The political climate in Washington, D.C., is so polarized right now that it’s all Congress can do to get even the most basic legislation passed, says U.S. Representative Collin Peterson, who represents almost all of western Minnesota.
Speaking to the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary Club last week, Peterson stated that there were barely a handful of moderates left in either the Democratic or Republican parties.
He jokingly added that he had been told if he were to write a book about his years in Congress, he should probably call it “The Last Blue Dog.”
“That’s true,” he said. “There’s hardly anyone left in the middle.”
Peterson noted that in the majority of the 400-plus Congressional districts, the political parties are so firmly entrenched that come election time, “It’s not a question of what party it will be [winning the election], it’s who the person will be.”
“The real fight is in the primary,” he added.
When asked why he thinks legislators’ political views have become so polarized, when the majority of Americans are more moderate, Peterson disagreed, noting, “People are getting the government they want.”
As evidence, Peterson referred to the last national election, when so many of his more moderate-minded Republican and Democratic colleagues – whom he referred to as “agriculture’s best friends in Congress” – were ousted by members of the “Tea Party.”
Peterson also noted that he himself had been targeted by Minnesota Republicans in the last election, albeit unsuccessfully.
With that situation in mind, Peterson admitted he was fairly pessimistic about the chances of getting any major pieces of policy-altering legislation through Congress this session.
“I don’t think there’s any chance of tax reform getting done,” he said in response to a question from the audience. “We should do tax reform. I’m for it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
In fact, Peterson said, he feels “there won’t be any major bills done this session unless it’s done on a bipartisan basis.”
Though he was not in favor of the Affordable Care Act legislation, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” when it was passed a couple of years ago, Peterson noted that repealing it in its entirety would be a mistake.
“This bill is so built into the system now that if you repeal it entirely, you’re going to have chaos,” he said.
After his Rotary presentation, Peterson elaborated on his remarks about being targeted by Republicans in the last election. “They think this district should be theirs,” he said, noting that somewhere between $6 million to $7 million had been spent by the opposition in their attempts to oust him in November.
Peterson admitted that he had briefly contemplated retirement last year, after 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, but ultimately decided against it.
“I had so many constituents come to me and say, ‘You can’t do this [retire],’ I just decided that I was ready to do it again,” he said, even though “I knew it was going to be a tough campaign.”