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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Disapproval Is Not Enough

It is time to concentrate a laser beam on our dysfunctional Congress.  I’m sorry, but the Congress does not resemble anything like the constitutional description of it.  Congress doesn’t even seem to know what that is.

Article 1, Section1:   “All legislative power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

Apparently, Congress does not see itself as a separate branch of government with a huge responsibility for making government work, like the Constitution does.  No, it currently sees itself as a body waiting for the Executive to act (just so they can pin blame on him for anything and everything).  Secondly, there is a radically conservative cohort within the Congress that perceives the federal government at worst as “the enemy” and at least as an overgrown, out-of-control spending machine that must be put on a chopping block and cut down to size. These two visions of Congress are, in my opinion, out of sync with the constitutional view of the Congress.  Let’s take a look at the contrasting portraits.

Article I, Section 7:  The Constitution says:  “All Bills for raising  Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” 

“Capitol Hill's top Republican said that talks with President Barack Obama toward resolving the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for the beginning of next year continued to stall; Boehner renewed his demand that Obama submit a new plan for evaluation by lawmakers. (Dec 7, 2012).  Get busy, Mr. Boehner; you have the responsibility, along with the Senate, with whom you should be “concurring.”

“The issue of taxes continues to ensnare negotiations on the fiscal cliff.  Republicans made a counter-offer earlier this week that would raise revenue by closing loopholes and deductions, but would also preserve existing tax rates, all of which are set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts.”  Too late, Mr. Boehner; McConnell and Biden took you out of the picture!

"It's time for the president, if he's serious, to come back to us with a counter-offer," said Boehner…"
The president rejected the Republican plan as unbalanced because it allowed for no increase in income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans….What Republicans are now demanding is a new version of Obama's plan.”  (Dec. 9, 2012) 
No, the opposite is true -- it’s your responsibility to come up with a plan, Mr. Boehner!

And, of course, Boehner has his oft repeated complaint ready for the press: “no budget from the Senate in 3 years”.  In addition: March 22, 2012:
( – “Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized the Senate on Thursday for failing to pass a budget, saying, ‘We’re actually doing the real work’ by introducing House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan. The last time the Senate passed a budget was on Apr. 9, 2009.”

So, on the one hand, we have Senate Republicans putting road blocks in the way of the passage of the President’s budget., including the use of the filibuster and it’s accompanying rule known as “cloture,” which calls for a super-majority of sixty votes in order to pass any legislation being filibustered.  Everyone knows that the Senate has overused this procedure, and has blocked multiple bills by doing so.  Notwithstanding, the House through John Boehner, continues to blame Democrats for these blockages, even though the Republicans are using them to thwart the will and the agenda of the President.  This is an out-of-control Party using procedures and rules to act as though legislating doesn’t matter as much as the right to set one’s own rules and to use those rules to play party politics. 

This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when in Article 1, Section 5 they declared that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings….”  In fact, as usual, they had in mind an orderly House, sensible rules, and proceedings which would enable the business of Congress to be done in an effective way.  To back up that idea of orderliness, they indicated that “Each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings, and from time to time, publish the same….“ 

They did not envision a Congress so divided by factions that it would not be able to function appropriately.  They intended that a faction or party not be allowed to take over the proceedings and to use them to deter the legislating of suitable laws.  They even had some semblance of cooperation between Congress and the President in mind when they wrote:
“He (the President) shall from time to time give the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them….”
They were not thinking just of a one-time occasion here that has come to be known as the State of the Union Address.  They wanted appropriate interactions between the branches.

The Radical Republicans have taken the bases of our political life - The Constitution, the making of laws that tend to the welfare of a nation, plus the proceedings that enable orderly pursuit of legislating, and the cooperation that is necessary between the branches of government - and twisted them into a Gordian-type knot that is now strangling our democracy.   They have simply put the power and ideology of a Party first, replacing the primacy of the Commonweal.  This is exactly what several of the Founding Fathers feared: that a party or “faction” would attempt to disrupt and destroy the Republic. 

A second very important point must be made in regard to how this conservative cabal sees its role, believing it can be a blockage to legislation so that the President’s agenda is thwarted.  Yet nowhere in the Constitution is the Congress granted such a power, authority, or check on the power of the President, except in over-riding a presidential veto.  In fact, its role(s) is seen as much more positive and proactive, to such an extent that I believe we have reason to say that the current Congress (or at least the 112th before it) was acting in a way that was in opposition to the extremely strong Article 1, Section 8.  At the end of that 8th Section - after a long recitation of important powers given to Congress, it proclaims:  (Congress is) “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

This is not to be taken lightly.  The major point here is that the Congress is seen as responsible for making laws that carry all of the powers given it into the departments and offices throughout the government.  This implies that Congress must be somewhat of a Guardian for all of Government, not just of a Party’s ideology or platform; not just of laws that conform to its own outlook.  This role of Execution of legislation in line with its granted powers makes Congress partially responsible for how all of the federal government functions!  So how about the power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States?”   Is the Congress carrying out its responsibility for all of government if it refuses to extend the debt limit?  Maybe not.  Can the Congress deny its responsibility for paying the Debts of the US, which is listed among its powers? 

What about that awesome responsibility placed on it to “provide for the defense and general welfare of the United States?”   Can the imposition of draconian cuts to programs that protect the “general welfare” of millions of our people be seen as fulfillment of the execution of laws that “provide for the “general welfare?”  Oh, then there’s that little thing about the power to “promote the progress of Science and useful arts….”  Is the cutback of public radio and public TV a response to the execution of the laws that serve the general welfare?  Oh, and how about cuts to research under NIH or the cuts to art and music programs in public schools?  Should we mention their major attempts to deny the science about global warming?  Congresspersons of a certain bent have even taken part in attempts to shape curriculum in public schools to deny the science of evolution, natural selection, and scientific method.   Are they still meeting their constitutional obligations?

Finally about this point, it must be argued that Congress has failed in its very important responsibility for oversight of departments, offices and programs in the Executive branch.  The role of execution of laws throughout the federal government has evolved into the limited function of oversight, yet Congress has preferred to place blame on others (like the CIA for its lack of oversight of its own operations).  Congress is failing in its oversight and execution of laws it passes that must necessarily be managed by Executive branch officers.  Congress blames rather than corrects; fumes with partisan rhetoric rather than instituting reforms through a process of evaluation and outcome-setting.  Well-planned hearings could be valuable (perhaps small group discussions or seminars could be more valuable), but increasingly, are excuses for one party to blame the other, and to call witnesses that have nothing but axes to grind.  The Congress is a study in abject failure when we look for evidence that they take their execution and oversight functions seriously.

Congress, with about a 15% approval rating by the people (the worst in history) entirely deserves the public‘s ire and judgment, but not just because they cannot get anything done.  More so because they try to block every piece of legislation proposed by the President (or Democrats); are attempting to destroy government support of the middle class; tilt everything they can in favor of the rich; and go on recess enough to deserve the charge that they hardly ever do any work.  That would seem to be enough.  But I maintain that they are working against the very foundation of their existence: the Constitution.  This is not a good thing for our form of government which bases its functioning on the rule of law. 

The Radical Republicans in the House especially, but also in the Senate, have decided that making laws for the welfare of the people is not their primary goal or responsibility, in spite of the Constitution which declares exactly the opposite. 

Low approval ratings are not enough to change this very bad situation.  Congress seems to have lost its way, and its purpose, to the point that ordinary citizens must act to bring about a correction.  It is not enough simply to wait for the next election. We need non-partisan citizen groups required to carry out re-districting in every state so that no congressman is immune from a contested and fair election. We need the Occupy Movement in the Capitol.  We need law suits to force Congress to do its work and earn its pay.  We need citizen volunteers to monitor the Congress.  We need problem-solving processes and structures built into the operations of the Congress.  We need organizations like Public Citizen to find legal means of recalling legislators who are not in conformance with the Constitution.  We need the President and his Department Secretaries to throw every possible piece of job-creating legislation at the do-nothing Congress to see what they will do.  

The Congress has managed to eat away at its very foundations; we cannot allow it to devour our democratic Republic.