Rep. Greg Walden knows that with the nation polarized ideologically and split down the middle by extreme partisanship, Congress will have its work cut out for it when it reconvenes Tuesday for its post-election session.
But the Republican from Hood River who has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 1998 believes there is an opportunity with the 2012 general election in the rearview mirror to get past the gridlock.
"The problems we face have gotten monumental," Walden said, citing the so-called "fiscal cliff" which would result in tax increases and deep spending cuts in January unless action is taken.
"These problems are not going to get smaller. They are not going to go away. This is not something we can gloss over and just hand to the next Congress."
"I think there are some openings here now to address some of these big problems," he added. "The sooner the better. They will be a lot less painful to address if we do it now."
Walden, 55, who was easily re-elected Tuesday, is expected to become the chairman of the powerful National Republican Congressional Committee next year. He has been the deputy chairman of the committee for the past four years. GOP House members elect the committee's chair, which is the fifth most powerful post in that political body.
While he downplays his influence in that seat, Walden agreed with leaders on both sides of the aisle that Congress and the White House need to work together in a more collegial fashion.
"Not only are people hoping we will work together, but they are expecting it and they deserve it," he said.
"This isn't about changing core values or compromising principles," he added. "This is about building better personal relations with each other, seeing the world through another person's eyes. We need to put America first."
In the bitterly fought election, Democrats gained two seats in the Senate and appear likely to gain eight in the House, but did not recapture the majority in the House that they lost in the 2010 election.
Re-elected President Barack Obama has called for lawmakers to put aside politics and pull together. Echoing his remarks on Tuesday were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
While Walden noted that tactic is normal following an election, he reiterated that current challenges are not normal, from solving economic, foreign policy, immigration, Social Security, Medicare and other problems.
The fiscal cliff is the result of a congressional bill that called for $400 billion in higher taxes and $100 billion in automatic cuts in military and domestic spending if a deficit solution was not found in the regular session. No solution surfaced, leaving the problem to be addressed during the post-election lame-duck session.
"I would look for some bridge to get us over the fiscal cliff," Walden predicted Wednesday. "That will give us some time so everybody can catch their breath and park their partisan hardware at the door."
Observing that he has worked across the aisle with members of the Oregon delegation, all of whom are Democrats, Walden applauded the fact that Oregon's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, will head the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as a result of the election.
"That's huge for Oregon," he said. "That bodes well for all of us in the West.
"I don't think every issue in Congress needs to be partisan," he added.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.