November 25th, 2012
10:18 AM ET
10 years ago

Retiring lawmakers reflect on remaining challenges

(CNN) – When the new session of Congress begins in January, most of the faces on Capitol Hill will be the same – incumbents in both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly won re-election in November.

Yet before ballots were cast, thirty-five members of Congress had already said they wouldn’t be returning to Washington in 2013. The number of retiring lawmakers was the highest since 1996, and the list included some formidable – and famous – members of the legislative branch. All will be watching from the sidelines as their former colleagues attempt to find solutions to both major legislative problems, and Congress’ own dismal approval ratings.

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Four of those lawmakers – Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Sen. Jon Kyl – said in a discussion aired Sunday they were walking away from a body mired in gridlock. But they disagreed on whether to accept blame for the congestion themselves.

Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat first elected in 1980, said some of the responsibility for that gridlock rests on voters who elect representatives with differing views.

“People themselves are eternally gridlocked,” Frank told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on “State of the Union.” “We hear from people, ‘Cut the deficit, expand Medicare.’ We get a very inconsistent set of messages from them.”

Frank, whose thirty-two years representing the Bay State’s fourth district will be remembered partly for his candor, said he wasn’t remorseful at leaving an unpopular Congress. “I don't feel guilty at all and I don't feel badly,” he said, saying lawmakers “do our best.”

“I'm not troubled by our inability to do what some of them want us to do, which is impossible,” Frank said.

Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut who was first elected as a Democrat in 1988, said he did feel badly that Congress’ approval ratings have sunk in his years as a lawmaker.

“I think the public is right to have an unfavorable view of what's happening here, because we're not getting our work done. We're not getting the work done that they sent us here to do,” said Lieberman, who ran as an independent in 2006 after losing a Democratic primary contest.

Part of that work, he said, is developing a plan to avoid the upcoming fiscal cliff – a combination of steep budget cuts and tax increases that would go into effect at the end of the year if Congress doesn’t find a way to reduce the federal deficit. Unlike some of his colleagues, who have predicted with confidence that a deal will be struck, Lieberman said the possibility of a compromise is “not a done deal and it's not a certainty.”

“If Congress does nothing, which Congress has gotten pretty good at doing these days, we'll go over the fiscal cliff,” the Connecticut lawmaker said.

Kyl, who is leaving after three terms in the Senate, forecast a solution to the fiscal cliff that would last only through the end of the year – but that would avoid the major economic catastrophe triggered by the sweeping budget cuts.

“I think it's likely that there will be a solution that's not a final solution, by any means, not a big solution, but will get us through the end of the year, into next year, with a plan for trying to deal with these issue,” Kyl said.

Hutchison, the longest serving female Republican in the Senate, also speculated a long-term agreement on avoiding the fiscal cliff wouldn’t be reached by the end of the year, but that eventually some kind of deal would be struck.

“Do I think we're going to do everything by the end of this year? Probably not. But I think we will not have a fiscal cliff, we will have a plan, hopefully, to go forward. And we will have a blueprint. And we will set the stage for long-term,” she said.

Hutchison, like Frank, said she personally didn’t feel badly about serving in a body so unpopular with the American people.

“I know I'm doing a good job and I know my constituents know it,” she said, conceding it was “a disappointment” that people rate Congress so poorly in polls, while still electing lawmakers whose positions are often at odds.

“I think people do like, individually, the people they're electing,” the Texas Republican said. “But they don't like what they see in the whole, which is gridlock. But that is because America is also gridlocked.”

Kyl said he was uneasy with critics using broad strokes to characterize the entire body.

“I'm a little troubled, sometimes, by the thoughtlessness of some people who are quick to criticize anybody without differentiating between those who are trying to do their best,” the Arizona Republican said.

“But it's hard to argue with the American people, generally, when they look to Washington and see the, you know, the mess that we're in right now,” he continued. “It is all so true, as everyone here has said, that to some extent, that reflects the will of the American people. We want it both ways. But we work for the American people. And they're not devoting their whole lives to solving these problems, as we are. We're supposed to be better than we are. To that extent, they have a good point.”

Filed under: Barney Frank • Congress • Joe Lieberman • Jon Kyl • Kay Bailey Hutchison
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. David Karger

    The problem is not that we elect representatives with differing views. The problem is that representatives appear to have forgotten how to compromise. Historically, finding an outcome where you each got some of what you want was considered a victory. Now, each side seems to consider any gains by the other side to be a loss for their own. Example: both sides want a tax cut for the 98%, but Republicans won't accept it because they don't get a tax cut for the other 2%. Example: both sides recognize that the tax code is too complicated (great opportunity for compromise) but refuse the obvious compromise revenue-neutral tax reform (because Democrats want to use the reform to tax the rich, and Republicans want to use the reform to cut taxes).

    November 25, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  2. vic , nashville ,tn

    Two democrats from north, two republicans from south almost agree on everything really! Yes because they are retiring now they are free form FOX news

    “Gridlocked” , Fox news is the real problem , Fox must stop bullying moderate republicans
    FOX news has one section called media bias alert really, what they try to achieve bully other news media
    “Five at Five” 4 conservative attacking 1 liberal called Fair and Balance give me a break

    FOX news is causing all the problems in DC

    November 25, 2012 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  3. radha pather

    Conflict is the essence of life itself. This is the above discussion and it is the most important since it involves governance here. Both Frank and Lieberman are right. Frank did the best he could in his mind many of his constituents agreed and Lieberman is right when he says no done deal – so we will face the fiscal cliff fallout and then throw the governance out next time round and so 'new thought' comes into play with 'fresh blood'. Conflict and new thought this is our renaissance – that is what the 'next little while' the human species faces let alone all the other forms of life. This is a work in progress for our 'democracies'. This is my neat little package as we all strive to put into precis a difficult solution. thank you all.

    November 25, 2012 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  4. Squigman

    Retiring with pensions and benefits that would dwarf the common mans take home pay. Also, automatic raises, every time the elected thieves decide to vote themselves one. Another bunch elected mirror kissers, that want to use power judiciously when it comes to the populace, but act as if the floodgates are always open to their personal pockets.

    November 25, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |