Editorial November 6, 2015



The Other House

“There is a difference between building and demolition and we must determine which motivates this small group of legislators.”

This week’s amendment activity on HR 22, the vehicle for the 2016 Defense Authorization bill, showed several amendments aiming to cripple the Export-Import Bank. The reasons for being against the Bank aren’t clear. That the Bank is corporate welfare comes up but doesn’t hold water since the Bank requires no taxpayer funds and creates jobs in the industries seeking support through the Bank for the sale of exports.

The bill reauthorizing the Bank passed the House last week with a significant bi-partisan showing on top of the bill being discharged to the floor from the committee hold on it, somewhat in the face of former Speaker John Boehner who had refused to release it for a vote. That was a pretty substantial vote and the matter should be settled but there remains a small group of House Members who simply refuse to accept that and so the amendments.

Such dogged opposition has become a common practice in the House when a bill gains the support for passage but sticks in the craw of some opposed. We saw (and still see) an inclination if not an obsession with repealing ObamaCare and defunding Planned Parenthood not to mention draconian spending cuts they think are necessary to avoid financial devastation down the line.

ObamaCare needs fixing, not repeal less millions return to no insurance or buying at the mercy of insurers. Planned Parenthood, accused of marketing fetus body parts has been exonerated and funded, and the draconian cuts that have become obvious to even those who originally voted for them are damaging the government’s ability to perform as seen from the Pentagon, the Executive branch, and the US Treasury.

So, what are these objections all about? Ideology? Protecting the unborn is an ideological goal shared by both parties but conservatives do not believe that abortion meets those goals, Democrats believe there should be a choice to have an abortion. ObamaCare is not an ideological issue unless you think healthcare is something that should be looked at through an ideological lens. Largely it’s a tax bill that would benefit from some tweaking. Perhaps it’s the tax elements of the bill that rankle opponents. Draconian cuts to nearly everything, entitlements in particular, is ideological if your ideology tells you that social safety nets are anathema to growth and personal responsibility and there are many hard-working poor who would argue that point.

The House, or that part of it made up of those Members who moved beyond the partisan bickering and obstructionism in the past two weeks, recognize the need for balancing spending against offsets and has offered in several bills some revenue solutions such as the attention being given to fraudulent Social Security claims and IRS enforcement of unpaid taxes.

So, while the House has found solutions, or at least offered something to move the bills forward in a compromised fashion, the ‘Other House’ these few Members opposed to compromise just won’t accept a majority decision in their own governing body. So they would rebuild the Nation based not on new and workable ideas but on redundant and dogged opposition to important matters to build, essentially, a house of cards.

There is a difference between building and demolition and we must determine which motivates this small group of legislators. They might hold that you have to demolish before you can rebuild. True with real property but not an approach when you are dealing with significant negative impacts on the people and programs of the country. A new vision of this country can be brought to the floor in detail for consideration without disbanding what is in place, but for these carpenters the saying seems to apply: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Senate Stories

September 19, 1881

President’s Death Eases Senate Deadlock

Rarely in its history has the Senate been evenly divided between the two major political parties. When the Senate of the 47th Congress convened on March 4, 1881, its membership stood at 37 Democrats, 37 Republicans, and 2 Independents. One of the Independents agreed to vote with the Democrats on such organizational matters as appointment of committees and selection of Senate officers. The other Independent, William Mahone of Virginia, owed his election to a breakaway faction within his state’s Democratic Party. Senate Democrats optimistically believed they could count on him in their bid to control the Senate’s committee chairmanships and staff appointments.

The Republicans had come too close to give up without a stiff fight. If they could capture Mahone, the balance would be 38 to 38 and allow Republican Vice President Chester Arthur to provide the tie-breaking vote for his party.

Mahone, a freshman, exacted a high price from the Senate’s Republicans. It included the chairmanship of the influential Agriculture Committee and the right to select the Senate’s Secretary and Sergeant at Arms, both of whom controlled extensive patronage appointments. President James Garfield also reluctantly handed him control of Virginia’s federal patronage. The day after Mahone’s vote allowed the Republicans to organize the Senate’s committees, a large basket of flowers from the White House conservatory appeared on his chamber desk.

As Republicans then moved to appoint Senate officers, Democrats balked. They employed various parliamentary tactics that brought the Senate to a standstill and blocked a long list of Republican executive nominees. To honor their promise to Mahone, Republicans threatened to “fight it out if it takes all summer.”

That fight ended on September 19, 1881, when President Garfield died of wounds from an assassin’s bullet. This removed Vice President Chester Arthur and his tie-breaking vote from the Senate and caused the parties to declare a truce. For the balance of that Congress, Republicans controlled the committees and Democrats managed the patronage.

Reference Items:

Blake, Nelson Morehouse.  William Mahone of Virginia: Soldier and Political Insurgent.  Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1935.

Courtesy Senate Clerk

Quotes on the Issues

Ex-IM Bank Amendments

““I urge my colleagues to oppose this rule, and, should it be adopted, as is likely the case, I urge every one of my colleagues who voted to reopen the Export-Import Bank last week to stand together in defeating every single amendment offered to the Export-Import Bank…  So we can stand together to defeat all of the amendments that are offered to the Export-Import Bank. It is a Senate bill and a House bill that are exactly the same, and if they had been passed alone they’d be on the President’s desk right now.” House Minority Whip


Defense Authorization

“When the President sent this bill back to Congress this month, he encouraged us to ‘do this right’.  The bill we are sending back to the President is good for our troops and good for the country.  It contains landmark reforms to make the Pentagon more agile. It better compensates our warfighters, while cutting waste and improving efficiency.  Most importantly, at a time when we face more diverse and serious threats to our security than ever before, it gives those same warfighters new tools to take on those who threaten America’s security.  This bill, and the overwhelming bipartisan majority supporting it, demonstrates that we got it right from the beginning.  This time, I hope the President will drop the politics and sign the bill.”  HASC Chair Rep Mac Thornberry (R-TX)”