Both houses of Congress continue to demonstrate their disgusting dysfunctionality in failing to agree on measures to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” at midnight on December 31, 2012.
The U.S. Senate
Already I have commented extensively on what I believe is the absurd Senate’s filibuster rule. Once again it is affecting how the Senate can take action before the end of the year on extending the current federal income tax rates on those earning less than $250,000 per year.
Actually the obstacles presented by the Senate’s filibuster and other rules to the chamber’s actually accomplishing something are worse than what I previously have described.
The New York Times’ Jonathan Weissman starts his illustration of the current situation with the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid’s, hypothetically moving this afternoon (December 27th) “to bring up legislation that would extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts on incomes under $250,000, set dividends and capital gains tax rates at 20 percent, ensure the alternative minimum tax does not expand dramatically to hit more of the middle class, extend expiring unemployment insurance and temporarily stop across-the-board cuts to military and domestic programs.”
If only one of the 100 Senators “objects to a request to move straight to voting [on the merits of the bill] by unanimous consent, the Senate would then vote [on Saturday morning] at 9 a.m. to cut off debate on that motion to proceed to the bill.”
Weissman continues, “If that [cloture] motion got 60 votes Saturday morning [to end debate], there would then have to be 30 hours of ‘post-cloture ripening’ before the Senate actually votes on the motion to proceed to the bill. That would take the Senate to 1 p.m. Sunday. If again that procedural motion received 60 votes, the Senate would be on the “fiscal cliff” bill itself. Mr. Reid would then immediately file to cut off debate on the bill itself.”
“At that point, under Senate rules, the earliest possible vote on final passage would be Tuesday, Jan. 1. By then, the 112th Congress would have disbanded and efforts to pass the bill would have to start all over again — this time on the other side of the ‘fiscal cliff.'”
The U.S. House of Representatives
The recent inability of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to obtain sufficient Republican votes to support his so-called “Plan B” for resolving the “fiscal cliff” problems is only the latest example of his ineffectiveness as the Speaker. This is due, in my opinion, to the inflexibility of Republican Representatives who are supported by the right-wing “Tea Party.”
The resulting inability of the House to participate in governing our country is yet another example of the dysfunctionality of the U.S. government.
One way out of this impasse would be for the House to elect a Speaker who has the support of the centrists in both political parties. Based upon his public appearances, John Boehner, in my opinion, does not have the intelligence or gravitas to be such a Speaker. Because the Republicans have a majority in the House, presumably someone else from that party would have to step forward or be called forward to take on the responsibilities of such a coalition-backed Speaker. I do not know who that could be.
There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prevents such a Speakership. Its Article I, § 2(5) merely says, “The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker and other Officers . . . .”
Norman Ornstein, a noted Washington political commentator who has written about many of the current woes of our government, agrees that John Boehner is not able to wield the typical power of the Speakership.
Ornstein also notes that the just-quoted constitutional provision “does not say that the speaker of the House has to be a member of the House. In fact, the House can choose anybody a majority wants to fill the post.” Ornstein then goes on to suggest two centrist Republican who are not members of the House for this important position: Jon Huntsman, Jr., the former Governor of the State of Utah, U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and China and unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, and Mitch Daniels, the Governor of the State of Indiana.
This is an intriguing idea, but it would be difficult enough to elect someone from the House itself to be a centrist Speaker. To go outside the House membership for a Speaker in any circumstance, in my opinion, would make the task that much more difficult.
I invite suggestions for Republican Representatives to take on the role and responsibilities of a centrist Speakership. Also please add comments with any historical examples of Speakers who have had de facto coalition-backing.
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Comment: Endorsement of Having a Bipartisan Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
This post called for the U.S. House of Representatives to elect a bipartisan Speaker so that the chamber could act on measures and help govern the country.
Since then, as widely reported, Speaker John Boehner allowed the House to vote on a bill to end the “fiscal cliff,” and with a minority of the Republican members and a majority of the Democratic members the bill passed. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Now a New York Times editorial applauds this latest action by Speaker Boehner.
The Times goes further and castigates the so-called “Hastert Rule,” whereby Speaker Boehner generally will only bring to the House’s floor for action bills that have the support of a majority of the Republican majority. The Times points out that this “majority-of-the-majority requirement . . . is relatively new and entirely a Republican creation. Newt Gingrich occasionally used it when he was speaker, but it was institutionalized in 2004 by [Republican] Speaker Dennis Hastert (and Tom DeLay, the power behind the throne).”
This so-called rule, however, was not used by Democratic Speakers. When Democrat Nancy Pelosi became Speaker in 2007 she repudiated this rule or practice, saying, “I’m the speaker of the House. . . . I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority in the Democratic caucus.”
The Times called on Speaker Boehner to emulate this attitude and practice. It said, “if the country is to move forward on issues with widespread support — getting past the debt limit, immigration reform, gun control, and investments in education and infrastructure — he will have to let the two parties vote together on a solution.”
Editorial, Democracy in the House, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2013), http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/opinion/democracy-in-the-house.html?pagewanted=print.
Thank you for that helpful reminder of the National Popular Vote bill that we all should support. I agree with your commetns.