Friends When You Need Them

If you ever anticipate you might need some friends in Congress, if you ever figured you might need some allies, why would you ever show yourself to be uncooperative?  One of the news stories from March 1 was that the leadership of the Democratic Party was upset that 26 members of the party had voted with the Republicans on an amendment to a bill that expand federal background checks for gun purchases.  The idea is, apparently, to form a solid block of opposition to anything Republican.  This, of course, is the same tactic used earlier by the Republicans in the Obama years. American citizens didn’t appreciate the gridlock and lack of problem-solving then, and we aren’t liking it any better now.

To make matter worse, some in House of Representatives are contemplating yet another rule change, hoping to constrain the Republicans further. This time, the new nuclear option would be to get rid of something called the “motion to recommit.” The motion to recommit is a tactical maneuver that allows a representative from the minority party to make a last chance amendment before a final vote.  Without the motion to recommit, the Republican amendment that so tempted 26 Democrats a few days ago would have been impossible.

The current usage was conceived in 1909 by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans (isn’t that something?!) who objected to the overly controlling behavior by the Speaker of the House.  This noble intent was later subverted by polarizing political leaders who began using the motion to recommit to embarrass the majority rather than as a means of problem-solving.  Instead of dropping the rule, why not restore the original intent and usage?

As this blog has observed before, polarization tempts politicians to break the rules. Rule breaking by one side only tempts still more bad behavior from the other side. It never gets better. It wasn’t that long ago that the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader dropped the super-majority requirement for Senate confirmations of lower court appointees to get past Republic obstruction. That turned out to be a calamity for his own party when, after the Republicans took the Senate, the Republican Senate Majority Leader went further and ended the super-majority requirement for Senate confirmations to the Supreme Court.

Bad behavior is not mandatory.  Bipartisanship is possible. We saw it only a short time ago with the Natural Resources Management Act that passed 92-8 in the Senate and 363 to 62 in the House.  Some honest trading can be healthy too:  Democratic help for some worthy Republican causes and vice-versa.  Problems get solved, the citizens benefit, and politicians get reelected.  This sort of behavior should be encouraged in a deliberate effort to signal to everyone – politicians and citizens alike, that our leaders are finally acting to end the polarization.  There are some big problems out there waiting for an end to the gridlock.

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