Trying To Make Sense Of The Current Congress

Trying To Make Sense Of The Current Congress


Leonard Zwelling

Greg Weiner is a political scientist at Assumption University who wrote a piece in The New York Times on November 29 that goes a long way to explaining why there is such a mess on Capitol Hill at the moment.

To summarize a long op-ed succinctly, passing legislation is supposed to be hard and take a while. The more transformative the legislation, the harder it should be to pass and the longer it should take to do so. Remember please that it took about 14 months to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and that legislation, watered down as it was, passed without a single Republican vote. This was not the case with the equally transformative Medicare and Medicaid legislation of the mid-1960s where some Republican support was gleaned by a very powerful President and a large Democratic majority in the Congress. Is that the case now? It is not.

First, Mr. Biden who insists on pushing this omnibus social spending Build Back Better bill was not elected to do what either FDR or LBJ was elected to do. Those two presidents won large majorities and were expected to be transformational. Mr. Biden won comfortably in the Electoral College, but not by all that much in the key swing states and was clearly elected to get us back to some degree of normalcy after the combined madness of Trump and Covid. Instead of getting real about the fact that they had very slim majorities in both houses of Congress, Biden and the Democrats chose to push through a large spending bill in response to covid, a large infrastructure bill, and now a social spending bill that is so large no one has read it.

Second, the fact that the Democratic majorities in both houses are so slim, indicates clearly that there is no mandate to do anything beyond reversing Trumpism and handling the virus. Has Biden done either?

The point of the essay is that the Constitution as constructed by Madison was not designed for rapid fire legislation and certainly the Senate was not. Given the current 50-50 split in the upper chamber, any legislation that is to pass ought to garner some support from the GOP and not be passed using reconciliation as is the case with this large spending bill. This is simply wrong.

I believe that the components of the BBB bill need to be broken out into separate pieces of legislation and be given full scrutiny and committee vetting prior to being passed into law. Instead, once again, Mrs. Pelosi wants Congress to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it. That’s not the way this process is supposed to go and is not a good idea to hurry such a large spending bill.

The supposed reason for the rush is that the Dems are worried that they will lose their slim majorities in the Senate and House in the 2022 elections and not be able to pass the progressive legislation that the left has been hoping to enact for years. That’s right. If this was so popular, then the Dems would be more popular than they are. Since they aren’t, it is reasonable to assume that this omnibus bill isn’t either and needs to be broken into its components and considered more slowly.

The Democrats in Congress mis-underestimate the degree to which this agenda annoys many Americans and the Republicans mis-underestimate how much Americans detest their obstructionism. Both parties are overplaying their hands. Neither has a big majority. Instead it is likely that Congress will swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican control until one party can articulate a clear and better vision for the country. Right now, neither can.

In this case, legislation ought to be widely supported (like the roads and bridges bill was) and be able to garner some support from the other party. If it can’t, it shouldn’t pass. I still don’t think the BBB bill will in its present form or at least until Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema chop it up and send it back to the House where who knows what will happen. Just as well. This was a mistake from the get go. Thanks Nancy. Thanks Joe. But no thanks.

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