Special thanks to Ace of Spades for bringing up both stories. I wouldn’t have found them without it.
Keith Koffler over at White House Dossier has a rather startling story which, to be quite frank, is not that surprising with a second glance
As I’ve mentioned before, I covered both the Clinton and Bush White Houses. Routinely, with each of them, there was line of cars on the West Wing driveway belonging to members of some committee or faction of Congress that had dropped by to meet the president. If they wanted the gathering to remain below the radar, they “snuck in” the side door, and then the camera guys who were always in a position where they could see the entrance there told us about it.
With Obama, almost never. Nothing. No meetings. If you ask around on Capitol Hill, no phone calls either. Obama, expostulating about the uncooperativeness of Republicans, does nothing to get them to cooperate. It’s not in his character. And then he attacks them for his own paucity of results. He’s like a high school football player who never comes to practice and then whines that he’s warming the bench.
Unfortunately, Obama’s temperament will now have serious consequences for the nation. We’ll be in a constant state of Constitutional subversion for the next three years as Obama issues edicts and bullies the private sector into doing his bidding. At any point, with some particularly outlandish act, he can kick things up to a major Constitutional crisis. It’s a sad thing to see.
If you want to get something done, you have to make compromises. You have to go to the opposition with honest and open hands and discuss the ideas with them. You can’t do that if one side is unwilling to compromise anything less than total submission from their opposition. You can’t even begin to have the debate if one side refuses to allow the other into the chamber to discuss the bill in the first place. Calling the opposition you are freezing out of the governmental process the “Party of No” and “Intransigent” doesn’t endear them to you.
And now, President Obama wants to rule with pen and phone. No congress. Just executive agencies passing miles of new red tape a thousand pages at a time.
And Harry Reid has set the stage for it.
We fund the government through massive omnibus bills that no one has had the time to read or analyze. Senators are stripped of their right to offer amendments. Bills are rushed through under threat of panic, crisis, or shutdown. Secret deals rule the day, and millions of Americans are essentially robbed of their ability to participate in the legislative process.
So much for the greatest deliberative body on the planet. This is how liberty dies. Not with thunderous applause but rather the cries of crisis and panic by those who claim they know better. A cabal of philosopher kings to quote Koffler above. And why? Because they know more than you do. And Harry Reid is the centerpiece of this disaster.
Under the tenure of Majority Leader Reid, the Senate is rapidly losing its historic role as a great deliberative body. If this continues, America will have lost something very precious.
One of the tactics by which Majority Leader Reid has suppressed Senators’ rights and blocked open debate has been a technique called “filling the tree.” What this means, basically, is that when a bill comes to the floor, the Leader will use his right of first recognition to fill all of the available amendment slots on a bill and block any other Senator from offering amendments. One man stands in the way of his 99 colleagues. But, not alone really. His power exists only as long as his majority concurs and supports his actions. This prevents the body from working its will, it prevents legislation from being improved, and it prevents Senators from being held accountable by their votes on the great issues of the day. That is, of course, why it’s done.
Our Majority Leader has used this tactic—filling the tree—80 times. To put this in perspective, the six previous Majority Leaders filled the tree 49 times—combined. Senator Reid has filled the tree on 30 more occasions than all of the six previous Majority Leaders did cumulatively over their tenures.
This is democracy? This is how a participatory republic is supposed to be run? This more resembles an authoritarian oligarchy than a participatory republic.
In so doing, the Leader denies the citizens of each state their equal representation in the Senate. Majority Leader Reid, in his effort to protect his conference from casting difficult votes—in order to shield his Majority from accountability—has essentially closed the amendment process. He has shut down one of the most important functions that Senators exercise to represent the interests of their constituents.
What was that I said about an oligarchy? I am not demanding we decide issues under some linden tree somewhere. Besides the fact there is no linden tree large enough to hold an old-fashioned Thing, there are too many of us to do so. Madison was right when he created a distributed republic with participatory elements so the people could have a say. But when you go out of your way to block that function of our Republic and try to act as an elected dictator – or the agent of one above you in the flow of power – then you take a republic and transform it into an oligarchic state instead.
The erosion of the Senate has also been front and center in the budgeting process. We are now in our fifth year without adopting a congressional budget resolution. Instead, taxpayer dollars are spent through a series of backroom deals and last-minute negotiations. Then we face a massive omnibus that is rushed to passage without amendment or meaningful review. The American people have no real ability to know what’s in it or hold us, their elected representatives, accountable. This, of course, is the reason it is done this way.
Now, the House and Senate are considering another catch-all omnibus spending bill—one that will spend more than a trillion dollars—with thousands of items of government spending crammed into a single legislative proposal. This bill will be sped through under threat of a government shutdown, with very little debate, and no ability to amend. It is another “pass it to find out what’s in it” moment.
When bills are passed in the dead of night, under emergency circumstances, with looming deadlines and no oversight from the people, it is no longer a participatory relationship between the government and the people. It is just the government telling the people how to live their lives. And when situations like this occur, the unintended consequences are often far worse than if we had just thrashed it out in public.
How is the process supposed to work? Each year, Congress is supposed to adopt a budget resolution. Then, based on spending levels contained in the budget resolution, individual committees report out authorization bills based on the expertise and experience of the members serving on those committees. Then, the 12 subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee produce appropriations bill for their area of the budget—such as Defense, or Homeland Security, or Agriculture—which are individually considered, debated, and amended on the Senator floor.
This gives each member—and their constituents—a chance to review and analyze each part of the budget and offer suggestions for saving money, improving efficiency, and better serving taxpayers.
Not everything can be out in the open. More than once, I have wondered how much of the pork barrel spending is really spending for black projects which are needed for national security, but must be kept quiet for that same reason. But, by having the budget discussions out in the open, our participatory democracy is just that, participatory.
We haven’t had a single vote on a budget for the last four years.
A more ominous development, however, is how the breakdown of the appropriations process in the Senate is now infecting the House of Representatives, and spreading like the plague. In the first year of their majority, the Republican-led House marked up six appropriation bills and sent them to the Senate. The Senate didn’t consider a single one. Last year, the House passed eight appropriation bills and sent them to the Senate. Again the Senate didn’t act. This year, the futility of the House efforts began to show as the House passed only four bills. But why should they? Why should the House expose their members to politically tough votes when they know the Senate won’t?
And thus, both houses grind down to grid lock.