Whether Both Parties Agree Is Irrelevant; What’s Important Is Actually Governing
Over multiple weeks, we’ve recognized the havoc and un-resolvedness of congressional compromise-seeking on infrastructure, voting rights, changes to policing, even a commission to look at what was behind the Jan. 6 riot.
There is reported movement on infrastructure, but only because the White House wants to score a win for bipartisanship, not for its full infrastructure goals.
Get ready for more of the same on rights bills affecting discrimination over gender orientation, gun controls and the ability of the government to pay for itself beyond a deadline on July 31.
What has emerged is a pattern that looks much like a trap: In response to actual issues, the Biden administration comes up with a proposal, and congressional Republicans balk. Even one or two Democrats insist on changes in attempts to lure enough votes in the nearly evenly split Senate to pass the 60-vote filibuster requirement.
The White House staff demurs, and engages in lengthy negotiations, first with its own, then with those few moderate Republicans who might make a difference. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says no anyway. The original proposals either never make it to the Senate floor or survive only as shells of their once-robust selves.
It’s Republicans deciding the national agenda, for no good common welfare reasons other than opposing Joe Biden’s presidency.
That’s what we saw this week with a failure to have enough senators even to agree whether to debate a bill on voter rights. If you want an infrastructure deal, Republicans are telling Biden, you can have it for the asking. Just don’t ask for money to address climate change or human infrastructure and don’t seek to pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthy or corporations.
Either way, it is Republicans deciding the national agenda, for no good common welfare reasons. other than opposing Joe Biden’s presidency. The McConnell promise to block everything Biden wants is surprisingly close to real.
More Waves of Gridlock
We’re already hearing rumblings of the next waves of similar washout on their slow roll toward shore:
- On equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Americans, hopes for action in a one-vote Democratic-majority Senate look dim. There is significant Republican opposition on cultural grounds to recognizing trans issues, in particular and about how legally to carve out rights for religious institutional exemptions from any law. Partisanship in Congress stands in contrast to the wide-ranging support for LGBTQ rights among the public at large, in corporate America and even in the Supreme Court which last year banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. The usual suspects on both sides of the aisle seem not even willing for the issue to come up.
- On gun control legislation, even Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the consistent lead sponsor of gun limit bills, says Democrats must prepare to vote on a smaller proposal that may seek to boost background checks for firearms buyers just to get something passed, rather than ways to require universal checks to bridge loopholes in current law or to try to get assault-style guns off the street. Again, this kind of gun proposal polls much better with the public than with members of the Senate, where there seems little interest in addressing studies showing at least 13 percent of gun owners reporting that they bought a gun with no check. And, again, Murphy does not have all Democrats on board.
- On continuing government operations, the 2019 agreement during the Trump administration to let Congress borrow money runs out on July 31. That means we’ll see the usual partisan fight over extraordinary measures to keep the government solvent, along with its annual attacks on domestic spending for various social services programs. However the specifics align this year, it will be contentious, partisan and a restatement of well-worn mottos and themes by both sides. We can assuredly predict an outcome less than ideal, something that will once again kick this can a few months down the road.
Not Running the Government
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about American democracy balancing only precariously on the brink of a darker future, about the rise of authoritarianism, attempts to squash voting parity.
What we’ve heard less is that as a day-to-day enterprise, the American experiment is simply slowing to a crawl in many ways. Our partisan desires to win have prompted a new version of seeking bipartisanship at all costs. And that goal of actual bipartisanship has proved over and over to be a mirage, a political version of Lucy from Charlie Brown cartoons repeatedly taking away the football altogether at the last possible practical moment.
We are resorting to emergency thinking in place of working toward common ends:
- Emergency vaccine approvals
- Temporary budget and spending authority
- A constant, if less-than-legitimate recount, restatement or audit of the results of the last election
Name-calling and partisan labeling have replaced substantive thought about virtually any public issue. It has become more important whether the Jan. 6 Trump mob attack is described as an insurrection attempt, which it was, or some kind of minimal impact street protest, which it wasn’t.
Declaring bipartisanship a goal in itself has made Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., an oversized egotist and influencer rather someone who can actually help solve a problem. From where I sit, the myriad self-negotiations among Democrats or even Manchin’s own small group of moderates are useful ploys for McConnell to use to deflect any actual frustration that he is causing the sitting administration.
All of this non-progress could disappear overnight if the filibuster is jettisoned. In its place, we might have decisions that are supported by a majority of voters.
There is nothing in the Constitution about filibusters. Indeed, it emerged and has been used most frequently since the mid-1800s to oppose any anti-slavery and civil rights legislation. At least then, the senators were required to stand on their feet for the full day and argue until enough votes could be found for cloture. Re-read Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate for insightful history about how then-Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson used his Senate powers and compare that with what passes as a washed-out version of compromise and resistance today.
Finding a governing majority also could be addressed by elections that consistently produce results that are too split to be effective. If elections are going to matter, then we should use the results to set a national direction. What we have now is wishy-washy and consistent gridlock, and shows that governing is just more political for power-holding.
Bipartisanship is not the goal. Solving problems is the goal.
We ought to get to it.