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Hartford Courant - Lieberman: Unlocking Congress Means Compromise


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By Joe Lieberman

On Jan. 3, Chris Murphy will take U.S. Senate seat I have had the privilege to hold for the past 24 years. I have known Chris since he first ran for the Connecticut House of Representatives and believe he is ready and able to be a great U.S. senator.

Along with Dick Blumenthal, Chris will form an excellent Connecticut team in the Senate. They both understand that getting things done and fixing problems will require bipartisan compromise. They also know that Connecticut has a history of bipartisan leadership that goes back to the founding of our country.

It has been my honor, and soon will be Chris Murphy's, to hold the seat held by Connecticut's first U.S. senator, Oliver Ellsworth, who served from 1789 to 1796. Dick Blumenthal holds the seat of the other original Connecticut senator, Roger Sherman, who served from 1789 to 1791.

Before they were senators, Ellsworth and Sherman were delegates from Connecticut to the Constitutional Convention and they made an enormous contribution to its work. When the convention was on the verge of splitting apart because of disputes about how the states would be represented in Congress, Ellsworth and Sherman proposed what became known as the "Connecticut Compromise." It created a Senate that gave each state two senators and a House of Representatives that gave each state representation proportional to it's population.

This compromise broke America's original legislative gridlock and cleared the way for other compromises that led to the adoption of our Constitution and the real birth of our nation.

America urgently needs some of that same Connecticut spirit of compromise in Washington today.

This year's elections produced executive and legislative branches of the federal government with basically the same composition we've had for the past two years -- two of the most uncompromising, unproductive years in our history. Something has to give. In fact, both parties have to give. Another gridlocked congressional session where partisan posturing takes precedence over solving the very real problems that confront us is a scenario America and Connecticut can't afford.

It's time to govern. And that means it is also time to compromise. I don't mean it is necessary to compromise principle, but it is necessary to understand that in a legislative body as diverse as Congress, if members demand 100 percent of what they prefer before voting for legislation, we will end up with zero legislation and worsening problems.

On election night, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney gave speeches that were gracious, principled, patriotic and unifying. Since then, leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have spoken about the need to put partisanship aside and come together to find real solutions.

The most serious immediate problem is the so-called fiscal cliff -- the expiration at the end of the year of tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, coupled with legislatively mandated spending cuts in defense and domestic programs, that together could drain $630 billion from the economy next year, starving the recovery and plunging us back into recession.

Allowing this to happen would be reckless. Our federal debt is already more than $16 trillion and growing at a rate of nearly $4 billion a day.

There is no mystery about what must be done to solve our long-term financial problems, only a lack of bipartisan resolve and leadership. It requires entitlement reform, which Republicans want but Democrats have resisted; and tax reform, which Democrats want but Republicans have resisted. We need both, and we can have both if both parties compromise for the good of the country.

None of the accomplishments I'm proudest of in my Senate career -- from the clean air legislation of 1990, to the post 9/11 reforms which strengthened homeland security, to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2010 would have happened without bipartisan compromise and support. In my final weeks as your senator, I will work as hard as I possibly can to help build a bipartisan compromise that will put us on the path to eliminating our national debt and restoring our economic growth. And then, I am confident Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy will keep us moving forward.

As President John F. Kennedy once said: "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."

Joe Lieberman is an independent U.S. senator from Connecticut who has served for 24 years.

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