That’s the opinion of outgoing Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who recently spoke with media, including the Clipper.
“Unfortunately, things do seem to be more polarized, particularly on the Senate floor, in the open debates that take place beyond the committee level,” he said.
“In the committees, where legislation is written, there is still a great deal of willingness to compromise, work together,” the Republican said.
“With the blogs and non-traditional media, you have members of the Senate who feel they have to respond to pressure that comes from particular blogs and cable shows that invite them to participate,” he said.
“They posture just a little more for that opportunity to appear on a network, to get the gig on TV. They end up creating much more of a partisan divide than would exist if they were just talking” in a normal setting, Bennett said.
“It’s entered into the political arena to a degree that was not present 15 or 20 years ago,” he said.
“At the committee level, where cable shows don’t care, that stuff (business) is boring. That stuff is hard work. We want to find the red meat of a major program,” Bennett continued.
“At the committee level you still see a great deal of community and agreement, trying to work things out. People who spend time working at that level can usually overcome a bitter, partisan fight,” he emphasized.
“There will always be disagreements that are not going to be resolved. We are, after all, Republicans and Democrats,” the senator said. “If the incoming Congress can work a little harder to spend less time on talk shows, more time dealing with each other, you can see some of this partisan bitterness go away,” he predicted.
Bennett has tried to work with his colleagues across the aisle, such as on a health care bill that didn’t fly.
“Some Democrats were a little surprised at a Republican who said if you can make this or that change, I’ll help you,” he said. “Some Democrats are so ideological they didn’t want to talk to a Republican. There were some Democrats who were eager to say, ‘let’s see if we can find a solution to this problem.’”
He recalled serving as the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee when California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was the chair.
“We kept pushing back on our side,” he recalled. “Finally she invited me to come to lunch at her office. Her staff was on one side, my staff on the other side. They (staffs) had been clashing.
“What’s it going to take to get you to co-sponsor this bill so it would go to the full committee as the Feinstein-Bennett bill?” she asked.
Bennett explained that his opposition wasn’t ideological. He said simply, “It won’t work with the procedures you’ve worked out.”
He said his experience as a businessman told him there’d be problems, while she reminded him she’d been the mayor of San Francisco – both have managed large groups of people.
“I understand management. I see what you’re trying to say,” Feinstein said. “You fix this bill until Sen. Bennett likes it,” she told her staff.
“A Democrat doesn’t (normally) talk that way,” Bennett said. “You have to stand firm ideologically, and ultimately the changes were made.”
He ended up co-sponsoring the bill.