Maybe the Nationals can teach Congress how to play ball

April 5, 2015
MLB: New York Yankees at Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Doug Fister throws against the New York Yankees during spring training at Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne, Florida, March 23, 2015. USA TODAY/Brad Barr

In American politics, there are three major players: Republicans, Democrats and expectations. If you can beat expectations, you can do anything.

Between the Republican field for president in 2016 and the potentially large field to fill Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski’s Senate seat in Maryland, there has been no shortage of handwringing and speculation about the two parties and their roles in governing, campaigns and elections.

But the real player to watch in Congress is that third player: expectations.

Since Republicans won control of Congress in the November elections, they have been losing a little bit to expectations every day. In a fit of optimism, the new Republican leadership declared it would take action on four key issues: the budget, trade agreements, tax reform and immigration. For a time, congressional leaders sounded like serious legislators.

Now immigration reform by any definition is dead. And unless Congress radically changes its behavior of the past six years, the other three issues will likely go the same way.

Members of Congress look like they don’t know how to legislate. Congress has not passed a major piece of legislation since 2010, or a piece of major bipartisan legislation since 2002, when Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Republican President George W. Bush teamed up to pass No Child Left Behind.

PRESIDENT BUSH AND SENATOR KENNEDY STAND TOGETHER DURING SCHOOL VISIT.

President George W. Bush (L) and Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) visiting Merritt Elementary School in Washington, January 25, 2001.

In addition, since 2008 there have been 290 new members of the House of Representatives and 50 new senators. One out of two members of Congress has basically just arrived in Washington and only knows the dysfunction of the past six years. Partisanship is rampant, well documented and deep. There appears to be no culture or expertise on getting things done.

The country needs a functioning legislative body, so how do we get Congress working again? We need to look toward sports.

First, congressional leaders have to surround themselves with people who know how to get things done. Sometimes young teams are the best. But the ones that win championships always have a wily veteran to mentor the young players. Think of Bill Walton on the young Boston Celtics teams of the 1980s, or Curt Schilling on the crazy fun 2004 Boston Red Sox. Congressional leadership needs to woo some experienced hands, and the young stars need to learn from them.  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), for example, are pros who know how to legislate. Their leadership should let them.

Second, members should agree as a body that they have come to Washington to legislate, not eviscerate. This means turning your back on outside groups that want to shut down the government. This country has seen some harsh ideological times, far worse than today, and in those harsh times, Congress managed to pass extraordinary pieces of legislation. The Land Grant College Act passed during the Civil War, for example, and the Great Society legislation went through during the turbulent 1960s.

MLB: NLDS-Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) celebrates with catcher Wilson Ramos (40) after hitting a solo home run against the San Francisco Giants in the 7th inning during game four of the 2014 National League baseball playoffs at AT&T Park, San Francisco, California, Oct 7, 2014 . USA TODAY/Kyle Terada

Finally, April 6 is the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Mets. It’s been a long, bitter winter in Washington, and there is no better sign of spring and American cooperation than the national pastime. The entire Congress should attend this game and reflect on its significance.

For the rest of the season — except for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day — Congress should stay in Washington and in session for a full week of work every single week. Short weeks that allow members to return to their home states and districts are counterproductive to getting to know one another and thus establishing the trust necessary for the legislative process.

Force members to stay in town, work together and share a beer and a hot dog at the baseball stadium and maybe Democrats and Republicans will find they have more in common than they thought.

Expectations don’t campaign, don’t raise money and don’t introduce legislation. But right now, Democrats and Republicans are losing to this elusive foe.

Robert Hoopes has worked in three Senate offices and served as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He is now president of VOX Global

 

 

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