Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Making Nice

Most Americans, or at least the ones who have been paying attention, are aware that the wheels of government have not been working so optimally of late. Bipartisan consensus is a thing of the past. While much of the problem can be attributed to both parties moving to the fringe and leaving a vacant center, there may also be some structural problems involved as well.

I was listening to NPR the other day and heard some quotes from Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, that made me pause and take note.

Ornstein lays part of the blame for our paralysis on the Hastert Rule. The Hastert Rule, first conceived and implemented by then Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert, laid out the de facto rule that a Republican dominated House would not bring up a bill for consideration unless it had a backing by a majority of the GOP majority.
Longtime Congress-watcher Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said the majority of the majority rule is a major reason why bills passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate don't come up in the House.
"We've got the Republicans now as a parliamentary-style minority. In a parliamentary system, it is just a matter of course that the parties unite together in opposition to the other side," he said. "But you can't function that way with divided government." 
Because of this rule and the Republican insistence on party line loyalty from its members, there is no chance for Boll Weevil or Blue Dog type factions reaching out to the opposition. If leadership doesn't like a bill, it simply never reaches the floor.

“You’re not going to come up here and be able to put together a deal with 170 Democrats and 40 Republicans—that’s just not in the cards.” Republican Rep. Tom Cole

Because the Republican House lost 8 seats in the most recent election, all it would really take now is 18 republicans to break the logjam. Too bad it can't happen. Today the House GOP showed what happens to members that brook the leadership, stripping three committee posts from renegades who dared vote against the Paul Ryan budget.

Trent Lott, who spent part of his long political career in both major parties, wrote an article last week in the WaPo decrying the lost art of the deal titled Washington lost its love for the deal.
From where I sit, President Obama really does not like the messy work of legislating, which is the key to unlocking a divided government. The give and take of “the deal” has never appealed to him nor, quite frankly, to many in Congress of both parties. Yet now reelected, the president needs to find a way to embrace this particular leadership skill.First, he must stop running the government by executive order....The House and Senate also need to return to regular order, beginning with subcommittees and committees doing their work as a matter of routine. Have hearings and oversight meetings. Mark up the bills. Have votes on amendments and then move bills to the floor for consideration. Have robust debate and votes on amendments by members of both parties, in the best traditions of the Senate. Defeat bills or pass them, but take final action, and go to conference with conferees from both bodies. Vote on final passage and send it to the president to sign or veto.Can this be done in the current atmosphere? We have no choice. I can assure you, it was not easy when Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and I was the Senate majority leader. We had issues to deal with—welfare reform, tax cuts, spending controls, safe drinking water, portability of insurance, improved pay for our military men and women. Congressional leaders had some pretty animated discussions with the administration, and President Clinton was directly involved. We shared the goal of a better future for our country, and knew both sides had to give some in order to get to a deal that could pass.In order to achieve that, Republicans had to make some concessions to President Clinton (and vice versa), but we were jointly successful. It began then, as it should today, with honest dialogue between our leaders and an eagerness to dive into the sty that is negotiation. The attitude shared by all of us was simple: We had a lot of work to get done. And the leadership attribute we all shared was we loved even the messy work of doing it.
George Mitchell wrote a similarly thoughtful piece, How to work with Republicans.
The president should emphatically reject the notion that collaboration requires either side to capitulate and abandon its fundamental principles. It was a hard-fought, substantive election, and the president has an obligation to pursue the core ideas on which he campaigned and was elected. In my experience, hard-fought progress is usually achieved when leaders stand firm on principle but, recognizing that the national interest comes first, are flexible enough to find the common ground to move forward. 
Americans are tired of the endless finger pointing. Both sides are confident that they have the best intentions for America at heart, but they have radically different philosophies in terms of how to get there. Everybody, including the President and each member of Congress, needs to get off their ideological high horses and start fixing a system that is quickly heading over the falls.

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