Think you pretty well know the rules by which Congress works to pass legislation? I thought I did, but I learned on an NPR pod-cast this week that the Republicans adopted three new ones following their sweep of the House in 2010. These informal changes are holding as firmly as though they were embedded in the Constitution itself and they virtually doom legislative compromise, that fundamental principle which the founders tried to build into the process. The three rules are:
1. The majority of the majority. Under this rule no piece of legislation may be brought to the floor of the House for a vote unless it is pre-approved by a majority of the majority, i.e., more than half of the Republicans in the house. This constitutes a tyranny of the majority, negating the government separation-of-powers mechanism. It effectively eliminates any possibility that a few Republicans might compromise and vote with Democrats on any issue not liked by, well, the majority of Republicans.
2. Any increase in the debt ceiling must be matched by an equal decrease in spending. This rule is, in my opinion, disingenuous if not dishonest because the national-debt ceiling is nothing more than a legislative publicity stunt. Raising the ceiling does nothing to spend more money in itself but rather brings public recognition that government spending has reached a previously-established arbitrary threshold. Now if that’s all it did, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, given the fiscal mess amassed before the Obama administration took office in 2009, but the problem is that this rule has been wielded like a weapon that has unnecessarily undermined both national and international confidence in the ability of our government to function.
3. No new taxes. This of course is the Grover Norquist /Tea Party mantra that has been a major obstacle to pulling the nation out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and it sure doesn’t help that it has thus far prevented correcting the George W. Bush tax cuts. Those not only didn’t work to improve the economy, they made recovery from the Great Recession that much harder. Now, thanks to this attitude on taxes, the GOP majority is acting like restoring the tax rates for the top 2% to their previous Clinton-era level is some kind of sin. I cannot escape the impression that they want the economy to fail in order to discredit the Democratic administration.
I for one am glad to see President Obama holding firm on negotiations over the financial cliff and if it takes going over it to bring the electorate into the picture, it’s fine with me. As far as I can see, nothing else than a ground swell of voter indignation is going to change this behavior by the fiscal branch of Congress and restore the concept of legislative cooperation to its rightful status.