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Obama Looks for Common Ground With Republicans

President Barack Obama has invited congressional Republicans to a meeting Thursday on health care reform, his latest effort at cultivating bipartisanship in Washington. But 2010 is a congressional election year in the United States, and both political parties seem more focused on winning House and Senate seats in November than working together.

Political infighting and polarization in the U.S. have become intense over the last year.

It's gotten so bad that some lawmakers have decided to retire rather than stand for re-election in November.

"I love working for the people of Indiana," Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said. "I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives. But I do not love Congress. Even in a time of enormous national challenge, the people's business is not getting done."

Recent public opinion polls show large majorities of Americans either dissatisfied or angry about the state of politics in Washington.

The issue came up during President Obama's recent appearance before House Republicans in Baltimore.

"They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That is not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done and to solve the problems that they are grappling with every single day," Mr. Obama said.

Republicans blame Democrats for the gridlock, claiming that Democratic leaders in Congress routinely ignore their proposals.

"Mr. President, multiple times from your administration there have come statements that Republicans have no ideas and no solutions," Georgia Congressman Tom Price stated.

Historian Matt Dallek with the Bipartisan Policy Center says there is no shortage of reasons for the political dysfunction. "Whether you are talking about the 24-7 media environment, (congressional) redistricting, you know, the influence of money in politics, and I think what you are seeing in a sense is a deepening and a coarsening that is decades in the making," he said.

It wasn't always this way, says former congressman Bob Edgar.

"The system has become too partisan," Bob Edgar said. "When I served in Congress, nothing got passed without Democrats and Republicans working together." Edgar is president of Common Cause, a Washington-based group. It seeks to hold government accountable to the public interest.

Edgar says lawmakers from different parties today show little interest in working together, unlike his experience in the 1970's and 1980's. "And I think it is a good reminder that there were times in our history where party politics ended the day of the election, and you moved into a system where you actually served the public's interest," he said.

Polls show the public shares the disillusionment with Washington expressed by Senator Bayh.

Still, Bob Edgar urges Americans to be optimistic. "I thank Evan for his willingness to step up and speak out. I thank him for stepping aside to let somebody else come in. But I would urge us not to get so cynical that the system can't be improved," Edgar said.

But that may prove difficult this year with the Republicans recently winning an upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race and poised to win even more seats in November's midterm elections.