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Why I still have faith in Congress

Lee H. Hamilton | 5/30/2014, 6 a.m.
It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress. But it’s my encounters with ordinary citizens ...

Finally, Congress has proven over its long history that even in the most difficult circumstances it can be astoundingly productive. The very first Congress, meeting at a time of enormous political uncertainty and financial trouble, was able to firm up the new government’s structure and set the course for the nation’s future.

At one of the darkest times in our recent history, during the height of the Watergate scandal— when tensions between Congress and the White House and between Democrats and Republicans were no less pointed than they are now— Congress and President Nixon were still able to collaborate on the Federal Aid Highway Act; the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization; the Endangered Species Act; the Legal Services Corporation Act, an overhaul of the farm subsidy program; and an increase in the minimum wage.

Congress often has risen above periods of great contention. It possesses a resilience that is obvious from the perspective of decades. Building on that search for hope in our system, and on the long historical record, Americans have good reason to believe that Congress can and will do better.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34-years.