Per Tradition, Gridlock Continues in Washington

BY Judy Woodruff  December 1, 2010 at 4:29 PM EDT

Judy WoodruffDid anyone think the November 2nd midterm elections were a cry for lawmakers in Washington to begin to work together, for heaven’s sake?

If so, you may want to stop reading here. Because gridlock, and the disagreement over what Americans are believed to really “want,” continues.

Just one month after midterm election exit polls showed an electorate divided over whether the government should spend more to give a boost to the economy, the split in the national psyche is playing out here in Washington. And the charges are flying on both sides.

With ongoing debate over whether to extend unemployment benefits, and whether to let the Bush-era tax cuts continue for the wealthy, the divisions of the American people are on full display.

First to the Republicans, who are flexing their muscles after an historic 65-seat pickup in the U.S. House of Representatives. They insist the American people have spoken up for lower government spending, and for lower taxes, and reject the argument of analysts who point out that lower taxes cost the government revenue. In fact, about 4 in 10 voters said cutting spending should be a top priority for Congress, and only 2 in 10 said cutting taxes should be, according to exit polls.

Meanwhile, Democrats appear to have given up on the idea of a new stimulus package for the economy – creating jobs through such things as rebuilding infrastructure, green energy projects, and targeted tax cuts for businesses. Many Democrats running for re-election lost in part because of their vote for the 2009 stimulus package, and the survivors got the message.

But there is widespread Democratic support for limiting the extension of the Bush tax cuts to those in the middle class, and for extending unemployment benefits – or emergency unemployment insurance – with the argument that recipients will spend the money, and thus help stimulate the economy. These Democrats are being met with opposition from Republicans and some fellow Democrats who focus on the short-term cost jobless benefits add to the budget deficit.

Yes, it is true that meetings are underway between representatives of the White House and a bipartisan congressional delegation to try to find agreement on extending those Bush tax cuts. And it’s true that unemployment benefits appear to be a bargaining chip both sides can use to reach consensus. But if the American public was looking for a change, in something more than tone and style, it hasn’t surfaced yet.

Another example is the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – otherwise known as the deficit commission. Despite the fact that co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson have put forward a bold plan that demands sacrifice on both the spending AND the taxing sides, Republicans say there’s too much of the latter, and Democrats, too much of the former. It will take a Herculean effort, by President Obama, and by Republican leaders in Congress, to create a breakthrough. The forces of opposition are enormous.

Perhaps it will take another election before what voters want is as clear as what politicians don’t want.