It was supposed to be different. Or at least, that’s what they told us.
Once Republicans won the Senate, then they could really start getting things done. Things were going to change. Putting Republicans in charge of the Senate would make it a well-oiled machine of good governance.
Running against me for the U.S. Senate here in Kansas, Pat Roberts repeated the same theme. “The House has passed hundreds of bills, good bills, but they haven’t seen the light of day in the Senate,” he said. “350 bills have come from the house and they’re gathering dust in the Senate. This is where good legislation goes to die.”
But under a Republican Senate majority, we were going to get things done. Important legislation would move forward. And we could put an end to this recurring drama of self-imposed government shutdowns, once and for all. This argument was made all around the country, with Republicans suggesting that electing them would help break the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.
Whoops. A quick look at the scoreboard so far shows they’ve come up empty. The Senate hasn’t passed a single spending bill, let alone a budget. Critical legislation on justice reform—with bipartisan support—can’t seem to make it onto the floor. The Senate has been obsessed with political show votes that never had a real chance of becoming law—repealing Obamacare, approving the Keystone Pipeline, defunding Planned Parenthood. We remain one of three countries in the world to not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—putting us in the company of Congo and Guyana. And once again, our government is careening toward a possible shutdown before the end of the year.
Instead of governing, they are merely positioning themselves for the next election cycle where they will predictably blame their lack of productivity on the Democratic minority and President Obama. The Democrats, for their part, will do the same. As a country, we will be left with two more years of inaction, thanks to elected officials more interested in their own political futures than the future of our nation.
I actually don’t blame Senator Roberts for this more than anyone else in Washington—he’s just a part of the same broken system as the rest of them, and it’s failing this country.
It should be abundantly clear by now that electing one party or the other won’t fix our broken system. Swapping the majority doesn’t actually make for a change in results. All we’re doing is changing the color of the drapes in the Majority Leader’s office. Until we break the chokehold that the political parties have on our politics, we’re going to keep getting the same broken results.
In contrast to Senator Roberts’s argument, during the campaign I worked to make the point that the parties were broken, and that it was partisan politics that was the problem. Almost universally, in response to this, the national media asked me which party I planned to caucus with—as if our election were merely about supporting one of two failing parties in Washington, D.C.
I told them that I planned to caucus with whichever party was most willing to pursue a pro-problem-solving agenda, but that I didn’t plan to be wedded to that party. If they kept playing the same old partisan games, I’d hold them accountable and take my vote elsewhere. This might be a problem for the political parties, who expect to operate without accountability once they’ve obtained the majority, but it’s exactly what our country needs right now.
Independent senators, unaligned and unencumbered by the special interests that prop up both parties, would revolutionize the way the Senate conducts its business. It would help force partisans on both sides of the aisle to actually get to work and get things done—something we know that partisan majorities simply can’t be trusted to do. It would certainly help prevent politicians from holding our budget hostage and threatening to shut down our government over their latest partisan crusade.
What our country needs now is for more outsiders to step forward and challenge that structure. Not every independent candidate that runs will win, but some will find success, and it will only take a handful to truly shake up the system.