The U.S. Congress must have operational majorities to function
by Dr. Larry Fedewa (November 3, 2018)
The USA is facing again a mid-term election on Tuesday. This is being called the most important mid-term election in our lifetime. Why is it important?
This mid-term is important because it may be our last effort to save our Congress’ role in our government. The Congress is the second of our three branches of government. With the Executive Branch and the Judiciary, the Congress was designed to be a vital player in the checks and balances by which our republic is governed. The most important role of the Congress is to limit the ability of either of the other branches to institute laws or regulations which unduly limit the freedoms of the people. Every single Congressman and Senator is elected personally by the people.
This is not exactly the case of the other two branches. It is true that the President and Vice President are elected, but the rest of the vast bureaucracy which they oversee is not elected and is in fact too large and diverse for any two-person team to supervise. The Judiciary consists of Judges who have been appointed by the President with, in some cases, the consent of the Senate. Thus, the Congress is closest to the people.
So, why the concern about the effectiveness of the Congress?
The reason is that the USA has had divided government for ten of the last eighteen years. Divided government – when the President and only one or neither House of Congress is of the same party – used to work most of the time. It certainly came apart in 1860 and led to a Civil War. But for most of the 20th century the nation survived the periods of divided government without serious consequences.
But those days are over.
During the past decade, the differences between the two major parties have grown so sharp in rhetoric and views of the role of government that we are faced with the inability of the Congress to pass important and needed legislation. In order to pass legislation in our system, both Houses of Congress as well as the President have to vote in favor. But the traditional limitations which the Senate has imposed upon itself for specific situations, (e.g. sometimes a 60-vote majority is needed to halt a filibuster), it has traditionally taken 60 votes to assert complete control over legislation (called a “super majority”). The last two times one party held a super majority were 1977-1979 and 2009-2011 – both were held by Democrats.
The constraints on the Senate requiring a super (filibuster-proof) majority are gradually being reversed as the super majority becomes ever rarer (three times since WWII). These rules were originally adopted to enforce compromises on important issues. Recently, however, compromises have become rarer than super majorities, so the rules have to change or all activity – including the actual operation of the government itself – as has happened twice recently (i.e. 2013 and 2018).What has now become a fact of life is the power of one House of Congress – or the President himself – to bring the entire government to a halt.
In addition, party discipline has now enforced straight party line vote on selected issues. In previous eras, it was always possible for each member to act independently. No longer. These days, every member is expected to follow directions from the Leader or suffer severe consequences, including committee assignments and campaign funding.
That leaves two alternatives – either the nation must elect a government unified by one party holding both houses of Congress, including a super majority of the Senate, as well as the Presidency, or the Congress will in effect cease to govern except in extreme emergencies, such as an attack on the homeland or an economic collapse, both of which have occurred in recent years.
There are other dangerous effects of legislative paralysis as well. First is the gradual ascendance to greater and greater power of the federal bureaucracy. It will continue to function and to fill any vacuum left by an absent second branch of government. We have seen how the IRS and the Justice Department/intelligence agencies have attempted to impose the will of a few high-ranking officials on the selection and effectiveness of the duly elected President of the United States. This usurpation must be halted by aggressive oversight of the Congress.
Another effect of legislative paralysis is the rise of the third branch of government, the Judiciary. We have already seen recent examples of a single, obscure federal judge issuing edicts which curtail the executive power of the President. Or, a nationally enforced injunction by a federal appeals court restricting law enforcement of the United States. Even if these foolish opinions are eventually reversed by the Supreme Court (which thus has more power than ever), they have led to various tragic consequences in the meantime, as we have seen in the immigration crisis.
So, the efforts of the President to “nationalize” the current mid-term elections is extremely pertinent to the health, even the survival, of our republic. The Congress is the PEOPLE’S GUARDIAN of our freedom and our representative government. It must remain viable and aggressive in the ongoing, everlasting struggle of our people to remain free.
The standard to which all elected officials are to be held was stated in the Declaration of Independence many years ago. This is the pledge which the Congress is sworn to protect:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That is why we all need to vote, and vote thoughtfully, on Tuesday.
© 2018, Richfield Press, LC. All rights reserved.