Edgar: I think the seed of today's dysfunction in Washington started in the early 1990s and has continued into the midterm elections . . .. Government is broken and it's not going to be repaired by next Tuesday, and, unfortunately, I don't see an easy solution to this dysfunction . . . I think all three parts of the government - the House, Senate, and the White House - are talking at each other and not with each other.
Q: How is Congress different from when you served?
Edgar: While I was in service, many of my best friends were moderate Republicans. That whole variety of Republicans has either retired, disappeared, or died. Now you have a party that is really ideologically to the right of ultraconservative.
Q: You've said that you and the other Democrats elected in the wake of Watergate have some similarities with the tea party of today.
Edgar: I was one of the "Watergate babies" that joined Congress in 1975 . . . We were angry at Nixon, angry at Watergate, angry at the war in Vietnam. . . . we unseated five Democratic committee chairs . . .. all unseated by young Democratic freshmen who wanted democracy to work . . . By April 1975, we were on the House floor leading an effort to shut down the Vietnam War, which we did . . .
The period between 1975 and 1980 was a period not dissimilar to what the tea party is trying to spark . . .. but from a middle-to-left point of view. Many of the tea party folks, particularly with the help of the money that was given to them by the Citizens United [Supreme Court] decision, they came with a hard-core ideology.
Q: Do members of Congress spend so much time raising money and hanging out with [allies] that they never spend time with the opposite party?. . . Is that different from when you were in Congress?
Edgar: Because of the accelerated pace of fund-raising, both Democrats and Republicans spend 40 to 60 hours a week raising money. . .. Many of the congressmen from Day One - the Republicans the night before the first session this year, and the Democrats the night after the first session two years ago - had political fund-raisers. Money has corroded the service in Washington.
When I served there, after Congress adjourned for the day, we [Democrats and Republicans] often went to dinner together . . . I think because of the tensions that have brewed, many of the House members don't know each other and don't like each other.
Q: How else has Congress changed since you left it?
Edgar: Bill Moyers said it best. He said this is the most dangerous moment in our country. Will we be a nation of the people, for the people, and by the people or of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations? This is a time when the corporations are buying their way into the legislative agenda more aggressively than any other time in history.
Q: Tell me about Common Cause. Isn't it white and kind of antiquated?
Edgar: John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause, said everybody has a special interest representing them here in Washington except the people. So Common Cause wants to hold government accountable and lobby for the people.
. . .. It is accurate to say that for a long time Common Cause was viewed as elitist and white and Anglo . . . We have come off this last election with a passionate commitment for pointing out economic disparity between the very rich and the very poor.
Q: What's your salary?
Edgar: About $215,000.
Q: Ever talk with Pat Meehan, who has your old seat in Congress? Ever give him advice?
Edgar: No, and no.
Q: What grade would you give Obama so far?
Edgar: B-minus. I think he did a god job on the TARP issue and kind of salvaging what happened in the later years of the Bush administration. Early on I think he was right to focus on health care . . .. but I think he's been too timid in many ways. . . . We in the reform community . . . would have urged him to be less intense in Afghanistan. It's going to be like Vietnam.
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at firstname.lastname@example.org, 856-779-3237, or @joellefarrell on Twitter.