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WLC dialogue

Washington—Dental leaders and members of Congress talked of "compromise" and "frustration" at the May 13-15 Washington Leadership Conference. Some 550 dentists and state dental leaders registered for the annual springtime event in the nation's capital.

"We're holding Congress accountable," Dr. Joseph Gay told dentist/Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), one of five House and Senate members who spoke at the WLC. "Right now, Congress isn't doing its job."

The lawmakers seemed to agree, at least with the problems if not solutions.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) practiced dentistry for 22 years in Blackfoot, Idaho before turning to politics and eventual party leadership in Congress. He closed the WLC with an invitation to the nation's dental leaders "to get to know your member of Congress," even run for a seat in Congress. "Your ability to do your job is dependent on a lot of things we do in Congress."

But right now Congress isn't getting much done, the congressman said. "We've got kind of a financial problem…There are no easy answers…We can't keep living from crisis to crisis…I guess the thing that disturbs me most about Congress is we're getting more and more partisan…It is very frustrating for successful business people to work in this process."

"You come here during a very frustrating time," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told WLC attendees, many of them leaders of dental political action teams in local congressional districts. "There's nothing wrong with partisanship. But what we're faced with now are ideological battles I thought we were done with years ago. This city is so politically charged that we're paralyzed."

"No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I believe we share the same goals," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said. "But let's at least start a conversation without questioning each other's motives."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed frustration with what he described as "a major dental care crisis in America" and said he will reintroduce dental legislation offered in the last Congress. "Access to dental care is a national problem," he said. "I hope to work with you to address this very serious issue."

"With the help of the ADA, my journey continues," said Rep. Gosar, a practicing dentist before his election to Congress and 2012 re-election to a second term. "I'm proud to be a dentist because we're problem solvers." But "the reality of the political world [is that] it's very frustrating," he said, expressing particular frustration with the budget process.

The WLC dental leaders queried congressional speakers on health reform, budget, taxes and other issues. But when it came to dentists' questions and lawmaker responses about "the nature of compromise," "your idea of compromise" and "the spirit of compromise" it was as if the word had little meaning or understanding.