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Polarization hurts progress

March 15, 2011
In The News

Wisconsin State Journal

It's official if not surprising:

Congress is growing more polarized. And that's hurting our nation's ability to get big things done, such as controlling soaring debt, cutting America's dependence on foreign oil, and fixing an immigration system almost everyone agrees is broken.

Wisconsin's congressional delegation is part of the problem.

The nonpartisan National Journal just ranked all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate for how liberal or conservative their voting records were during 2010. The Journal determined the two major political parties in Congress have pulled further apart than at any point since the magazine began conducting its analysis in 1982.

Back then, a lot of Democrats and Republicans overlapped in the rankings. More politicians staked out the sensible center of American politics.

But now the center is almost gone because of ideological consolidation.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, ranked as the most liberal House member. Six other House members tied for that dubious distinction. At the other extreme, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, ranked as 35th most conservative in the House.

The only member of Wisconsin's delegation that the weekly magazine pegged as a centrist was U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse.

What America needs more of are politicians willing to find compromise on workable solutions in the middle. America needs more politicians thinking long term, far past the next election.

The Ryans and especially the Baldwins of the world need to do more to help break the partisan gridlock that so often stops Washington from moving forward in credible ways to address looming problems.

"For those who have come of age in today's hyperpartisan Congress - with its near-parliamentary levels of party discipline on floor votes, jagged ideological confrontations, and dominant role for leadership - it's easy to forget how different the institution looks as recently as the early 1980s," the National Journal wrote.

It's time to pull Congress - and America - back closer together.

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