We know Congress isn’t getting along. But that’s no good reason to spend less time together.
The House’s 2012 calendar is out, and it reflects some of the divisions the chamber is experiencing. Majority Leader Eric Canto has scheduled just 109 days in session, a schedule he said will make for a more streamlined legislative process while giving lawmakers the opportunity to spend time with their constituents. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer complained that the schedule is “more of the same.” This year so far, the House has conducted legislative business for just 111 days, Hoyer noted, nearly equal to the 104 days spent in recess or in pro forma session.
Let’s be clear: when the House is back home, they are not on vacation. Their work schedules in the district are sometimes more arduous than those they have in Washington, since lawmakers are expected to travel around their districts, speaking to a myriad of constituencies. They also have to raise campaign cash during these trips, a task that is becoming an increasingly larger part of their jobs.
Nor is Congress slacking off when they are not actually on the floors of the House and Senate. They have committee hearings, meetings with constituents, and (hopefully) negotiating sessions with fellow lawmakers.
But spending less time in Washington is not going to heal the divisions in Congress. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. Especially in the House, with its 435 members, personal relationships are critical to achieving compromise. Lawmakers who barely see each other will never get past the party-identification barrier.
Further, the calendar (like this year’s) is out of synch with the Senate calendar. The two chambers take week-long recesses at different times, making it harder for the House and Senate to reach the compromises necessary to pass legislation.
The 2012 calendar is campaign-friendly, however. After October 5, members are free until after the 2012 elections, giving them the time to keep their jobs, but not actually do their jobs. The new calendar is indeed more efficient, as Cantor contends. But it’s an efficient metaphor for what has gone wrong with Congress.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 28, 2011
Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal the other day, calling for new measures to make the legislative process more difficult. No, seriously, that’s what they said.
For two years in a row, the Democratic-led Senate has failed to adopt a budget as required by law. Meanwhile, our gross national debt has climbed to almost $15 trillion — as large as our entire economy. Our bill puts in place a 60-vote threshold before any appropriation bill can be moved through Congress — unless both houses have adopted a binding budget resolution.
We can certainly have a conversation about the breakdown in the budget-writing process, but let’s think about what Snowe and Sessions are proposing here: they want to make it harder for Congress to approve appropriations bills, regardless of the consequences.
Jamison Foser explained, “Republicans, including Sessions and Snowe, have filibustered even the most uncontroversial of measures — and that knee-jerk opposition to just about anything the Senate majority wants to do is a significant part of the reason why the Senate hasn’t adopted a budget. Now Sessions and Snowe cynically use that failure to justify structural changes that would make it harder for the Senate to pass any appropriations bills.”
Snowe and Sessions went on to call for additional “reforms” that would make it far more difficult for Congress to approve “emergency” spending without mandatory supermajorities, too, because they’re horrified by efforts to “spend money we don’t have,” which might “bankrupt the country.”
Of course, Snowe and Sessions see no need for mandatory supermajorities when it comes to tax cuts, alleged “bankruptcy” fears notwithstanding.
But in the larger picture, have you noticed just how far Olympia Snowe has fallen lately? Last week she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill just one day later. A week earlier, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Snowe tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being wrong.
It’s tempting to think the fear of a primary challenge is pushing Snowe to the far-right, but the truth is, the senator’s GOP opponents next year are barely even trying. She may fear a replay of the Castle-O’Donnell fight that played out in Delaware, but all indications are that Snowe really doesn’t have anything to worry about.
And yet, she’s become a shell of her former self, leading to this op-ed — written with a right-wing Alabama senator, no less — demanding that the dysfunctional Senate adopt new ideas that make it more difficult to pass necessary legislation.
There is some prime real estate in the political landscape for genuine GOP moderates who could have a significant impact. Instead, Congress has Olympia Snowe, who now bears no resemblance to the centrist she used to be.
If I had to guess, I’d say most mainstream voters in Maine have no idea of the extent to which Snowe has moved to the right, which is a shame. I wonder how those who supported her in the past would even recognize her anymore.
By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011
So far in the health-care debate, Republicans have attacked the legitimacy of private negotiations, parochial dealmaking, the budget reconciliation process, self-executing rules, the Congressional Budget Office’s analyses, and even the constitutionality of the legislation. It’s a good theory: Make people hate Washington and mistrust the legislative process and you’ll make people hate and mistrust what emerges from that process.
But it’s also dangerous. As Republicans well know, private negotiations between lawmakers, deals that advantage a state or a district, and a base level of respect for the CBO’s scores have long been central to the lawmaking progress. As the parties have polarized, reconciliation and self-executing rules (like deem and pass) have become more common — and the GOP’s own record, which includes dozens of reconciliation bills and self-executing rules, proves it.
The GOP’s answer to this is that health-care reform is important. Stopping the bill is worth pulling out all the stops. And I’m actually quite sympathetic to this view. Outcomes are, in fact, more important than process. But once you’ve taken the stops out, it’s hard to put them back in. Democrats will launch the very same attacks when they’re consigned to the minority, and maybe think up a few new ones of their own.
The result of this constant assault on how a bill becomes a law — a process that has never before been subject to such 24/7 scrutiny from cable news and blogs and talk radio — will be ever more public cynicism. Evan Bayh put it well in his New York Times op-ed. “Power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible,” he wrote. Republicans, who’re likely to return to power with a majority that’s well below 60 seats in the Senate and a 40-vote margin in the House, will soon find themselves on the wrong end of that calculus.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post.
By Ezra Klein | March 19, 2010
Reason # 10 — Consider the source. Who are the major advocates of the theory that it is bad politics for Democrats to vote for health care reform? None other than Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner. If they recommend that Democrats vote no, then any Democrat with half his wits should fall all over himself to vote yes.
Reason # 9 — A receding tide leaves those in the shallowest political waters aground. We all saw what happened in 1994 when President Clinton’s health care reform went down in flames: so did a substantial number of the most vulnerable Democrats. Like it or not, Democrats in swing districts are tied at the hip to the political fortunes of their own President. And fundamentally, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) was right last year when he argued that if Republicans can stop the President on health care reform, they will cripple him politically. Like President Clinton, President Obama could fight back from such a setback. But there is no doubt it would massively injure his political stature and that of the Democratic Party going into the fall elections. Let’s face it, people don’t like to vote for losers — or for people who they put in charge who then can’t deliver. Since leaving office, former President Clinton has argued persuasively that the party that nationalizes the mid-term elections always wins. There will be no running away from the national Democratic Party for members in swing districts – no immersing yourself in “local issues.” If health care fails, it will lower the ambient level of support for Democrats across the country among swing voters, and it will depress turnout in the Democratic base. Let’s recall that the biggest reasons the Republicans took power in 1994 was that the depressed and dispirited Democratic base failed to appear at the polls. The defeat of health care reform would hurt every Democrat. And it will mortally wound those in the toughest districts – whether or not they vote for the bill.
Reason # 8 – The Republicans will say you did anyway. When I was 16 years old, it snowed in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. When it snows in Shreveport, everything stops and the schools let out. This snowstorm happened right in the middle of Mardi Gras, so a friend and I set off on the train to stay with his brother in New Orleans and partake in the Mardi Gras fun. In the course of that trip, we were naive — and with wide eyes — walking down Bourbon Street, when a big hawker at a strip joint said something that taught me an important lesson in life and politics. He said: “Come on in, sonny, they’re going to say you did anyway.” Most Democrats have already voted in favor of health care reform. The Republicans will attack them for that vote regardless. So much better to be able to point to the upsides of passing the legislation. So much better to overcome the negatives created by kilotons of negative advertising, by demonstrating that the sky did not fall when health care reform was passed – and that many positive benefits immediately accrued to everyday Americans.
Reason # 7 – Even voters who say they oppose “health care reform” tell pollsters they support the major elements of the reform. That’s because “Obamacare” as a concept has been vilified by incessant negative advertising and the right wing noise machine. But it wasn’t so easy to convince people not to like concrete policies that were good for them, such as banning insurance companies from denying care because of pre-existing conditions, or preventing them to continue massive rate increases. Once the bill passes, the Republicans will be confronted with having to rail against popular policies – not rant about vague concepts like “Obamacare.”
Reason #6 – Nobody ever votes based on “legislative process.” Democrats who worry that voters will retaliate against them for “jamming through” health care need to take a deep breath. First, of course, no one ever “jams through” a piece of legislation if it passes by a majority vote. Majority rule is the central premise of democratic governance. But that aside, no one ever remembers — or cares — how a law is passed. They care about its effect on everyday people. What normal person remembers how Medicare or Social Security, or the minimum wage, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), or any other bill is passed? It doesn’t happen — ever.
Reason #5 – The bill is a great “starter house.’ Some progressive Members of Congress are concerned that the final health care bill will not include a public option, as it should. It won’t be perfect in other respects either. But as Senator Tom Harkin says, it is a great “starter house” to build on and add to. The other side knows that. And that’s one of the reasons they want to kill it dead in its tracks. People ask, why isn’t the insurance industry wild about having more customers? The answer is that they don’t care about customers, they care about the freedom to make big profits and provide huge paydays to top executives. In fact, in the last few months, profits have shot up at the same time that the number of people covered has actually dropped. That’s possible because in most states these companies — fundamentally bereft of competitive pressure — can raise premiums until they are blue in the face. The insurance industry knows that this is the beginning of the end of their ability to stalk the countryside unchallenged — to do whatever it is they want to do to make money – and they will do everything they can to stop it cold.
Reason #4 – A victory on health care reform will completely change the political narrative. Instead of “Obama fails to deliver on promises” or “Democrats confront gridlock” the new narrative will be “Obama and Democrats raise health care — like a Phoenix — from the dead.” That new narrative is heroic. It is about people who stay tough when things get hard and triumph in the end — who overcome massive odds to succeed. It is about taking on the massive insurance industry — with its infinitely deep pockets — and winning. Voters like winners. And voters love heroes. That narrative is part of a winning political narrative for the fall elections.
Reason #3 – The boost from passing health care reform will massively increase the odds that Democrats can pass other critical, politically popular measures in Congress this year. Success on health care will enormously increase our ability to pass tough legislation to hold the big Wall Street banks accountable, to create more jobs,and to forge a path to energy independence. For Hispanic voters it will greatly increase the odds that Obama can lead the way to pass bi-partisan immigration reform. All of these measures, and many others, will boost his ability to show swing voters that Democrats deliver — and inspire support and enthusiasm among base voters. But the opposite is also true. If we lose the health care battle, our ability to win other legislative fights will be greatly reduced — and with it the political benefit as well.
Reason #2 – Voters hate the insurance industry. They will be thrilled that Obama and the Democrats have vanquished them on the field of battle. They will love that we have begun to hold them accountable, and rein in their power. It will enable us to frame the legislative battles of the last year and a half — and the electoral battle this fall — as a contest between everyday Americans and the insurance industry, Wall Street and the oil companies. Of course the most important thing about this narrative is that it rings true, because it is true. Victory will allow us to escape the quicksand of “policy speak” and legislative procedure, to the pure essence of who is on whose side.
Reason #1 – Finally, victory will allow Members of Congress to be on the right side of history. Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, a woman’s right to vote, ending slavery…. every one of the major steps on America’s road to become a more democratic society has been marked by controversy and conflict. But how many people today would want to brag that their grandfather voted against Social Security or Medicare? There is a reason why progressive leaders are the heroes and heroines of American history. They embody the values and aspirations that are at the core of American values — and human values. When the House of Representatives finally votes this week to make health care a right in America it will be making history that will be remembered for generations. And in the final analysis, there can be no better politics than that.
By: Robert Creamer, political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win” -March 16, 2010, The Huffington Post.