Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

SoCal Democrat and Republican agree on one thing: Congress is broken

Rep. Paul Cook (R-Big Bear) says political brinkmanship hurts Congress.
Rep. Paul Cook (R-Big Bear) says political brinkmanship hurts Congress.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

People have complained for years about political dysfunction in Sacramento. Now a couple of onetime state lawmakers are complaining about the dysfunction in their new legislative body: the U.S. Congress.

Even in a town known for gridlock, the bottlenecks in Washington these days have gotten pretty ugly. On Friday the GOP-controlled house voted almost entirely along party lines to avoid a looming government shutdown only if it's part of a bill to gut President Obama's healthcare law.

Democrats reject the Obamacare cuts and have added demands of their own: They want any stop-gap funding measure to roll back the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

The competing demands have led to an impasse that's likely to edge the federal government once again to the fiscal brink.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, says both sides know "that both of these things aren't going to happen when we get to the end." He calls the partisan stalemate "Kabuki dance or posturing." 

Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from Big Bear, says he just wants "to get the deal done." He complains that Congress pushes everything "down the road."

Both lawmakers voted along party lines in Friday's vote on the measure to defund Obamacare and keep the government running — Lowenthal a "nay," Cook an "aye" — but they think alike when it comes to the paralysis on Capitol Hill.

The freshmen may be the new kids in Congress, but they have decades of experience between them as city councilmen and state lawmakers.  Lowenthal says budget negotiations in Sacramento weren’t nearly as complicated as they have been in DC.

In Sacramento, he says, "we all knew what the endgame was." Once the governor put out a budget, Democrats who controlled the legislature started counting noses.

"We couldn't get the votes, and then we needed to identify what Republicans would vote for the increased budget, even though they didn't want to," he says.

Lowenthal says leadership would make deals, such as allowing then GOP State Senator Abel Maldonado to introduce an open primary measure in exchange for his vote on the budget. Here in DC, he says, "there's less discussion about that." Instead, he says, politicos play "hardball."

For his part, Cook says he was willing to reach across the aisle in Sacramento - and wants to in DC. He says you start off with "common denominators" that you can work on. "And once you get a consensus on that, you build and you throw things out." But he says you have to start with an environment "that you're willing to talk" to each other.

The inability to resolve the budget won't go unnoticed among voters, says Paul Cook. Constituents have enough "horse sense" to understand this is "crisis management at its very worst." He's only half joking when he suggests a solution: "lock everybody in a room, give them all the coffee and beer that they want and then shut down the restrooms. Trust me, you're going to get a deal."

Once the Senate votes on its response to the House bill, leaders in the House are expected to tack on Obamacare torpedoes to whatever temporary funding measure the Senate sends back. And the votes and countervotes will continue right up to the end of the month, when the government is scheduled to run out of money.