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The Importance of Voters Understanding Congressional Legislation


During this year’s presidential election a lot of rhetoric has focused on needing an “outsider” as President to clean up the amorphous “Washington establishment.”  This has been a particularly prominent theme by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and, to a lesser extent by Marco Rubio.  It is true there are serious problems with our current governmental structure in Washington.  Unfortunately, Trump and Cruz and their followers fail to understand that we cannot exchange the executive fiats of Barack Obama for those of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

We’ve had the sad example recently of Trump implicitly threatening House Speaker Paul Ryan if he didn’t submit to Trump’s viewpoints.  You have Cruz repeatedly bashing the “Washington cartel” and accusing Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell of lying.  If  you want to pass legislation in Congress you have to know the rules of both the House and Senate and you have to be able to get some level of bipartisan support.  In the Senate, even though the Republicans have a 54-46 majority, you have to get at least 60 votes to get legislation to move forward.  In the House, you have less restrictive legislative rules, but you still need a majority to get legislation through and this often requires you to get the support of members of the political party besides yours if the legislation has a chance of passing in the other legislative chamber which may be controlled by your party or signed by the President if this leader is not of your party.

Most legislation introduced in Congress does not pass.  The Founding Fathers, in preparing the Constitution, intentionally made it this way to encourage contributions from multiple interests.  You must also remember that if legislation is passed by both houses of Congress (requiring only majority votes in the House and Senate), it can still be vetoed by the President and requires 2/3 votes by both the House and Senate to make it become law even if the President objects.  Far to few of Trump’s and even Cruz’s supporters realize this.

Let’s now turn to Marco Rubio’s ill-fated gang of eight immigration legislation in 2013.  Rubio, as a pragmatic legislator, recognized that highly restrictive illegal immigration legislation could not pass in a Senate controlled by the Democrats by a 55-45 margin at that time.  He worked with three other Republicans and four other Democrats in the “Gang of Eight” to achieve what he thought was legislation that could pass the Senate at that time which it did.  Rubio’s hope was that the Republican controlled House would improve the legislation to make it more acceptable to conservatives.  This did not happen and the legislation died at the end of the 113th Congress in 2013-2014.  When legislation is not enacted during a two-year congressional session it DIES!  This is a basic fact of congressional policymaking that Rubio’s ignorant critics continually fail to realize and they need to GET OVER their infantile animosity toward him on this issue.  Rubio himself has stressed the legislation did not stress border security sufficiently and effectively deal with public concern over illegal immigration.

The key lesson for this is that voters need to understand that Presidents do not govern by executive dictate, but must work with Congress to pass legislation.  This requires having some ability to work, on a relatively temporary basis, with members of the opposing political party who may share common interests with you on a given legislative subject.  The Lugar Center, named for former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, has just published its 2015 Bipartisan Index of U.S. Senators who worked with other Senators in introducing legislation.  While bipartisanship can be taken to far and result in excessive legislative and sometimes moral compromise, tactical compromise is essential in our current political environment in which neither party is likely to have overwhelming dominance in congressional seats in the House or Senate given current electoral demographics and congressional redistricting.  Of the 98 Senators listed in this survey, which excluded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid, Rubio ranked as the 28th most bipartisan Senator while Ted Cruz ranked 97th and Bernie Sanders ranked 98th.

If, God forbid, Donald Trump becomes President he will very quickly antagonize potential supporters in Congress, not to mention foes, with his imperious and insolent demeanor.  He’ll find he can’t get things accomplished with the bulldog tenacity he uses to negotiate real-estate deals or interact with New York City area building commissions.  While he’s a substantive and principled conservative, Ted Cruz will find out he’s alienated so many people in the Senate with his sanctimonious grandstanding that his chances of getting legislation through Congress will be practically nonexistent.  John Kasich, due to his tenure in the House of Representatives and as Ohio’s Governor, at least has a serious understanding of how the legislative branch.  So does Marco Rubio from his time in the U.S. Senate and his service in Florida’s House of Representatives including two years as that chamber’s speaker.

The 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston once said that England did not have eternal friends or eternal enemies but eternal interests.  This aphorism applies to the President’s relationship with Congress and Congress’ relationship with the President.  Some days relationships will be good, some days they’ll be bad, and some days they will reside somewhere in between these spectrums.  Unless, we decide to totally change the Constitution as our form of government and perhaps do away with Congress, we have to face the inescapable reality that some level of amity between the President and Congress is required to pass necessary legislation.  Sadly, Donald Trump and his single digit IQ followers fail to realize this reality and their blind passion for this demagogic buffoon will have sad results for our country if he becomes President.



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