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Hey Congress, nothing can happen if you won't talk with each other

  • FILE -- July 15, 2013: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), center, walks to closed-door meeting in the Old Senate Chamber for a showdown over presidential nominees that have been blocked by a GOP filibuster, at the Capitol in Washington.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

  • FILE -- July 11, 2012: Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, right, participate in an award ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.AP

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gathered 97 of his Senate colleagues in the Old Senate Chamber for a three-and-a-half-hour private session – no staff or press, just senators. For the first time in several years, senators from both parties listened to each other. By all accounts, trust and communication improved. 

By calling this session, Sen. Reid has shown he is the leader of the whole Senate, not just one partisan group. We can only hope our elected leaders from both chambers of Congress will take his cue and begin to work together for the good of our great nation.

Increasingly over the last few years, America’s leaders have been deeply divided on the key issues facing the United States. 

It’s high time for Congress to drop the party rhetoric and start leading.

Elected leaders from both parties appear rarely to communicate or cooperate; hyper-partisanship has resulted in stalemates, a lack of budgets, continuing resolutions to fund government, sequestration rather than decision-making and general paralysis on our most important issues. 

In the first half of 2013, Congress has passed only 18 bills, although the Democrat-controlled Senate has passed 29 bills and the Republican-controlled House has passed 89.

The American people have taken notice of the gridlock. When House members and senators return to their districts and states, citizens want to know why they can’t get things done.

A recent Gallup poll showed congressional approval ratings at some of their lowest in history – a mere 15 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. The top reason for the high disapproval rating: partisan gridlock

We may not all agree on every issue, but the American people understand that it is critical for people to work together to solve problems and move the nation forward. It’s high time for Congress to drop the party rhetoric and start leading.

So Sen. Reid’s stab at inclusiveness last week was a breakthrough. It paved the way for a deal the next day, avoiding a change in Senate rules and opening the way for the Senate to approve seven key presidential nominations that have been held up for far too long. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) played a big role in encouraging Senate Republicans to work with Democrats to reach a compromise, receiving warm commendation from Sen. Reid.

Now it is House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) opportunity to lead in a similar way. By every indication he is a decent person with humble beginnings who serves his nation to make it better. But now he must decide whether his job is to follow the wishes of the Republican majority in the House, or to lead the entire House to work together to solve major national problems. 

One opportunity is immigration. All agree the system is broken. 

The Senate last month passed a bipartisan bill to begin fixing our immigration system, but the bill faces a tough vote in the House. 

Some have urged Rep. Boehner to follow the “Hastert Rule,” named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, who refused to bring legislation up for a vote unless a Republican majority supported it. 

This approach is not leading. It is following. 

If congressional members are putting the needs of their party ahead of the needs of the nation, they should not be in office.

Ironically, the American people, and probably most rank and file House members, disagree with the House leaders and want compromises and solutions on tough issues like immigration, as well as issues like patent litigation reform, tax policy and the budget deficit. 

Lack of leadership simply preserves the status quo. The U.S. is a great country, but we cannot begin to address – let alone fix – our problems if our politicians refuse to talk to each other. 

House Speaker Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should follow Sen. Reid’s example. They have a chance to lead in Congress, and to encourage our elected representatives to lead this country. Whether they meet the challenge may well determine whether our children inherit a strong, first-rate nation – or something else entirely.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. His latest book is "Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses," (William Morrow, January 2013). He is also author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” Contact him on Twitter at @GaryShapiro.