The 113th Congress began Thursday as freshman members took the oath of office and joined congressional veterans serving as parts of what has become a very unpopular legislative body.

The question hanging over Congress' new term is whether the Democrats and Republicans will be able to negotiate meaningful compromises as the government faces difficult decisions.

The muck isn't expected to change anytime this session, experts say.

"If you like the gridlock of the last Congress, you're going to love this year's version," said Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

Compromise seemed to be nearly impossible for Congress over the past two years, which concluded with the House of Representatives missing the government's self-imposed deadline to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts.

Although Schnur and others pointed to divisions between Tea Party Republicans and the rest of the GOP as a major source of gridlock, the USC scholar said recent polling shows that when voters say they want "compromise," they're only willing to go so far.

For example, a USC-Los Angeles Times poll conducted shortly after the November election revealed 60 percent of Californians wanted their party to compromise on a plan to reduce the national debt.

The rub, however, was that 61 percent of Democrats opposed a compromise that included cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which are two of the government's most expensive programs.

A majority of Republicans - 55 percent - said they opposed higher taxes as a means to reduce deficit spending.


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"The lesson is that everyone wants compromise, as long as the other side is doing the compromising," Schnur said.

Former Assemblyman Anthony Adams said many politicians are afraid to appear to be too willing to compromise.

Adams, who represented a district that included the Claremont and Victor Valley areas in the state Assembly as a Republican for two terms, decided not to seek a third term after surviving a threatened recall attempt that followed his vote in favor of tax increases.

Adams and five other Republicans voted for a compromise in 2009. The deal was then estimated to raise $13 billion in temporary tax hikes for $15 billion in spending cuts.

Although the vote led to the end of Adams' career in the Assembly, he said Thursday he believes he made the right choice.

Even so, he said the kind of forces that led to his decision to leave the Assembly make other office holders too afraid to cross party lines.

"There is a great deal of incentive not to work with other sides on a matter that a minority, a vocal minority, care about," Adams said.

"They tend to be the ones that are the most active in terms of the campaigns and as the axiom goes, the squeaky wheel gets the oil."

On New Year's Day, the House voted to pass a bill maintaining income tax cuts for most Americans, but also raising payroll taxes across the board.

The arguments that led to the fiscal situation followed Congress' imperative to bring federal revenues in line with spending, but the new tax laws are estimated to increase the deficit by nearly $4 trillion by 2012.

That leaves the issue of spending cuts hanging over Congress, which has about two months to figure that one out.

"There are cuts that are going to be very difficult," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena. "I think people are going to have to understand that if they want the same level of service, they're going to have to pay a little more, failing that, we're going to have to accept a lower level of service."

Schiff did not name any specific cuts, but said Congress could find inefficient or failing programs in just about any policy area or cabinet department.

Schiff said the past Congress was the most dysfunctional in recent memory and he hopes the 113th can do better.

House Republicans reelected John Boehner of Ohio as Speaker on Thursday, but Claremont McKenna College political scientist Douglas Johnson said he sees little signs that the nation's most prominent politicians are demonstrating the leadership needed to overcome gridlock.

While the Republican conference is divided between Tea Party conservatives and the remainder of the GOP, Johnson said his opinion of the Senate is that members of the upper house spend their time "picking up the pieces of whatever is left" from other politicians' ideas. 

Johnson also said he doesn't see much in the way of concrete ideas from President Obama.

"Usually, leadership comes from the president, and he's not trying to lead anything," Johnson said. "(Obama's) leaving it in their court."