Why Gridlock Rules Congress: Town hall Tuesday pulls back curtain on problems

By Christie Zizo, Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 05, 2017, 10:25 AM EST
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If there is one thing the vast majority of Americans agree on, regardless of party, it’s this: Congress is a mess.

  • Town hall Tuesday evening on Washington's political gridlock
  • Panel features former Reps. Jolly, Murphy
  • Jolly, Murphy are traveling the state to talk ways to fix gridlock
  • RELATED: Register for tickets to the town hall

Congress’ approval rating has ranged between 9 and 19 percent over the past two months, according to Real Clear Politics.

A recent Gallup poll also shows more Americans, 54 percent, want lawmakers to compromise to get things done.

Issues ranging from guns to health care to tax reform show broad areas of support, yet lawmakers seem unable to work together, let alone across the aisle.

 “Why Gridlock Rules Washington” is the name of the live town hall hosted by Spectrum News 13 and Spectrum Bay News 9, happening Tuesday at 7 p.m. from the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Former Reps. David Jolly (R-St. Pete) and Patrick Murphy (D-Jupiter) will answer questions about what really happens in Washington behind the scenes.

Jolly and Murphy are currently touring the state to talk about the structural problems they say are ruining Congress. They say it's created a system where only the base is pandered to and, as a result, more people decide not to vote.

“It’s not necessarily the members of Congress themselves, it is the structural problems itself that has led to this gridlock,” Murphy said. “Whether that’s the money, whether that’s the gerrymandering, whether that’s the more polarized media… you look at what’s happening in social media where people can confirm their own beliefs by going to the websites they believe.”

“This will be our seventh town hall, and what we've seen at each one is a heightened interest among voters to restore a sense of bipartisanship,” Jolly said. “That doesn't mean abandoning conservative or progressive views simply to embrace centrism, but to create an environment where politicians are encouraged and rewarded for working with people from all parts of the ideological spectrum.”

Money is one of the biggest problems in Congress right now, because lawmakers are afraid of losing help from party leadership if they don’t vote for bills, even if they don’t agree with their process or what’s in them.

Jolly raised the ire of the Republican Party when he went on “60 Minutes” to expose the “telemarketing” culture of Congress that had representatives sacrificing time and energy that would be better spent working in Congress, or even spending time with family, to dial for campaign dollars.

And Murphy says lawmakers are too afraid of losing the support of party leadership and outside donors if they don’t pass key legislation, like the recent tax bill, even if they don’t agree with what’s in it or the process.

“I was in D.C. last week, talking to some of my Republican colleagues, and they said, ‘Hey, Patrick, we don’t like this bill, we don’t want to vote for this. We wanted to do more debates, we wanted to make some changes, but we’re not even allowed to make those changes, and we’re not allowed to vote against this bill, otherwise leadership won’t be with us, and we won’t get the financial support we need to win re-election. And the big outside groups, these super-PACs, will probably come in against us,' " Murphy said. "So they feel almost handcuffed and forced to do something they don’t want.”

Jolly says the town hall is also helping Floridians learn what they can do to change these problems in Washington.

“Voters can mobilize right now behind anti-gerrymandering and open primary state ballot initiatives,” Jolly said. “We are seeing success in Florida, Arizona, California, and other states, and the Supreme Court has largely affirmed these voter-led changes to our election system.

“We want to create a system that shows politicians that they can get elected by embracing real bipartisanship,” Jolly said. “In today's environments, they are incentivized not to. If we make districts more electorally competitive, open primaries and limit big money, politicians will see an electoral path for them to embrace all voters, not just those from their own party.”

See  “Why Gridlock Rules Washington,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Spectrum News 13 and Spectrum Bay News 9. The program will re-air on both channels at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.