits our efforts. We will discuss social dynamics in our society - like scapegoating, violence and isolation - and how everything brought us to this difficult political moment.
Week 2: Causes
What are the specific factors that altered the old political order and brought us to this point? What was the effect of introducing cameras into the House and Senate chambers? How did cable news and social media change politics forever? Is gerrymandering part of the problem? What can we do about all of this? For this session we are inviting a national media executive to join us and/or a Member of Congress.
Week 3: Consequences (1) Immigration
We'll review the history of the modern-day immigration reform movement initiated by President George W. Bush and a bipartisan group of Senators in the mid-2000s. We will study how this has become the most divisive political issue in our country, and we will explore why after some 13 years of debate, the political system has yielded nothing. We will also run through a play-by-play analysis of the 2018 discharge petition exercise and the role these types of maneuvers play in a paralyzed institution. For this session we will be inviting a former lawmaker or policy expert.
Week 4: Consequences (2) Climate
How did environmental policy become so polarized and divisive? After all it was Richard Nixon who signed the EPA into existence and President Bush (41) who signed the Clean Air Act. What happened last time Democrats tried to go it alone and pass cap and trade legislation? Are the divisions on this issue more partisan or generational? How are things changing and why is industry increasingly supportive of policies that will reduce carbon pollution? We will also discuss recent developments in Florida and how the state may play a critical role in jolting national political dynamics surrounding climate policy. For this session we will be inviting a power company executive.
Week 5: Climate Overtime
This issue is so important, that we will be dedicating an additional session to it. Specifically, we will discuss carbon pricing - what many believe is the most efficient and effective solution to the challenge of a changing climate. What are some of the recent designs of carbon tax legislation? What are some of the key elements? Is it politically viable?
Week 6: More on Congressional Inaction and Broader Consequences
Americans' trust in confidence in government institutions is at an all-time low. Younger Americans in particular feel excluded from government and politics. There is a lot of hopelessness in society despite the fact that the economy is growing and unemployment is extremely low. It is odd that with a healthy economy, most Americans still believe the country is on the wrong track? Historically there has been a strong correlation between satisfaction with the economy and feelings about the direction of the country. What has happened in other countries and societies where citizens have lost faith in government institutions? We'll ask a national pollster to join us to help us understand how Americans feel about everything that's going on.
Week 7: Solutions
The discharge petition process in the House. The Climate Solutions Caucus. The Problem Solvers Caucus and organizations like No Labels. Can they do enough? What comes first? Do we have to refine our government institutions so that they can function better, and then our society will start healing? Or are our politics simply a reflection of the country, and we can only expect more turmoil and turbulence in government as Americans continue insulting, scapegoating, and diminishing one another.
Week 8: Conclusions
In this last session we will run through everything we discussed and learned over the course of the previous weeks. Again, we will each share our vision and our goals for our country and discuss how our experience together may have changed the way we think or generated new ideas.