States suffer from dysfunction in Congress

WASHINGTON — There’s nothing like talking to a governor or three to be reminded that political dysfunction in Washington matters to real people.

The governors were in town last week for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, and three of them visited The Post on Wednesday. There were two Democrats (Chris Gregoire of Washington and Jack Markell of Delaware) and one Republican (Dave Heineman of Nebraska), but they were fairly united in their views of D.C. dynamics.

“Our worst day in Delaware is better than the best day in Washington,” Markell said, at most half-jokingly.

Washington politicians “need to know each other on a more personal basis,” Heineman said.

Gregoire added that it’s often unclear, at NGA meetings, which governor belongs to which party. “You can’t tell, because we’re there to govern,” she said.

But it was when the conversation turned to the practical effects of Washington paralysis that the three really warmed up.

Because businesses don’t know what to expect in their taxes or in health insurance law, they are reluctant to hire and invest, the governors agreed.

Because Congress has failed to reauthorize the transportation bill, Gregoire said, several major projects are at risk. She can’t very well stop them mid-construction; but she can’t complete them without the promised federal dollars.

Because Congress stalled on climate change reform, so have the states. Delaware and Washington belong to regional partnerships. “But when Congress did nothing, it took the wind out of the sails,” Gregoire said. “We started seeing states saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, if we’re not moving as a country …’ There’s a fear you’re going to put yourself at an economic disadvantage.”

Because Congress failed to pass immigration reform, she said, “I nearly lost my apple crop last year.” Americans don’t want the harvesting jobs, she explained, and ramped-up enforcement without an accompanying guest-worker program has deprived Washington farmers of needed labor. Now, she continued, her asparagus is at risk; soon it will be “my cherries.”

Delaware farmers are “scared to death about what’s going to happen to their farms,” Markell agreed. And legal immigrants and their descendants, Heineman chimed in, are getting tired of living under suspicion.

“It’s very disappointing,” the Nebraska Republican said. “This is one where we need a federal policy.” No matter what decision Congress makes, he added, “you’re going to make half the country mad. But we’re paying you the big bucks. Make a decision.”

Fred Hiatt is The Washington Post’s editorial page editor.

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