WASHINGTON -- A pair of former senators told the nation's state legislators Friday morning that Congress needs to work in a bipartisan fashion to address the fiscal cliff and energy reform, among other issues.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said at the National Conference of State Legislatures that they want to see Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill start working together in a more bipartisan fashion on a wide range of issues. A solution is likely on the fiscal cliff, they said, but both parties need to work together to address other issues, including long-term tax reform issues.
"I believe they will get an agreement," Lott told state legislators about the fiscal cliff. "It will be minimal. It will be a long punt."
Both former senators, who are co-chairing an energy project for the Bipartisan Policy Center, stressed the need for Congress to address energy reform. They said this includes looking at traditional energy sources along with exploring alternative energy. Dorgan, who represented a state that saw a boom economy due to oil and gas exploration, cast the energy discussion into the wider economic debate.
"This economic engine that makes things possible in America is fueled by energy," Dorgan said.
Energy was one of the areas Lott and Dorgan pressed Congress and President Barack Obama to address in 2013. The others included tax and entitlement reform, cybersecurity, the farm bill and infrastructure. Both former senators said they believe many of the issues can be addressed in a bipartisan fashion.
On the issue of filibuster reform, both said they can see the issue coming to a floor vote in the Senate, but Lott stressed that it should not be achieved with a 51-vote majority. Lott then changed the discussion to other procedural issues, including changing the country to a biennial budget and moving away from a reliance on congressional rules.
"Congress is so bound up by the rules that they can't accomplish anything," Lott said.
Arizona state Sen.-elect Steve Farley (D-Tucson) asked Lott and Dorgan about the connections voters are using to tie state legislative candidates to Obama and congressional politics. Farley, currently the assistant minority leader of the Arizona House, said that many voters he encountered in his state Senate campaign wanted to know his partisan affiliation first before discussing issues.
"If they didn't like Obama, they are not voting for me," Farley said. "If they like Obama, they are voting for me. I don't like that."
Dorgan noted that voters have been focused on cable television which has pressed for more contention in politics.
But Lott said that voters and political leaders are moving away from the partisan environment. "I believe that the next generation of leaders coming up will be different," Lott said. "I believe people are fed up with hyper-, super-charged partisanship."