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It's pro-gress vs. Con-gress

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - Updated: 5:50 PM

The transition in Congress this month from one of the least productive in memory to the most diverse in history is a welcome change -- but one that will be but a footnote without new members agitating the old guard for action.

The previous 112th Congress was a failure of historic proportions, passing fewer bills than any in the post-World War II era. Its most noteworthy accomplishments were negative: a knock-down, drag-out in 2011 over raising the federal debt ceiling that resulted in the nation's credit rating being lowered, and subsequent failure to resolve related budgeting issues that led to last month's "fiscal cliff" debacle.

The 113th Congress doesn't just boast new blood, but new perspectives. More than 100 women, 43 African-Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asian-Americans and seven openly gay or bisexual members are among the ranks. Religious diversity is likewise broad, including the first Buddhist senator and first Hindu representative.

All to the good, in terms of Congress looking a little more like the folks it represents. Now it must serve those folks.

Among the last Congress' notable failures was an inability to pass a new Farm Bill, crucial to New York's agricultural industry, and a refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The sticking point on these measures, as it is so often with stalled legislation, was House Republicans -- that largely white, male bastion that does not know the meaning of the word "compromise." Or "progress." In this year of diversity, majority Republicans initially designated white men to chair all 19 major House committees. After public outcry, one woman was named.

Congress does not yet truly reflect America. It's getting there but, as with so many other issues, the House GOP is not doing the leading.

-- The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester


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