ATLANTIC CITY — Former ABC News anchor Charles Gibson criticized Congress as “an absolute disgrace” and predicted that the next president — no matter who it is — will be hampered by partisan politics as Washington becomes even more divided.
“Polarization pervades the Congress,” Gibson said, adding that the national political system currently “doesn’t work” and is desperately in need of an overhaul.
“Members of the House and Senate now consider themselves politicians first and legislators second,” Gibson said in remarks Sunday to a hospital group.
Much of the problem has been caused by the increasing dissension between the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and conservatives on the Republican side, he said. Lawmakers are now too caught up in appeasing the extremist views of their respective parties to build consensus on key issues such as the nation’s health care crisis, he asserted.
“There is no incentive now to be a centrist or one for compromise,” Gibson told the Shore Medical Center Foundation’s annual Stainton Society brunch at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Gibson believes that President Barack Obama or presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will step deep into the partisan mess when the winner of November’s presidential election occupies the White House for a new term next year.
“The country’s real problem will continue to fester,” Gibson said.
Although he stopped short of predicting an outright winner, Gibson said Obama seems to be the front-runner because the map of electoral college votes appears lined up in his favor. He also said Obama holds an advantage with female and minority voters, mainly due to his stance on health care, women’s issues and immigration policies.
Noting that the election is still six months away, Gibson stressed, “I will tell you, anyone who makes a prediction at this point is downright nuts.”
Gibson offered his own ideas for reforming what he called the “virtually nonfunctional” Congress, but added that the real solution would come from voters at the ballot box.
“The fix has to come from public pressure,” he said.
Gibson, who retired in 2009, covered Congress during a more than 40-year broadcast career that included anchoring ABC’s “World News” and hosting “Good Morning America.” He argued that congressional reform should start by having members of the House and Senate work longer hours. He said they now come to work on Tuesday and leave on Thursday, returning to their home districts to raise money for their next campaign.
“They spend just a bit over 48 hours in Washington each week,” he said.
Gibson proposed giving members of Congress a housing allowance so that they could buy or rent homes in Washington, D.C. He said they now leave Washington in a mass exodus, instead of spending more time getting to know the community in the nation’s capital.
Among Gibson’s other proposed reforms, he also wants Congress to remove the center aisle in the Capitol building, saying it serves as a physical and symbolic barrier between Republicans and Democrats. He also urged both sides to end their party caucuses, which he characterized as a hotbed of partisanship and where members “whip each other into a frenzy.”
He also jokingly suggested opening a pub in both the House and the Senate, so that Democrats and Republicans could share friendly drinks that might help to wash away partisan bickering.
Gibson did not limit his criticism to the national political system. He also blasted the news media for pandering “too much to public appetites,” ignoring more important stories of national and international interest. He singled out his former show, “Good Morning America,” as one offender.
“I’m not pleased with ‘Good Morning America’ anymore,” he said.
In remarks aimed at the group he was addressing, Gibson also told the Shore Medical Center Foundation, which is a fund-raising arm of Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, that reforms are needed in the nation’s health care system. He said 49 million Americans are without health care coverage, and 45,000 people die prematurely in the United States each year because they lack medical insurance.
Before Gibson gave his remarks, Ron Johnson, Shore Medical Center’s president and chief executive officer, said Shore was doing its part to enhance health care in South Jersey by expanding its facilities and boosting its staff of doctors.
A $125 million expansion project included a new surgical pavilion and other upgrades at Shore in 2011. Johnson termed 2011 as “a truly monumental year” in Shore’s ongoing transformation from a small community hospital to a leading medical provider in South Jersey.
“What we have accomplished in such a short period of time, I think, is amazing,” Johnson told the audience.
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