As Congress reconvenes this week for its end of the year lame duck session, two Connecticut lawmakers find themselves in transition, but they can't let change get hold of them because the decisions ahead, especially resolving the impending "fiscal cliff", must be paramount.
First District Congressman John Larson (D-CT), who has been the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, in the post of Democratic Caucus chair, is relinquishing that duty. The job has internal term limits, but some of Larson's colleagues urged him to buck the rule and try to hold onto the position. He declined.
"The position is term limited and that’s a good thing," said Larson. "It allows other people to get onto a leadership rung and step up the ladder." Larson isn't being totally altruistic, just practical, preferring to take the long view. "We happen to be blessed by three leaders who are all in their 70s," the Congressman explained, "and so I think there'll be ample opportunity for me in the future."
"Our theme is unity, and God knows there's enough disunity in Washington these days and we felt the right thing to do was to get everybody together after our major victory with the President, and picking up additional seats (in the House) in the second term of a president," he said.
Meanwhile, another Connecticut congressman U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, the Fifth District Democrat, will be casting key votes in the House until the end of the year, while preparing to move to the United States Senate, after defeating Republican Linda McMahon in a tough campaign.
"I'm pulling double duty right now," said Murphy. "There's a lot of work to do in the House to avoid the fiscal cliff, but I've got a lot of work to set up my Senate office." He added: "I've been shuttling back and forth between orientation in the Senate and continuing to caucus with (House) Democrats to make sure we avoid sending this economy back into recession."
The Congressman said "there is no easy way to do this but I've got a lot of help down there (in Washington) and I think by the end of the year we will have made the right decisions in the House and I'll be on my way to being Connecticut's next U.S. Senator."
Of course no one should pity Murphy for his dual job "dilemma" because this scenario is exactly what he wanted. The alternative would have been defeat in the Senate race and the end of his House career with no federal job. "This is a good problem to have," he said. "It is an exciting time for me and my team, and we're not hearing any complaints."
As a freshman senator, Murphy will not have carte blanche on his committee assignments, far from it in the seniority-dominated Senate. "I want to continue to work on health care and manufacturing policy, so I will seek committees that will help me raise my voice on those issues, but obviously as a freshman it's more about where there is space than about your first choice," he conceded.
Murphy said he's had good discussions with his Democratic Senate leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as well as Connecticut's two existing senators Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal. "I have a great advantage in that I have one senator, Sen. Blumenthal who just went through this (freshman) transition so he can help in that way, and then I have a senior senator in Sen. Lieberman who can give me advice based on his years in Washington."
Larson and Murphy go into the lame duck session with high hopes that the House and Senate will get down to business, put partisan differences aside for once, and work out a major compromise to prevent disastrous tax hikes and spending cuts that could occur if the "fiscal cliff" is not resolved.
"We have to do something by the end of the year, whether it is a permanent solution or just a postponement, and I am spending a good deal of my time working in the House because some of the most important votes I'll cast in six years may happen in the next few weeks," Murphy said.
Larson believes a solution will be found because he claims the set-up for the "fiscal cliff" crisis occurred in what he called "a dominant Tea Party led Congress." The Congressman contends the post-election vibe is different.
"I think (House Speaker John) Boehner (R-OH) has struck the right tone," said Larson. "Boehner, at heart, is an institutionalist who really wants to see a big deal go forward."
The end of the year deadline and Congressional change should motivate House and Senate members to "act like adults", in the words of one leader, and make concessions that can lead to a meaningful compromise.
"Is there anyone who doesn't agree that we should put the country back to work," Larson asked. "Is there anyone who doesn't agree that anyone making up to $250,000 ought to get a tax break--no," he said. "These are things we can agree to in the short term--and then have at it and continue to tackle the (federal) debt."
"We have a great opportunity because there is a lot of pent-up feeling about this economy that is on the verge of taking off," said Larson. "We just need to demonstrate that in government we can work together to make that happen."
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