10/25/2014 08:33 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2014

Working or Fighting: Your Choice


Leading up to next week's elections -- November 4 -- the mail, newspapers, radio and TV are saturated with political ads. Time and again, Democrats and Republicans say, "I'm going to fight for you." That's the big problem we have on all levels of government -- there's just too much fighting. I'm looking for the candidate who says, "I'm going to work for you." We need politicians who spend time "working" -- not "fighting" -- with their fellow legislators on the other side of the aisle.

We hear political pundits -- both the Democrats and Republicans -- saying it is a mistake to compromise: "We must stand up and fight for what we believe in." It is important to hold firm on principles that are the very core of who you are, but in most instances, it is possible to reach consensus. However, it takes "give" and "take" -- and that takes work -- it doesn't just happen.

There are multiple examples, starting with our founding fathers, of people in government that held very firm views on various issues -- for example, forms of government, proposed legislation, foreign relations, and subjects of national security--who made compromises to reach consensus. The United States Constitution, a truly remarkable document, came about as a series of compromises. But rather than reflecting on bygone days, there are three examples that readers of various ages, political preferences, and ethnic heritage can relate to.

Let's start with Lyndon B. Johnson and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson, the President, was a Democrat. The Senate and House had substantial Democratic majorities -- 65 Democrats to 35 Republicans in the Senate and 258 to 177 in the House. Even with those majorities, Johnson could not get his civil rights legislation through the Congress. After working with the Democratic Speaker of the House and the Republican Minority Leader, Johnson was able to get a slightly different version than what he really wanted passed in the House. But the Senate was a different matter.

After much politicking, and "horse trading" from Johnson, Senators supporting the House bill were able to outmaneuver some fellow Democrats, who were from the South and staunchly opposed to integration, and get the bill out of committees and to the full Senate for debate. Immediately, however, a block of nineteen Southern Democrats and one Republican launched a filibuster to halt discussion. After fifty-four days of filibuster, the Democrat Leader and the Democrat Majority Whip of the Senate, and the Republican Minority Leader and Republican Minority Whip, joined in introducing a comprise or substitute for the bill the House had passed earlier.

At that time, it took 67 votes to end a filibuster in the Senate. Based on the substitute motion, the Senate voted by 71 to 29, four more votes than needed, to end the filibuster, and both the Senate and House passed the new bill. By Democrats and Republicans "working" with each other, instead of "fighting" for their own positions, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law on July 2.

Let's move on to 1981. Ronald Reagan, a Republican, was President, and the Senate and the House were controlled by Democratic majorities -- 53 Democrats to 46 Republicans and 1 Independent in the Senate and 244 to 191 in the House. In a time of recession, highlighted with high inflation and unemployment, Reagan set out immediately after his inauguration to fulfill a campaign promise: to get the economy moving again by a program primarily of tax cuts for individuals and cuts in government spending, providing Americans with more money to spend.

The idea was viewed with misgivings by many Republicans, and most Democrats adamantly opposed the idea. But Reagan aggressively lobbied members of Congress, resulting in the House leadership drafting a bill that was easily passed by a bipartisan vote of 238 to 195. The details of the bill, however, were not acceptable to Reagan. He then worked with the Democratic Senatorial leadership in drafting a substitute bill that was acceptable. The Senate passed that bill by a bipartisan vote of 53 to 47. The substitute motion then went back to the House, where it passed by another bipartisan vote, 323 to 107, with 8 not voting.

Democrats and Republicans, "working" with each other rather than "fighting," -- being willing to compromise -- resulted in passage of the Economic Recovery Act of 1981, which lowered personal income tax by approximately 23 percent for most Americans: less than Reagan wanted and more than the Democrats wanted, but helpful for American families.

Finally, let's look at welfare reform legislation in 1996. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was President, and this time the Senate and the House were controlled by Republicans. In 1992, Clinton had campaigned for President on the promise to "end welfare as we have come to know it." Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House, was the author of the "Contract with America," which also featured welfare reform.

Clinton, four years into his term as President and running for re-election, seemed more interested in universal health care than welfare reform. Gingrich accused Clinton of stalling on welfare reform until after the election, and the Republican House passed two welfare reform bills; Clinton vetoed both.

Clinton and Gingrich then negotiated secretly and compromised on a bill more liberal than Gingrich wanted and more conservative that Clinton wanted. The Bill passed the House. Clinton also worked behind the scenes with the Republican Leader of the Senate, and a similar bill was passed there. The House and Senate reconciled the differences and the House approved it by a bipartisan vote of 328 to 101 and the Senate by 78 to 21.

By working together, the President, Senate, and House agreed on the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996," commonly referred to as "Welfare Reform." The bill was a fundamental shift in federal assistance to the poor, adding a workforce development component that encouraged employment among the poor and replacing "Aid to Families with Dependent Children," a program instituted in 1935.

In voting on November 4, you and I should be careful to select candidates who will "work" for us, rather than those -- Democrats or Republicans -- who insist on "fighting" for us.