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Steven LaTourette: Congress Doesn’t Function

Rep. Steven LaTourette said Tuesday that he was leaving a Congress that has become too polarized to function, a far cry from the institution in which he spent the past 18 years.

In a characteristically caustic speech abruptly announcing he would not seek a 10th term, the dry-witted Ohio Republican blasted the partisan rancor and gridlock that has enveloped the 112th Congress, joining the handful of Members who have called it quits this year for the same stated reason. Simply put, there is no place for moderates like him in the House anymore, he said.

“The change that I’ve noticed is, it used to be there was Election Day and then there was governance. You fight like cats and dogs on election time and then you govern,” LaTourette said in a press conference at his district office in Painesville. Not so now, he said: “For a long time now, words like compromise have been considered to be dirty words. And there are people on the right and the left who think that if you compromise you’re a coward, you’re a facilitator, you’re an appeaser.”

LaTourette has been perhaps the face of moderate Republicanism in the House in recent years, blasting his own party as equally as Democrats for being unyielding in the face of serious problems. And though he is one of Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) closest friends in Congress, he has not held back from criticizing what he sees as his party’s hard-line rightward swing.

In particular, LaTourette pointed to the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction compromise, which he tried to push as an alternative to one-sided partisan budgets earlier this year, but it went nowhere.

He also singled out legislation he said used to sail through Congress “like a hot knife through butter”: the farm bill, a student loan rate extension and especially the transportation bill, which stalled in the House until a short-term extension was passed and used as the House position in a conference with the Senate.

“We’re talking about building roads and bridges for Christ’s sake. We’re not talking about big Democratic and Republican initiatives. … I think [it is] an embarrassment to the House of Representatives,” he railed. “But more than being an embarrassment to the House of Representatives, it was indicative of the fact that people are more interested in fighting with each other than they are in getting the no-brainers done and governing.”

Behind the scenes, however, Republican aides said LaTourette may have had other frustrations with the transportation bill, namely that he would not have a chance to helm the committee with jurisdiction.

GOP term limits will force Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (Fla.) to relinquish the gavel after this term. While Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is the  presumptive choice to take Mica’s post, LaTourette is said to have had his eye on the role, too. LaTourette had been a senior Republican on the committee until 2009, when he joined the Appropriations Committee after the elections with then-Minority Leader Boehner’s strong encouragement. Others said he could have coveted a spot as an Appropriations cardinal.

LaTourette strongly denied the claim, saying the assertion that he is “leaving in a huff” after being denied a committee chairmanship is a “red herring.”

In an internal email to his staff, LaTourette chief of Staff Dino DiSanto echoed the denial, writing, “there is no truth to media reports or rumors that Steve is departing b/c of a fight with the leadership over committee assignments or any other disagreement.”

LaTourette also insisted his relationship with the Speaker is not damaged.

“John Boehner’s my friend. I have his support, he has mine. It’s been that way for 18 years, and it will continue long after today,” LaTourette said, adding that the Speaker, among others, asked him to reconsider.

Boehner issued a statement calling LaTourette “a close friend and an effective legislator who has served the people of Ohio with passion and unrivaled wit for nearly 20 years.”

LaTourette’s final off-the-cuff remarks at Tuesday’s press conference hinted at a frustration deeper than partisanship.

“The expectation is if you want to go up the ranks in either party, you’ve got to give them your wallet and your voting card,” he said. “The overwhelming criticism of me over the years is that sometimes I vote funny, according to my party. And I’m not interested in giving them my wallet or my voting card.”