It’s Bad in U.S. Government — Really Bad

Now Congressional Democrats have two “hot potatoes” on their plate: impeachment and Middle East security. They all agree on one thing: Donald Trump is not qualified to handle anything at all!

In Wednesday’s House Democrats press conference following their caucus meeting, several tried to make reporters in the room comfortable that Democrats have all the answers for both impeachment and Iran issues. Those reporters, as often happens, lobbed softballs at whoever stood at the podium. The questions asked centered on two things: if and when will the Speaker transmit the two articles of impeachment to the Senate and under what conditions; and what are the next steps in place for Congress to take to guarantee Americans the Middle East is not going to erupt into a world war. The Democrat Representatives in the room were consistent about only one thing: they hate Donald Trump and they alone — Democrats — have the know-how to operate our government effectively. That requires the removal of Donald Trump. If Trump is gone, there’d be no Middle East problem and there’d be nothing else wrong in America. Everything wrong is because he made everything wrong!

What’s wrong in D.C. can be put in entirety at the feet of a feckless U.S. Congress!

For more than 200 years, Congress operated exactly the country’s founders envisioned — finding acceptable compromises on the biggest issues of the day while holding its authority to declare war, spend taxpayer money and keep the presidency in check. Today, that model is dead.

It has been replaced by a weakened legislative branch in which debate is strictly eliminated or barely allowed, party leaders dictate the agenda of Congress, most elected representatives rarely get a say and government shutdowns are a regular threat due to constant failures to agree on budgets.

These changes have happened pretty quickly in comparison with other government transformations in U.S. history. The changes picked up quickly with the politics that came in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Add to that the tea party movement that happened shortly after that election. With these two D.C. blockbusters, extreme partisanship in Congress has become a virus. The political center is gone: no moderate Democrats (or at least a sufficient number to impact governing), no moderate Republicans. Party leaders stick a licked-finger in the air daily to know how to respond to the demands of their bases, while historical methods in legislation that worked so well at finding consensus on pretty much everything for a couple of centuries are gone!

Very little of this has been covered in the news. But that doesn’t change the fact that this has happened and that Americans are living through the consequences of it all — many without any understanding of why it has happened. Subsequently, Congress has become a toothless entity that is not trusted for the most part by members of the Judicial and Executive branches of government. And the American people do nothing but shake their heads at the daily ineptness of the most powerful legislative body on Earth — or it was formerly. One poll today shows that only 17% of Americans polled approve of this U.S. Congress.

Debate

Congress rarely debates anything anymore!

When asked before the 2018 elections what were the most important issues to Americans they were Immigration, Healthcare, and the Economy. Forty years ago, Congress spent much time debating issues of the day. Americans would love to know that this Congress at least attempted in a serious way to at least address the three issues most important to Americans: Immigration, Healthcare, and the Economy. What has been accomplished on any of these issues since the 2016 election? What has been attempted by Congress since the 2016 election?

Immigration — a major flashpoint in recent elections — has been formally debated only a few days in Congress over the past five years with no resolution. President Trump put an offer on the table that gave DACA recipients a direct path to citizenship — which was a continual demand by Democrats for any immigration deal — and Democrats rejected it. There have been no legislative attempts for immigration reform since.

Healthcare has been ignored by Congress except for the occasional press conferences and speeches by members of Congress griping about the executive order changes implemented by the President. Once again, there have been no meaningful attempts to debate or even discuss realistic changes in Healthcare.

The economy and economic issues have been virtually ignored except for the horrific spending put in place with the recently passed budget bill. That happened at the last moment to simply avoid another government shutdown: no serious discussion, little if any debate, and no members of Congress during their significant number of trips to their respective districts holding town hall meetings to roll out to the public the budget items.

A number of members of Congress — both the House and the Senate — have pulled up stakes and headed back to life before Congress. There are various reasons for their doing so. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) left because he felt Congress was not going to change. “That’s why I left. You couldn’t do anything anymore,” said Tom Coburn, the former Oklahoma Republican senator who resigned in 2014. And a host of others are headed for the door.

The Process of Congressional Dysfunction

The election of Obama set off partisan moves and then countermoves, that drove Congress and its legislative processes into ideological corners — followed by the election of Trump and a reverse set of moves. None of these moves “just happened” — they were carefully planned and conducted. Whoever one wants to blame for the dysfunction, it certainly is alive. And its cost to Americans is monumental. The problem is NOT just a Democrat problem and it is NOT just a Republican problem. It’s an American problem.

In an attempt to discover how and why this process has sprung to life, a recent study gave some answers:

  • Junior senators have fewer opportunities to wade into the issues of the day, largely because Senate leaders limit the number of votes on amendments to proposed legislation. The number of such votes has shrunk to an all-time low under McConnell, less than 20 percent of all roll calls, down from 67 percent 12 years ago.

  • Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), set a record in his two years of leadership for the number of “closed rules.” That is the process in which leaders simply prevent any members from offering up amendments for pending legislation. Obviously that discourages the newer members of Congress from their involvement for they have little or no standing in the power chain.

  • Committees meet to consider legislation less than ever. As recently as 2005 and 2006, House committees met 449 times to consider actual legislation, and Senate committees met 252 times; by 2015 and 2016, those numbers plummeted to 254 and 69 times, respectively.

  • Senate hearings on a Supreme Court nominee have certainly always drawn significant attention as they should. The recent circus in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to consider the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the SCOTUS illustrates just how caustic and partisan today U.S. Senate has become. Why is that? Sen. Ben Sasse (R-KS) gave his opinion of the reason for the always-heated and partisan process: “Who sits on that Court has always been critical, but is more so today than ever before. Why? Because of the inaction of Congress. Because of Congressional lack of legislative efforts to make certain passed legislation is adequate, complete, and legal in its contents, Presidents more often than ever are forced to action. Presidents fill the void when Congress cannot act, leading to lawsuits and leaving the courts to resolve disputes.” Sasse continued: “More and more legislative authority is delegated to the executive branch every year. Both parties do it. The legislature is impotent. The legislature is weak.”

Summary

So what is “the” problem for this devolving of the U.S. Congress? What needs to be done to fix it? What can be done?

Roll Call senior editor David Hawkings just before the 2018 midterm elections addressed the above problems in Congress with what he calls the “Five M’s.” Take four minutes and watch or listen to Mr. Hawkings’ ideas. I think that if we want to get things straight in Congress we can only spend so long on griping about what needs to be straightened. It makes better sense to find out what’s wrong and FIX IT!

Let’s spread this around. Let’s get something done!

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One thought on “It’s Bad in U.S. Government — Really Bad

  1. Tug Reply

    Good video clip. Two thoughts to ponder/begin with…

    Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment
    Ban the concentration of media ownership with only a few companies or individuals. Like it was in 1980.

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