Realigning the Priorities of Congress

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

Last week Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) “stunned” the political world by announcing that he was resigning as Speaker and from the United State House of Representatives at the end of October.

I’m not sure why the “political world” was stunned since Mr. Boehner had talked openly about resigning for over a year. In fact, Republican insiders have acknowledged that Mr. Boehner’s decision was only postponed because of the defeat of then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the 2014 primary election. It was widely assumed that Mr. Cantor was Mr. Boehner’s choice to succeed him as Speaker.

There wasn’t a single event that triggered Mr. Boehner’s announcement. Rather it was a series of conflicts with conservatives within his own party culminating in a recent threat to force a vote of “no confidence” in the Speaker which he could have only survived with Democrat votes – which he had for the asking. Most of the conflicts centered around the same complaints that I have voiced in this column over the past year – despite having given Republicans majorities in both houses of Congress, nothing gets done. They didn’t fix Obamacare, they didn’t stop the disastrous nuclear agreement with the blood thirsty ayatollahs of Iran, they didn’t fix the tax code, they didn’t stop Mr. Obama’s amnesty for illegal immigrants (although a federal court has halted its implementation pending a full hearing on the merits), they haven’t enforced subpoenas or compelled testimony in the various hearings involving the IRS scandal, the Benghazi terrorist attack, or the burgeoning State Department scandal involving former-Secretary Hillary Clinton and her use of a private email account and server for State Department business, and they have allowed the national debt to continue to mount with no clear path toward a balanced budget – at least a balanced budget that they are actually likely to follow during the appropriations process.

On a personal level I felt bad that Mr. Boehner was constrained to resign. As best as I can tell he was a decent and principled man. It’s just that one of his principles continues to get in the way of progress. In his news conference following his announcement, Mr. Boehner stated:

“But more important, my first job as Speaker is to protect the institution.”

I’m sorry. While that may be an important part of being Speaker or even being a Congressman, it is a far distance from being the “first job.” You would never hear that from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who ran the office as a hard boiled, politics-first, bastion for doling out rewards and exacting punishment. As Speaker, Ms. Pelosi viewed herself as a co-equal to President George W. Bush right down to the lavishly appointed Boeing 757 that she commandeered for her frequent travel back and forth to her California district and around the nation on behalf of the election of a multitude of Democrats. You would never hear that from former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) who spent the vast majority of his time pursuing his Contract with America and thwarting the massive spending programs urged by then President Bill Clinton.

The first job is to resolve the problems confronting the nation – a job that precious few in Congress spend any time pursuing. This adoration of Congress as an institution has become more and more prevalent. Once elected, few members of congress are defeated – more than ninety percent of those running for re-election are returned each election cycle. They carry the noble title of Senator or Representative. Doors are held for them, elevators are cordoned off for them, dining rooms and athletic facilities are isolated for their use, there exists a virtually bottomless pit of taxpayer money that is afforded to them for “constituent communications” and they travel in the protective cocoon of staffers at government expense. So long as they do not make waves they are invited to the “right” social affairs in Washington and New York. Their egos are stroked daily by the army of staffers, lobbyists, business and labor leaders, and assorted “grand dames” who host the unending “must attend” social gatherings. So long as they remain in their cloistered atmosphere, few ever point out their errors or contradict their opinions with reality. In many instances it is the reincarnation of “the emperor with no clothes.” It is intoxicating.

And they like it. Having lived and worked in the Washington political cocoon, they grow to crave it. In essence they have joined presidents as America’s “royalty.” So much so that in many instances they pass on their positions to spouses, children or other relatives. And for them, the institution and their place in it are paramount.

To be sure that is not a universal for all members of Congress. But for the majority, or at least the status majority, it is true. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) epitomizes that thought process that goes on when he condemned efforts of conservatives in the House and Senate that sought to bypass the closure rule in the Senate to force President Barack Obama to veto legislation rejecting his disastrous treaty with the Iran regarding nuclear weapons. Mr. Graham basically opposed trying because Republicans did not have the requisite sixty votes to enforce closure in the Senate – preferring instead to give up rather than force the Democrats into an embarrassing filibuster or amending the rule to eliminate closure for such measures. (A second note to the good people of South Carolina, you need a new senator.) For Mr. Graham the traditions of the Senate were more important than doing the right thing.

The same thing is true with Mr. Boehner regarding efforts to defund the abortion mill known as Planned Parenthood. The Republicans lacked the sixty votes in the Senate to enforce closure and Mr. Boehner threw in the towel. It never bothered Mr. Boehner to sent dozens of resolutions repealing Obamacare to the Senate when it was in Democrat control even though he knew they would not pass. But in this case, the Republicans are in control of the Senate and he did not want to put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the embarrassing position of losing a vote on closure or forcing the Senate to consider modifying or eliminating the closure vote requirement.

What should have been done is that the defunding measure should have been tied tightly to the element of appropriations from which Planned Parenthood receives its $500 Million annual funding. The measure should have carefully noted that the funding remained available to other providers of women’s health services – of which there are literally hundreds – thus denying the Democrats the opportunity to say that Republicans are denying healthcare to women. The measure should have been passed in the House and sent to the Senate to let Mr. McConnell determine how to move it along.

Were I Mr. McConnell I would have forced the Democrats to actually conduct the “promised” filibuster and let them tell the American public for hours on end, why it was important for taxpayers to continue to fund the largest abortion provider in the United States who actively engages in the selling of body parts from aborted babies. Eventually, they would run out of gas or become so embarrassed about defending the indefensible that they would have caved and the bill would pass with a simple majority – as it should.

Then I would have let Mr. Obama veto the measure and explain to the American people why funding abortion providers is important enough to deny funds for women’s healthcare services. And if Mr. Obama vetoed, I would let the Democrats defend that veto on override votes and it they sustained the veto I would repeat the process the following day and each day thereafter until things changed. Let the Democrats defend “shutting down the government” because it was their votes, their veto and their sustaining of the veto that denied funding for women’s healthcare.