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Hoping Congress Will Return to Governing

January 21, 2010

Years ago, there was a neighborhood not far from the U.S. capitol building that was considered quite dangerous, because two rival gangs were fighting for control of this area.  Sometimes people who were totally unconnected with the power struggle were caught (literally) in the cross fire.  Eventually, one gang won out and life returned to “normal” for that neighborhood.  The community still had its problems;  the people there still had to struggle every day for survival.  The prevailing gang probably did some good and a lot of harm. But the fight for power was no longer the main agenda.

Why does this experience remind me of the 111th Congress?

The power struggle between Democrats and Republicans seems to be the main agenda for both parties.  Both parties seem to have abandoned their primary jobs – legislating and governing – in favor of strategies that (they seem to think) will gain political points.  The Republicans “slow-walked” every presidential appointment that needed Senate approval – even non-controversial, low-level assistant under-secretaries – raising objections and insisting on 60 votes, even to permit business to come to the Senate floor.  The Democrats abandoned their promises of transparency and regular order, in favor of backroom deals that they hoped would garner the magic number of votes needed to clear legislation for the Senate. Neither party has seemed willing to bring forward its best proposals to deal with health care, immigration, climate change, unemployment, or other major issues that demand congressional attention.

People in the U.S. are caught in the crossfire of this struggle, and the consequences to us are real and painful.

Now the Democrats can’t count on 60 votes in the Senate, but the Republicans still don’t have a majority.  The power struggle could go on – Congress could decide to continue to make this fight its main agenda, or it could decide to govern.  The party in charge – the Democrats – could “work to the rule,” permitting a 60-vote majority only when required.  Filibusters could be returned to their classic form; the minority party would have to decide when it was important enough to them to physically hold the floor for hours or days, publicly and on national television.  If the filibuster was for the purpose of supporting a strongly held minority view, then it would be appropriate to allow the debate to continue until there were 60 votes to end it.  But when that mechanism is used simply to slow down the routine work of Congress on issue after issue, this time-honored device is dishonored.

Each party should put forth its best proposals to address this nation’s needs.  If the proposal attracts (from either party) the necessary votes to pass, then the process has worked.  If one party chooses to organize solidly against a proposal, its choice will be public.  The electorate will have a chance to express whether it supports the decisions of the individuals who have been elected to represent them.

  1. Donna McDaniel permalink
    January 21, 2010 4:11 pm

    Thank you so much for offering some hope for getting out of all of this. We who are Massachusetts (and usually Democrat) citizens are really distressed about the outcome. I personally found little that could be called the truth in the winner’s statements and find it difficult to accept a victory gained out of superficiality and shallowness. But Ruth has given us something to pray for!

  2. Steven D. Flowers permalink
    February 26, 2010 8:23 pm

    The scenario and political situation that Ruth has presented also reminds me of another historical event in which I was very much involved here in Chicago. The first Black Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, Hailing from the same Hyde Park Chicago Community as Obama, was elected by a grass roots coalition of Progressive Black and Latino Majority that included just enough radical –AKA Liberal -white identified voters to legitimize the outcome. Had the vote not included enough of the small number of white identified voters who claimed to support Harold the election results would have been contested by the leadership of the Democratic Party.

    The leadership of the Democratic Party at that time were stunned / shocked / in disbelief about the results until they checked and rechecked the returns. When they came to their senses some switched political affiliation and coalesced around a former Democrat to run as a Republican against Harold, a machination that set a historical president and the Political atmosphere for Chicago Politics / Government operations for five consecutive election cycles. Thus Chicago became known as Beirut by the Lake. The opposition was coined by the press as The Verdoliac (sp) 29. This was an extremely hard time for poor people, with some having to pull groceries via makeshift pulleys outside their public housing 17 floor high rise buildings into their windows.

    There are historical accounts written about the years of this era in Chicago, the machinations have similar undertones and exact parallels to Obama’ administration struggles with the obstructionist Senators that effectively slow down the institutional process when and wherever they can.

    Unfortunately it took, a supreme court decision, that cost huge amounts of tax payer revenues coupled with grass roots supported initiatives and movements to overturn a gerrymandered geographical redistricting of the city and state boundaries before the opposition in the Chicago City Council’ numeric composition changed to allow the city council to attend to the business of the common people.

    Until the Obama administration starts using hard ball political maneuvering to move appointments and their agenda the opposition will continue to thwart and obstruct. If the Obama administration does not win the war for the hearts and minds of the common human majority while explaining by using common language that acknowledges the human struggles to meet basic human needs of common people why Obama the candidate is not fulfilling his campaign promises his slogan of Change and Hope will be used to characterize him as a Chump and a Joke.


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