Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mastering The Senate And The US House Again

'I sure do like counting to 67, boys! Don't you?'

After our last post, '280, 60, 290 and 67' which basically laid out some very basic arithmetic concerning the passage of legislation in our pretty unique American democratic republican model, we were contacted by several people who wanted the Republicans in Congress to 'fight more!; show some spine!; make Obama sweat some!'

They were thrilled that John Boehner had decided to retire, presumably because the next Speaker is going to emulate the success of the Green Bay Packers when they fired their previous coach and hired Vince Lombardi who wound up winning lots of games and lots of championships for the smallest town in the NFL.

Assuming the NFL didn't have a commissioner who could just veto any victory by the Packers' offense or defense, that might be a good analogy. Great coaches can turn mediocre teams into winners overnight. Look at what Jim Harbaugh is doing at Michigan this year.

But the US Government is not the NFL. We have 3 branches of government and 2 divisions in the legislative branch, each with different roles, representational functions plus an executive branch where a President gets to act like a home plate umpire in major league baseball who can call balls and strikes as he sees them...whether or not they are actually balls or strikes to begin with.

With all that in mind, and the fact that 218, 60, 290 and 67 are critical mass numbers along the way towards creating the nuclear fission process that ultimately can produce a bill signed into law, here are some of the ways the existing GOP Congress might want to consider entering 2016 on a more aggressive posture, the last year of President Obama's presidency and the Presidential Election.

1) Repeal of Certain House and Senate Procedural Rules

As counter-intuitive as it seems, these two internal House/Senate procedural rules should be adopted on Day 1:

  • Repeal the House Ethics Rules on entertainment and other privileges
  • Repeal the ban on congressional earmarks in appropriations bills.

Both of these have served to hamstring the very process of deal-making and compromise that is so essential to a living breathing representative democracy as ours.

A brainiac friend of ours pointed out that these bans ran against the 'Kaldor-Hicks' economic efficiency models with which he was familiar with and we were not. He wrote:
 'I find it quite disconcerting that the House majority party has almost unanimously pledged to eschew its constitutional responsibilities by eliminating earmarks ...thus, handing over budget spending decisions/control to faceless non-elected bureaucrats. Earmarks traditionally provided the resources needed to achieve greater economic (Kaldor-Hicks) efficiency within the legislative process (e.g., 'bribing some Democrats' to vote with the other side of the aisle). No Speaker can get the job done when his party takes away his best tools.

And he is no flag-waving friend of Republicans. He just understands the need for thoughtful reasoned compromise in our elective legislatures, most of which is sorely missing today everywhere across the United States.

The House Ethics Rules were enacted by Newt Gingrich as some sort of 'clean up the place' effort for PR purposes. In actual fact, all it did was turn every lobbyist/legislator contact outside of the office into a fund-raising opportunity which made the whole process even more smarmy and infantile.

Banning congressional earmarks took away one of the heaviest hammers a Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader could use to sway marginal votes one way or the other. Imagine LBJ and his successor as Senate Majority Leader without them; the Civil Rights Act of 1965 might never have been passed without tradeoffs of pork for votes among Southern Democrat Senators and Congressmen.

The great thing about this? Both are resolutions that have to be passed by both Houses separately but NOT signed into law by President Obama. He will be completely be excluded from this process.

You'll see why these two steps are essential to the legislative strategies listed below:

2) 'Make Obama's Life A Living Hell'

This is the preferred posture of many in the Tea Party Movement wing of the Republican Party. Open up every investigation possible into every aspect of Obama's Presidency and bring every Cabinet official to Congress for hearings after hearings after hearings.

In fact, this is what seems to have been the tactic ever since the Republicans took over the House in 2010.  Every time the House GOP passed another one of the 47 bills to repeal Obamacare, every Republican with any sense at all knew that the Harry Reid Democrat Senate would not even take the bill up for consideration, hence: 'Nothing would get done on Obamacare repeal!'

Call Obama names. Get up on the floor of the House and say bad things about Obamacare, the Iran Deal and his over-reach on executive amnesty. It makes you feel better and your followers feel better but in the end, it barely affects the President in the White House because nothing ever gets done to pass a bill that remotely has a chance of reaching his desk.

2) Try to Work With President Obama

One of the things that has to be present in any negotiation is some good faith on the part of both parties to get something done in their mutual best interests and 'for the greater good'.

Absent that sort of understanding on both parts, there is no chance for any negotiation, compromise or progress. Just Clint Eastwood westerns where both sides stand at the end of the dusty street, guns in holsters waiting to be plucked up and fired at the other side when the other side grabs his gun to shoot you.

Except no one fires anything. They just stand there staring at each other for days on end.

That is sort of where the Republicans and President Obama have been ever since he was elected in 2008, isn't it? He doesn't really like anything the Republicans are interested in and they are certainly not interested in expanding any government program that President Obama has excelled in during his two terms in office.

President Obama probably will not be judged by history as one of the most involved Presidents in history, certainly nothing like LBJ or even Reagan or Clinton. His attitude has always seemed to be more of the aloof 'I got elected President so deal with it' posture which has infuriated the Republicans even more than his reluctance to meet with them on a regular basis to negotiate and compromise and make deals.

We understand that President Obama has met with Raul Castro more times than he has met with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner this year. Talk about 'disengagement'.

So if one side doesn't want to even enter into good-faith negotiations, what is possibly left to do?

3) Make Obama's Life a Living Hell AND Force Him To Come To The Table

In order to do this, the Republicans will have to read everything possible about the leadership of Whig Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate, Henry Clay of Kentucky.

Clay was a self-described 'legislative supremacist', as were the majority of elected Members of Congress and Senate from our Founding until the Great Depression and WWII when the American people abruptly seemed to have abandoned their concerns about 'monarchical' powers of the President and wanted FDR to lead them out of the devastation of the Great Depression and, in many ways, to victory over Hitler and Japan.

What does that mean, anyway, to be a 'legislative supremacist?'

It means that you believe the intent of the Founders and the underlying fabric of this country is served better when Congress acts like the ultimate power and arbiter of our democratic republican form of government rather than let the President exercise unlimited executive power and ask only that Congress follow his lead and pays for all of his initiatives.

You may be a follower of President Obama today. However, if President Trump or Rubio tried to use the same executive powers to accomplish their agenda without going through Congress just as Obama has done repeatedly, you will go crazy with anger.

In which case, you would be the ultimate hypocrite and in danger of losing all credibility with anyone.

How might this 'legislative supremacy' look starting January 1, 2016?

How about if the New Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter like the following to President Obama:

'Dear President Obama:

Our work for the Fiscal Year 2016 is done. All of the programs have been authorized and appropriated through September 30, 2016 just as we are Constitutionally authorized to do.

We are hereby adjourning Congress until then unless you want to seriously talk about the legislative issues before us and come to some mutually agreed-upon conclusion that works for the American people.

You are free to come to speak to a more-then-half empty Congress floor at the end of January for your State of the Union Speech. You can stay as long as you want and speak as long as you care to orate; we are sure it will be a stem-winder.

Other than that, call us when you are serious about working together.

'Your humble and obedient servants....etc....'

Imagine that. No Congress to pass any more bills, authorize higher levels of spending, intervene in any sort of shenanigans of any sort.

When the fiscal year comes to an end, absent any involvement by this President, Congress would reconvene to pass a CR (Continuing Resolution) at last year's levels and send it to the President to sign or veto.

If he signs it, funding continues at last year's levels which will be far below what he wants to enact his executive amnesty plan, any Obamacare bailout or staffing expansion and probably many aspects of his misguided Iran Nuclear Deal. Entitlement spending will increase unabated but eventually the freezing of discretionary funds at FY 2016 levels will bring the federal budget into balance all by itself.  Probably the mid-2020s or so.

If Obama vetoes the CR extension in September, 2016, he will then run the risk of shouldering the blame for closing down the government and, perhaps for the first time, the blame for not raising the debt ceiling. After all, he will have been the only game in town for the past 9 months with the press and the media constantly asking him when he is going to contact the Speaker and Majority Leader just as he has repeatedly reached out to the ayatollahs of Iran and the Castros of Cuba to make a deal with both of them this past year.

Couldn't he possibly reach out to the Republicans at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue more times than that in 2016?

Another line of thinking might be for the GOP to stay engaged during the year but take the funding for the most contentious issues out of the broader appropriations bills at the start such as funding for the agencies that will administer the executive amnesty program; expansion and further implementation of Obamacare and the execution of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Put those agencies all on the chopping block like a turkey for Thanksgiving and zero them out. Totally. In essence, they would all become 'non-essential federal workers' just like 98% of them are so designated when a big snowstorm is about to hit Washington and sent home.

Then start trading off some funding for each agency piece-by-piece in return for some other concessions.

This is where the restoration of the earmarks will really come in handy for the New Speaker and Majority Leader. In order to get to 60 votes in the Senate to invoke cloture and close off filibusters, the Senate Majority Leader can promise a new bridge or road to be built in the states of 6 Democrat Senators who might be swayed by such a thing for that particular vote.

The vote can then pass the Senate by simple majority and then vetoed by the President.

Once vetoed, the same trading process can occur again, just as it has for centuries before earmarks (pork barrel politics, log-rolling) were eliminated not too long ago. Keep offering deals to 7 more Democrat Senators to build bridges in their state and 43 Democrats in the House and you can finally build the coalition to override an Obama veto on anything the Republicans want to pass.

Every Senator and Member has their price. It is very hard for any Member of Congress or Senator to fall on their sword for Obama or any President if it meant $100M was cut out of the budget for a bridge in their state. We have 1000's of deteriorating bridges and thousands of miles of rutted, pot-holed roads, you know; think of this as a way to get them fixed at the same time we are unlocking the legislative blood flow again.

Building roads is about as 'constitutional' as it gets. See Article 1, Section 8, Codicil 7 if you don't believe it.

The way we see it, throwing around a couple of billion dollars to build bridges is far preferable to spending trillions on Obamacare and letting executive amnesty happen unabated and allowing the Iran Nuclear Deal to get fully implemented, don't you?

You want 'compromise' and 'negotiations' again in the US Capitol? Reinstate earmarks and loosen the ridiculously simple-minded ethics rules and let the process happen again.

It will unshackle leaders in the legislative bodies to get things done. You have to get to 218, 60, 290 and 67, remember?

Just as it was supposed to work.

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1 comment:

  1. changing the current rule on filibuster to require the Senator with a hold to actually get up and talk. When finished, vote. In other words, the old way to filibuster.


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