Friday, March 10, 2017

Fix the Broken Senate, Please

This week I watched an interview with the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), by the always-interesting Tucker Carlson of Fox News.  Carlson, as you know if you have seen him, is a marvelous interviewer, who lets you get away with nothing, regardless of your party.

In this case, the questioning was essentially of the "What has Congress done since inauguration?" theme. Carlson asking the Speaker to tell the viewers what Congress had indeed accomplished in the seven weeks or so since the inauguration of President Trump.  And Carlson was pressing hard to discover whether anything had gotten done, and why the House had taken so many days not in session in February.

I think we know some of the answer to all of that.  The legislative program of the Speaker reflects the principal agenda that the president ran on, and was elected on -- repeal and replace Obamacare, simplify and fix the tax code, build the southern wall, that sort of thing.

The Speaker reflected that structure in his answer, pointing to the sequence with which the legislation for each of those elements would be scheduled.  But in each case, he had to point out why it would take so long to get the bills drafted and voted on -- an it all rested on the quirks of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, the U.S. Senate, and their odd, odd rules.  And Ryan was not happy, although his demeanor was high excitement.

The Obamacare overhaul, for example, would have to take place in three stages, where the Democrats had rammed it all through in one big smelly pile of ugliness through the process known as "budget reconciliation."  All we really know about that process is that it means that parts of the repeal-and-replace effort, the "first third", will use budget reconciliation because it requires only a Senate majority.  But all the rest of the bill is subject to being filibustered to death.  Only certain parts of the bill can go through reconciliation according to rule; important elements, such as offering insurance across state lines, have to wait for the second round to get it through 60 votes.

Of course, the filibuster, a Senate invention, is just part of their process-bound inertia.  When asked why the House had only been in session for eight days in February, it was partly because they recessed to go back to their districts (a normal thing for representatives), but also because they had bills already passed that were on the Senate's desk, waiting for ...

You guessed it, the next problem in the Senate.  Aside from Cabinet members, there are literally hundreds of secondary and tertiary-level positions in the executive-branch departments and agencies.  According to Senate rules, for every single one of them, the opposition can demand 30 hours of debate, and we're talking about the whole Senate.  So while they're bound up prattling on about the qualifications of the Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Information Technology for the Department of Housing, Urban Development and Toilet Sanitization, the Senate is not doing its real work, such as, you know, passing legislation like the Obamacare repeal.

Thirty hours each for all those political appointees not only blocks the Senate from getting any real work done, but it keeps the departments and agencies from being able to operate with the staff to carry out the objectives of the president elected by the people to do just that work.

Let's say that future Senate minorities do exactly the same thing -- and let's face it, Chuck Schumer is setting a truly fecal standard for honor in all this -- we are going to settle into a model where by the time the president -- every new president -- gets his appointees in place, it will be the next election already.  Nothing -- nothing -- will get done, and we'll turn into an inactive place where the president doesn't ever really run his own government. 

When, pray tell, will the Senate grow leaders who will see that the arcane and inane rules it operates under, now serve to prevent work from getting done?  When will they implement saner rules for legislation?  When will someone with a pair step back and say how stupid and inept the senators look by playing rules games?

The Constitution gives the Senate the right to create its own rules.  The Senate has the right to fix what Chuck Schumer hath wrought and prevent him from "wrighting it" again.  It will be hard.  The left's playbook is "Just do it; the press will make you look good."  But it is a real problem.

Fix it.  Just fix it.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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