U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., is hopeful that new lawmakers being sworn in this week create a new coalition to pass meaningful legislation.
Public records show the outgoing 112th Congress was the least active in modern history with just 219 bills passed. And the latest poll numbers put their approval rating at a dismal 12 percent.
The members of 113th Congress take office Thursday, and although Republicans still control the House with a lesser majority and Democrats picked up seats in the Senate, political observers are eager to see if cooperation is possible.
Yarmuth says incoming lawmakers were elected in part to help bridge the ideological divide, adding that the lack of compromise over the past two years has hurt the institution.
“I’m glad it’s finished. I think that this has been one of the most horrible experiences that any group of Congress men and women have had to go through,” he says.
One of the first issues that Congress will take up in the coming weeks, however, is the divisive issue of raising the country’s debt ceiling.
President Obama warned Tuesday that he will not repeat the squabble with Congress in 2011 over paying the country’s bills in the face of a $16.4 trillion debt. That political debate resulted in the U.S. government losing its perfect credit rating for the first time.
But GOP leaders have also given the president notice that they will not raise the debt limit unless it is accompanied by serious cuts to government spending.
Other top priorities in the coming year include immigration reform and new gun control proposals in the wake of the Newtown massacre. But observers have voiced skepticism that any meaningful legislation can be passed with a divide federal government.
But Yarmuth says the fiscal cliff vote passed because GOP leaders broke the long practiced ‘Hastert Rule’, and the that the final tally was portion of Republicans and a majority of Democrats, who could forge a lasting coalition.
“It’s clear that if the House Republicans rely on only their own members to get something done that they will not be able to pass anything that can ultimately be enacted,” he says. “They’re going to have to deal with Democrats in the House and put together a coalition if they want to see anything done.”
The Kentucky delegation will have one new member in the 113th Congress, Republican Sixth District Representative Andy Barr. Republican Fourth District Congressman Thomas Massie was sworn-in late last year.