Editorial November 14, 2014

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

Now that we have endured the mid-term elections Congress is back to finish up the final weeks of the 113th. But all is not over; there is still some important work to be done including putting a budget together to fund the government beyond December 11th when this year’s Continuing Resolution to fund the government expires.

The writing is on the wall, so to speak, in that the Republican agenda made obvious by the budget battles, government shutdowns and, yes, even some compromises since fiscal year 2012 is as viable to them as always but lacking the obstacle of a Senate Democrat opposition. The only gatekeeper they must pass is the President.

When we look at the legislation House Republicans put forth before the recent 7 week break we can see clearly that Republicans and many Democrats agree to cut spending, but to what end? Better put, what do you do with the savings? Well, in October House leadership packaged together several House-passed bills that were not previously considered in the Senate. Those bills combined proposed tax breaks such that about $800 billion in tax revenues would be lost to the Treasury. The idea is if that money is returned to the taxpayers and businesses it will be spent and will further stimulate the economy, provide jobs, and we will all be prosperous and happy.  Remember, though, revenues add to the coffers but in the federal budget tax breaks are spending so we have a bit of a riddle; Republicans want to cut spending but would do so to require less revenues which is more spending. The most significant question to be answered next year, then, is to avoid increasing the deficit, where do you cut that $800 billion?

This is not to say that Congress will not send bills to the President that have more to do with domestic matters and contentious issues, bills he could not support. Net Neutrality, for example, is now an issue supported by the President but one that drew an immediate response from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) likening it to Obamacare, so dog whistle politics is not likely to stop and will increase even more so when the 2016 election approach. Other issues such as the climate change agreements between the US and China are already being pushed back against by the GOP and, of course, immigration reform.

The distinctive differences between budget caps and budget baselines that resulted in spending cuts and delays and offsets and even the government shutdown are where the action will be regarding those $800 billion tax breaks in the early 114th Congress. Those tax break bills, the sequester, and deep spending cuts that were compromised for the current CR that sits between the Republican Ryan budget numbers and the Senate. It is right there that the President and Republican Congress will have to find common ground or the government will languish largely in the dark until it is clear how much money can be spent.. Clinton and Gingrich, a Democrat President and a Republican Congress, got through that and moved the country out of deficit and into surplus. It didn’t ruin the country as some then predicted, it just took some give and take. ##

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Quotable

On Immigration reform – ““…I would hope that the President, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader McConnell, and all of us would understand that we have to come to an agreement. It’s not our way or their way, it is an agreed way, and I think that’s how it will work. I hope and I think that’s what the American people expect. So, I think the Republicans, hopefully, will take some of what the President suggests. I think we and the President should take some of what the Republicans suggest and fix the system that everybody says is broken.”” Steny Hoyer (D-MD) House Minority Whip on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’.

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Some Thoughts on Governing

By Lee H. Hamilton

“This country cannot be governed without compromise, dialogue and accommodation, and it comes apart at the seams when we go too long without them.”

Hamilton

Hamilton

I have been working in or around government for over 50 years, and if you asked me to boil down what I’ve learned to one sentence, it is this: Governing is much harder work than most people imagine. This doesn’t excuse its lapses or sluggish rate of progress, but it does help explain them.

Why is it so hard? Partly it’s the country we live in. There were 130 million Americans when I was in high school. Now we number over 300 million, with a diversity and cultural complexity that were impossible to imagine when I started out. Finding common ground, meeting complex needs, answering to an overwhelming diversity of interests — this is not work for the faint of heart.

The structure we do this with makes it even tougher. We have governments at the federal, state, and local levels, and they in turn have branches — executive, legislative and judicial — and a cornucopia of massive agencies. To solve a problem you have to navigate a slow, complex, untidy system whose transparency and accountability are always less than they should be.

This is magnified by an American public that, these days especially, wants mutually contradictory things. We want to rein in Wall Street excess, but we don’t support the regulatory structure to do it. We want affordable health care but don’t like Washington’s involvement in the health-care system. We want to shrink the deficit without any cuts in defense spending or entitlements.

Our diversity, complex structure, and difficulty settling on coherent policies make the hardest part of governing even harder. Building a consensus is the most important and most difficult part of political leadership. If politics is ultimately about the search for a remedy — I know, for many politicians it’s about ego or power or money, but I’m interested in the ideal — then you have to be able to get a consensus around that remedy. You need a majority in the U.S. House, 60 votes in the Senate, and the President’s approval. This country cannot be governed without compromise, dialogue and accommodation, and it comes apart at the seams when we go too long without them.

We often have disagreements in politics, but good politicians know that we have no choice but to work through them. The best want to bring different groups of people together, not pull them apart. They understand that not all the good ideas come from one source, and they reject the idea of constant conflict and permanent gridlock. In a divided country with a government specifically set up to divide powers, we need to follow this process — not because we want to but because we have to.

They know, too, that you have to treat every person with dignity and respect, even though the clashes may be hard. I used to watch Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill engage in tough, hard-hitting dialogue over the issues of the day, but for both of them the underlying premise was that they had to reach an agreement and move ahead. They knew civility had to be the rule — and always ended by trying to top each other with a good Irish story, doing their best to leave everyone in the room in an upbeat frame of mind.

Don’t get me wrong. The clash of ideas is important. In a dynamic system, with competing power centers and a panoply of interests trying to use their power to achieve their objectives, better policy — a policy that more nearly reflects the will of the American people — can emerge from this debate. Playing one side against the other, or merely stating the problem in order to rile up listeners — these are easy. Moving ahead to reach a solution: that’s the hard part.

Which is why our system works so slowly. It’s unwieldy, messy, and often very noisy, but most of the time, it gets there.

Yet there are no guarantees. Our system is not self-perpetuating. There is no automatic pilot. The question Abraham Lincoln asked at Gettysburg 151 years ago is as fresh today as it was then: Can a nation so conceived and so dedicated long endure? We’re still finding out, but we know one thing: It will take hard work.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


The Unforgettable 107th Congress

 November 22, 2002

“…for the first time in history—voters knowingly elected a deceased candidate…”

Over the course of its 656 days in session, from January 3, 2001 to November 22, 2002, the 107th Congress proved to be, in the title of a 2003 memoir by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Like No Other Time.

The story of the extraordinary 107th began on election day in November 2000, when—for the first time in history—voters knowingly elected a deceased candidate, Mel Carnahan of Missouri, to a Senate seat.  Also on November 7, New York voters chose the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as that state’s first woman senator.  With the appointment of Carnahan’s widow, Jean, to his vacant seat, the number of incumbent women senators rose to a record-breaking 13.

The 2000 election also produced for the first time a Senate with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.  This placed the Senate under Democratic control for the initial 17 days of the new Congress, with outgoing Vice President Al Gore providing the tie-breaking vote on organizational matters.  On January 20, the majority shifted to the Republicans with the swearing-in of Vice President Dick Cheney.

On May 24, 2001, Vermont Republican James Jeffords shocked his colleagues and the nation by announcing that he would leave his party to become an Independent and would caucus with the Democratic Party.  His action returned Democrats to the majority.  Never before the 107th Congress had party control formally shifted within the course of a two-year congressional term.

The September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon forced a brief evacuation of the Capitol Building for the first time since the War of 1812.  Discovery five weeks later of an envelope containing lethal anthrax spores in the Hart Senate Office Building mail room of Majority Leader Daschle resulted in that building’s closure—and displacement of the 50 senators with offices there—for three months.

The November 2002 election produced the fourth party shift of the session as Missouri Republican Jim Talent defeated appointed Senator Jean Carnahan, thereby becoming eligible to take his oath of office in the waning days of the 107th.

This extraordinary session ended with the celebration of the 100th birthday of South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, the oldest member in Senate history, and the swearing-in of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Senate’s 14th woman member.  Murkowski became the first senator appointed by her father, an incumbent governor and former senator whose resignation created the vacancy that he appointed her to fill.

Courtesy – Senate Clerk

Reference Items:

Daschle, Tom. Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years That Changed America Forever. New York: Crown, 2003