Reflection on the first week of the 112th Congress is particularly difficult. The events of the week have tossed emotions across uneven seas. House and Senate members returned to Washington on January 5 for the swearing in, getting to know each other and finding offices. I was privileged to take part in a beautiful, hope-filled prayer vigil to initiate the work of the 112th Congress. Priests, Rabbis, Protestant ministers and Congressional leaders across party lines led us in Scripture, hymns, prayers and a reflection on the role of Congress in our time. What a positively inspirational commencement of this new Congress.
Hopes were lifted as advocates met and chatted about issue agendas and how they could work together on shared goals.Meetings were set up, visits to new members discussed. Leaders of the majority and the minority spoke to their desire to cooperate with those “across the aisle.” There were references to the progress in bipartisanship which had brought such great progress in the not-so-lame-duck session.
However, with each new Congress come apprehensions as well as hopes. The 112th is no different. Apprehensions heightened with House leadership vowing to control the deficit through huge cuts to non-military discretionary spending and repeal of the new Healthcare Act for which we (NETWORK staff and members) worked so hard.
And then, on Saturday, political violence moved from verbal to physical with the slaying and injuring of 20 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. People had come together to interact with their Congressperson – to take an active role in governing – but the good of that event was suddenly shattered. Whether there is a direct connection between the vitriolic language in the political arena in recent years and the shooting in Arizona is irrelevant. The angry and violent references belittle us as a nation, reducing the trust and value placed in government – in many cases replaced by expanded valuing of financial security for those with the greatest power, and those who wish to be in that position.
Revised poverty data indicate that greater than 20% of our children live in homes below the poverty threshold, with 25% of children in food-deprived homes. These statistics don’t seem able to improve in a nation with almost 10% of our workers unemployed, and with far more underemployed or having given up the job search. Yet, these children and their families are a part of us. We bear responsibility for their ability to live in dignity.
So, hopes and apprehensions – the yin and the yang – keep us alert, and hopefully in balance.