Washington's acid partisanship responsible for policy gridlock is even worse than during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, according to President Obama's pick to replace resigning Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the president's budget chief, said in early March that she has been struck by the breakdown in basic relationships in Washington since when she worked in the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Burwell, a well-respected management veteran who moved to Seattle to work for the Gates Foundation after her Clinton administration days, said that while many of the issues are the same, the ability to get things done has broken down.
“In terms of the political differences since I've been back, you know, I think there is a little less focus on the importance of relationships, and, you know, in terms of people's willingness to do things,” she said at a March 7 media roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
“So there is a little more of that lack of, how do we — people can be friends, we can disagree in a friendly way, and I do sense a little bit of that,” she added.
In addition, she said that some politicians are concerned more about how their actions look, threatening even projects they support.
Recalling her development efforts with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that intersected with Congress, Burwell said, “At points in time it was hard for members who actually supported our issues, those issues, there were points in time where they might not want to do that because of what it might be read as.”
Under Clinton, Burwell worked at the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury and said that dealmaking could be done even when the political air was swirling with controversy, like during the impeachment saga.
“Perfect, not it wasn’t, no it wasn’t, but you still were, even in what were strident and difficult times, were able to move forward,” she said, noting that when she left Washington the budget was balanced.
But there is hope. She cited the December budget deal cut by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his Senate Democratic counter, Sen. Patty Murray, as an example of two sides coming together for a deal to avoid another government shutdown.
“That was not easy,” Burwell said.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.