Every two years, American democracy renews itself on Capitol Hill, and the official beginnings of the 114th Congress included ceremony and substance.
Few more significant changes in leadership have occurred than this year, as Republicans in the November election rode a wave of voter disapproval of President Barack Obama and continuing economic stress for middle-class voters. The GOP wave raised Mitch McConnell to the majority leader’s office of the U.S. Senate. Across the rotunda, Republicans hold a large majority in the U.S. House, the largest in almost 70 years — when Harry S. Truman was president.
In Louisiana, the December runoff election continued the November wave with three-term U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu replaced by Republican Bill Cassidy, the former congressman from the Baton Rouge area. Louisiana has two brand-new Republicans in Congress, Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge, replacing Cassidy, and Ralph Abraham, of rural Alto in Richland Parish, representing a sprawling district centered on north Louisiana but extending down into the Baton Rouge area.
We congratulate the new members and with their more veteran colleagues look forward to constructive legislation for Louisiana and the nation.
The pageantry of democracy and the traditions of the Hill on this day did not mean an end to politics. A scattering of GOP House members, having been led to triumph by John Boehner, of Ohio, voted against his re-election as speaker. That’s not just politics; that’s ingratitude.
The White House responded to an early GOP initiative by threatening a veto of a bill expediting the Keystone XL pipeline, a project long the target of irresponsible political stalling by the president.
Dissension in the GOP caucuses is nothing new, nor is the president’s obstruction on Keystone, but the proprieties are being observed. Over good merlot for Boehner and bourbon for McConnell, we hope that the president and the Republican leaders will be able to work together.
Key issues that have some bipartisan support include trade and, as Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said, repairing the nation’s sagging infrastructure of roads, ports and rails. Those could provide real progress in a relatively short time, even for the grinding of the legislative wheels. We hope that U.S. Sen. David Vitter, now Louisiana’s senior senator, will continue his constructive leadership in the public works area.
Democracy is usually slower than other systems because it requires consensus and the obstacles to progress require not only leadership but followership — the willingness to come together in compromise — that the Founding Fathers of this country assumed would always motivate statesmen.
The 18th-century qualities of gentlemen — and now gentleladies, as they say in the House — have been in short supply for a while. Let us hope that the 114th Congress can rediscover them.