Friday, December 23, 2016

Bipartisanship: How The GOP Could Heal A Divided Nation

Politics Is Power. . .with a capital “P” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for POWER. . .

Cherry picking and altering a few lines from the 1962 American musical film classic, Music Man, starring Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill:

Friend, either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated . . . ya got trouble right here in the U.S.A. . . We've surely got trouble! Right here in the U.S.A! Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule! Oh, we've got trouble. We're in terrible, terrible trouble. [See the real lyrics]

Okay, maybe the analogy between politics and pool in the Music Man is not perfect, but I’m trying to make a point here. Whether you want to believe it or not there is a serious political divide in this country that is threatening to rip it apart.

As a somewhat humorous aside, but truly related; I stumbled upon a 2015 song by the great Willie Nelson and the late, great Merle Haggard, that captures the feeling of about half of the country:

“Well, it’s all going to pot
Whether we like it or not
The best I can tell
The world’s gone to hell
And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot. . .” [
access the video]

Seriously, although 52% of Republican voters think Donald Trump won the popular vote (see article) – he didn’t. . . and that’s a fact – he lost by nearly 3 million votes (2,864,978 as of 12/15/16). To make it clear, that means that out of all the citizens of the United States that cast their ballots in the latest Presidential election and did their duty as Americans, almost 3 million more voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump to be the 45th President and almost 54% of those that voted, did not vote for Donald Trump. 

We have to start looking at facts, not rhetoric; and try to understand what it means:

·        A December 19, 2016, a Gallup poll shows that 57% of adult Americans approve of the job that President Barack Obama is doing
·        The same day, a Rasmussen Reports poll indicates 56% of Americans think the country is on the “wrong track”
·        Also on the same day, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 54 percent of adults saying that they are either uncertain (25 percent) or pessimistic and worried (29 percent) about how Trump will perform during his presidency [access the NBC poll]
·        On December 16, 2016, a Gallup poll indicates 78% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing [access the first three polls here]

From the above facts, it seems fairly obvious that most Americans think the country is on the wrong track, they approve of the job President Obama has done, they are concerned and cautious about a Donald Trump presidency and they are really dissatisfied with the job that Congress has done.

So as Professor Harold Hill says, “either you're closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated” if you chose to ignore these facts. Yes, Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote (See previous post) and according to the rules of the game under which we are playing now, he is undisputedly the new President of the United States; BUT, under no circumstance can President-elect Trump or the Republican Party claim that they have a mandate to exercise their political will.

To claim such a mandate would be to blatantly and shamelessly ignore the facts and to put party, power and politics above good government and to intentionally exacerbate the already deeply divided general public.

According to the rules, the GOP has all the political power – House, Senate and Executive Office – but by all counts, a razor thin margin in nationwide political divide. There is now a clear choice as to how it uses that power – to heal the nation or further divide it.

It’s not enough to simply say: “Democrats get over it. You lost. Buck up and move on.” Well, I guess that’s the simplistic solution. But that solution is not going to heal a deeply divided nation.

It’s become a game played by both parties. “I win. Now you’re going to play by my rules and you’re going to pay for what you did to me.” The excuse for being mean is, “You did it to me, so I’m doing it to you. . . If you can do it, so can I.” [See previous post, Gridlock Games: "If you can do it, so can I. . ."This is the childish game being played inside the Beltway. All the while ignoring the facts of how deeply divided the nation is – let’s call it 50-50.

The more we continue to play the foolish game and advocate “my way or the highway” solutions that ignore the beliefs of half of the country, the more the general public becomes frustrated, angry and distrustful of the process that can’t resolve the pressing problems of the day. That’s why the Congressional approval rating is around 20% -- on a good day.

Now the Electoral College has elected a new President and the expectation is that everything will change. But the old President had a 57% approval rating and the new one has something like a 46% approval rating. For sure we are going to see change, but was it really the President that was making people think we were on the wrong track?

What about Congress with their 20% approval rating? Unfortunately, they appear to be off and rerunning the same old playbook. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has recently become a giddy supporter of Donald Trump after being an outspoken critic for months. Ryan, like a kid in a candy store with a pocket full of money, seems anxious to dust off all those Republican bills that were rejected when that mean old President Obama was in office. Knowing full well that those bills will not be acceptable to about half of the country, he’s ready to move quickly during the first 100 days to pass as many as possible.

He was recently quoted in the Washington Times saying, “We intend on delivering, and we’re going to make sure that this is the most productive Congress we’ve seen in a long, long time. I’m confident that, as people understand the way the legislative process works, they will see that we are going to be hitting the ground running.” [See article]

Among the promises are getting rid of air, water and climate change regulations; increasing oil and gas production on public lands; finally repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care); cutting funding for Planned Parenthood; tax breaks for the wealthy; restarting the coal industry; cutting clean energy funding and programs; and many more highly controversial programs.

Here we go again. I’m not saying the Democrats wouldn’t do the same if the table was turned; but, I am reminded about the definition of insanity – you know “over and over again.” We actually have a choice and right now Republicans are in power and could actually change course. Recognizing the reality of a sharply divided electorate where the losing candidate actually received almost 3 million more votes than the winner, we could try something new – call it an experiment to reflect the changing times and the current political reality. If it produces better results maybe we could continue it.

So, is there one thing that could be done to really heal this divided nation and at the same time bring about government reform that would lead to better governance? Something that would acknowledge the differences between party principles, yet respect the participants on both sides of the aisle? An idea that could be implemented without a Constitutional amendment or even a new law. A solution completely within the Legislative branch of government that could be  implemented immediately with just political will; and political will means power and the Republicans have it all.

This proposal is radical, but these are radical times. The nation is more divided than it has ever been and the traditional methods of operation in Congress have broken down to the point of being dysfunctional and unable to address the critical issues of our time. It is time for radical solutions that can truly make a difference. If radical measures are not taken, or at least tried, we will face further gridlock and deeper divisions and unrest of all Americans.

What better time to try a new approach than when the elected President loses the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and there is no clear political mandate. To ignore this reality and carry on business as usual is grossly irresponsible and an insult to the American public.

Bipartisanship is a word that is used a lot in politics. The generalized definition is:

 “a political situation, especially in the context of a two-party system in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise.”

It’s a great concept and certainly what is needed in these troubling times.

Most often the term is touted in the context of bipartisan legislation or proposals to solve critical problems where the majority party manages to get the agreement of one or a few members of the minority party and the bill or idea is claimed to have bipartisan support – even though it is widely opposed by most of the minority party. This is phony or fake bipartisanship.

True bipartisanship is where legislation or proposals are developed within the context of a completely level playing field and advanced with near majority support from both parties, i.e. real compromise.

To get to the underpinnings of Congressional gridlock and disingenuous bipartisanship you must look deep down in into sausage factory of government where laws are made and issues are debated. It starts with the multitude of House and Senate Committees (21 in each house) and further down with the many Subcommittees (over 150).

The legislative subcommittees and committees are where the laws and solutions are developed and where executive agencies are monitored through oversight. Under current rules, this is where bipartisanship gets off to a false start. The subcommittees and committees are ruled by a majority party chairperson and the membership always assures a majority party control. Therefore all actions at this very basic level of solution development are under the strict control of the majority party.

For example, the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee is currently chaired by Representative Fred Upton (R-MI). The Committee includes 31 Republican members and 23 Democratic members. There are six separate subcommittees. A typical subcommittee, the Environment & Economy Subcommittee is chaired by Representative John Shimkus (R-IL). The Subcommittee includes 12 Republican members and 8 Democratic members. Thus, all environmental issues that are considered in the House of Representatives begin their journey first in the Subcommittee and then the full Committee and are completely controlled by the Chairmen of these bodies and all matters are decided where the majority party has a significant voting advantage.

The committee and subcommittee level is where specific legislative language is developed, staff research is done, experts are consulted, hearings and public meetings are held, witnesses and interest groups testify and votes are taken to move things forward. This is where lobbyists and interest groups have their greatest influence because they are dealing with fewer legislators that they must win over to their point of view. In the above example, lobbyist and interest groups concerned about environmental matters can focus intense efforts on the Committee chairman and 12 Republican members of the environment Subcommittee that basically control environmental matters in the House.

Although House and Senate rules provide some concessions to the minority party, the bottom line is that they have no real control over the agenda, they are provided less budget and staff resources, witness testimony is lopsided in favor of the majority, and most importantly they are out-voted and out-maneuvered on all differing positions.

This is why legislative proposals and agency oversight are most often one-sided. This is why committee hearings are generally more of a sideshow rather than an objective information exchange and airing of different points of view. This is why lobbyists and special interests are able to exercise undue influence over the process. And finally, this is why ill-conceived legislative proposals that ignore large sections of the population arrive on the House and Senate floor. Likewise, it is the reason that legislative oversight of executive agencies turn into partisan witch hunts and character assassinations of agency personnel rather than an effective review of agency programs, budgets and actions.

With a simple act of Republican Party will and power in the House and Senate, this situation could change if the rules of committee and subcommittee operations were amended to provide equal co-chairs, equal majority and minority membership, and equal budget and staff.

This one fundamental change in business as usual would completely alter the legislative process dynamics by filtering the issues to be addressed to the most important ones and forcing compromise at the very beginning of the legislative process. It would assure that both sides – majority and minority parties – had an equal and fair hand in developing proposals and solutions to address the critical issues of the day and the reality of a politically divided population. Proposal and solutions, developed in the true spirit of compromise, could include the best ideas of both sides and avoid the sharp differences and conflicts that further divide the nation.

The operating procedures and details for such a change would have to be adopted in rules of the House and Senate but could be somewhat on the order of a Conference Committee which is a standard Congressional process to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of a legislative bill. Additionally, there is a ready-made model for shared power committee operations in the House and Senate Ethics Committees. These are unique committees where membership is evenly divided between each political party and unlike other committees, the day-to-day work of the committees are conducted by staff that is nonpartisan by rule.

In conclusion it is noted that the idea of shared power runs counter to the instinctive DNA of most politicians. The basic goal of political dynamics is to acquire power and use it to achieve ideological objectives. As sad as it may be, those objectives rarely include better governance.

While the party in power could institute reforms to heal a deeply divided nation the odds are not good. As I have discussed before politicians and Washington insiders cannot be expected to change the system for the better because all parties benefit and take advantage of the destructive mechanisms depending on who’s in power at any given time. If reform proposals are ever implemented it will most likely require something on the order of a public revolution with intense public pressure as well as strategic and coordinated involvement of the many public interest and reform organizations that are focused on these issues.
[See list of Tools for Democracy in the side panel]

Monday, November 28, 2016

Another Piece of the Broken Government Puzzle

J.P. McJefferson
J.P. McJefferson

There are many confusing explanations in response to this question, but it’s a simple matter of state votes vs. public or popular votes. When you vote for President, you are actually voting to determine how your state will vote for President — you are not voting directly for the President.
Frankly, I could care less, how my state votes for the President, yet it is one of the primary reasons for the electoral college process. It’s all about big states vs. little states. The Founders had a fear that under the popular vote, the choice of President would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones. When they wrote the constitution, this was a big deal with the limitations of travel and communication. Obviously, a candidate could campaign in a few large states, save money, time and likely get elected.
In today’s world, the process is totally meaningless and irrelevant and yet we continue to use the same antiquated process over 200 years after it was instituted. It has now led to two unprecedented Presidential elections in the last 16 years where the states elected George Bush and Donald Trump, but the public elected Al Gore and Hillary Clinton by over 500,000 and 2.23 million votes, respectively.
Another reason for the electoral college process was to prevent a charismatic tyrant from fooling the public and attracting a majority of the popular vote. The Founders reasoned that the electoral college process would allow a more knowledgeable group of savy electors to override a misinformed public. As you might expect, there are various opinions on whether that “check and balance” actually works.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweeping Gridlock Under The Rug

As the nation prepares for the most watched television debate ever between Clinton and Trump, the most important governance crisis this country faces is almost never discussed – Congressional gridlock.

Oh yeah, you will hear candidates expounding on how they’re going to work with Congress to get things done. They’re going to “reach across the aisle” and work with the other side – blah, blah, blah – it’s all empty rhetoric.

The issue of Congressional gridlock is front and center, the most important underlying issue this country faces. It is destroying the country’s ability to govern itself, make important decisions and advance the principles of democracy that made this country great and the shinning star on the world stage.

Yet, despite its importance, the basic issue and serious proposals for reform rarely get the appropriate public exposure, debate and attention it deserves. It demands Presidential leadership and should be at the top of the agenda for the Presidential debate.

The publics’ frustration with government’s dysfunction is highlighted consistently with nearly two-thirds in recent years, silently screaming the country is on the wrong track. But, they are also focusing their frustration like a laser beam on Congress – not the President and specifically not President Obama.

The latest and recent Presidential approval ratings show President Obama at between 50-54 percent. Congressional approval, on the other hand is between 9-12 percent – H-E-L-L-O! – screaming dissatisfaction with the way Congress is addressing its Constitutional responsibilities. (RealClearPolitics latest and recent polling)

In tonight’s Presidential debate, wouldn’t you like to hear each candidate provide some specifics (underline specifics) on how they will address the most important, underlying issue in U.S. politics today? GO LESTER HOLT!

FOLLOW UP: Well, the subject of good government, broken government, Congressional gridlock, etc. did not come up in Monday night’s debate watched by over 80 million viewers (transcript). But, it sure would have been interesting to hear the responses. Maybe next time. How about this question for example:

MODERATOR: This question is for both of you. As you know, the overall Congressional approval rating hovers at around 10%, yet President Obama’s approval rating is over 50%. How do you explain this phenomenon? And, as President, how would you use the bully pulpit to educate the American public about Congressional gridlock and what do you plan to do or propose to make Congress more functional?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

An Inside Look At The Politics of Congressional Gridlock

If you’re looking for an excellent example and an inside look at how political gridlock works to stifle action on critical issues, you need to read this well written account by Lindsay Wise with McClatchy news service:

This is why only 14% of registered voters approve of the job Congress is doing; 78% disapprove; and 9% are unsure. [Monmouth U. RV poll 8/4/16.] 

This is the reason "Right Track - Wrong Track" polling results continually indicate widespread belief that the country is on the wrong track, in spite of the fact that President Obama’s approval ratings continue to rank over 50% -- which is always a milestone for any President.

Congressional reformers should look closely at this article and dissect it at each junction in the process to develop proposals for change. A major focus should be on the ability of legislators to add unrelated amendments and riders to legislation designed to address a specific issues. [See my post: Unrelated Amendments & Riders – Tricks of the Political Trade]

Unfortunately, these political shenanigans continue each day Congress is in session and are designed to frustrate constructive action on major issues. They further divide and polarize the legislature and the general public as the “blame game” plays out with 24/7 media coverage & news bites, tweets & blog posts, editorials & op-eds and general Internet chatter.

The source of overall public discontent with “government” seems clear – the solutions are not. Interesting, the current Presidential campaigns seem to be missing an important opportunity to address strategies and specific solutions to address the current state of governmental dysfunction.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Poll: Voters Blame Both Parties for Congressional Gridlock

While Democrats and Republicans running for Congress have blamed the opposing party for the gridlock in Washington, a majority of voters (55 percent) said both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are equally to blame for the stalemate, according to the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll.
However, nearly double the number of voters said Republicans in Congress are more to blame (30 percent) than Democrats (14 percent). . . (click to continue). Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.0 percentage points. For full results and methodology, click here

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Congressional Gridlock Now A Matter of Life and Death. . .

HOUSTON (Aug. 29, 2016) – House Republicans are playing with our lives when they play political games and refuse to fund Zika virus treatment and research.
Last year, we learned the Zika virus was on its way to America. In February, the President asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding for mosquito control, treatment, and development of a vaccine. House Republicans slashed that request by almost 50%, to $1.1 billion, and then, in August, left for a month-long vacation without passing the requested legislation or approving any funds for this critical effort. Not a penny!
An important aspect of this request is that, not only are Houston and Texas as a whole going to be hard-hit by Zika, but America’s leading Zika vaccine research is happening right here in our Texas Medical Center. Medically and financially, Houston has an enormous stake in this Congressional action (and inaction).
While the political blame game plays out in the papers and on TV, there are over 90 confirmed Zika cases in Texas, 30 in Harris County, and 2 dead babies—one here in Harris County.
The fact is that House Republicans, including John Culberson, control Congress and will not allow a vote on a “clean” Zika bill, without any adding unrelated provisions addressing displays of the confederate flag, amendments to the Clean Water Act, or unpopular restrictions on Planned Parenthood.
It is crystal clear which party puts political games ahead of our health and our babies’ health.
I am running for Congress because I am tired of our do-nothing Congress.
I am tired of watching the Republican House leadership play political games while mothers and their babies suffer and die from this terrible disease.

When political gridlock in faraway Washington, DC, threatens the lives of Houstonians right here and now, it’s no laughing matter and it’s not a game. It’s a matter of our elected officials not being responsible to the people who elected them. And, now, it’s also a matter of life and death.
--------------- END OF REPRINT ----------------

AND SO IT GOES. . . (See my post: Unrelated Amendments & Riders -- Tricks of the Political Trade)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

RIGHT TRACK - WRONG TRACK: It's All About Gridlock

I heard a respected political pundit the other day expressing confusion over the fact that the latest "Right Trak - Wrong Track" poll indicating widespread belief that the country was on the wrong track, in spite of the indications that the President's approval ratings continue to rank over 50% -- which is always a milestone for any President.

"Uhmmm," I said to myself, "it make perfect sense to me. I wonder why it's not obvious to him (the pundit)."

I decided to do a little research and found a recent July 17, 2016, article reporting on this perceived conundrum. According to the report on the lates Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. . . 
"Some 73% in the new survey say things have gone off-course, with only 18% saying the nation is headed in the right direction. . . For the third straight month, 51% of voters say they approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, his highest marks sincetaking the oath of office for a second time, in early 2013."
"Together, the two indicators mark a rare occurrence: Usually presidents and their party take the blame when Americans are unhappy. But while the nation is unified in dissatisfaction, many don’t see the party in power as its cause." July17, 2016 WSJ
The latest Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted by Selzer & Company, Aug. 5-8, 2016, indicates 68% wrong trak; 25% right direction; 7% unsure. During the first half of August, President Obama's approval rating has averaged 53.5% according to 4 separate polls.

I'm a political wonk so I watch and read a lot about the current Presidential campaign. I hear Donald Trump and his Republican surrogates constantly emphasizing the fact that nearly three-fourths of American's think the contry is on the wrong track. Thus, they imply -- it is obvious the people want a change in leadership at the top. When they're promoting their party or Presidential nominee, they rarely point out President Obama's high approval ratings. 

But wait a minute, why are people so dissatisfied with the direction of the country if the President's approval ratings are so high? Well, you have to look at couple of other poll numbers.

How about this one -- 14% approve of the job Congress is doing; 78% disapprove; and 9% are unsure. Monmouth U. RV poll 8/4/16. The highest figure this year for Congressional approval was 19%. Further, Democrats in Congress garnered a modest 37% approval while Republicans saw only a 20% approval.

It seems clear to me that people are not upset with the direction of the country because of President Obama – why would his approval rating be over 50%?. It doesn't even seem to be a highly partisan dissatisfaction – 37% approval is only moderately better than 20%, and not really anything to be terribly proud of. What’s so revealing is the combined Democrat-Republican rating of 14%.

You should be hearing bells and whistles about now. It’s not the leadership at the top that has the country so upset – it’s because of the complete and utter inaction and dysfunction in the U.S. Congress – it’s called Congressional gridlock and it is the root of the publics’ belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction (and that's what this blog is all about).

Timely related article in Real Clear Politics: "Will Right-Track/Wrong-Direction Numbers Help Trump?", By David Byler, August 18, 2016. Also, check out the revealing comments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

V.P. Biden Could Lead Gridlock Reform

An Open Letter To Vice President Biden

Mr. Vice President, now is the time for you to 
exercise one of your important duties.

Dear Mr. Vice President,

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice, has indicated that “Although often overlooked, one of the duties of the vice president is to act as president of the Senate, including issuing advisory opinions about internal Senate procedure.”1

I am writing to you to remind that you are in a very unique position at a critical point in our nation’s history to issue an historic Advisory Opinion on internal Senate procedures that could be a highlight of your legacy and a manifesto to challenge and guide the future operations of the United States Senate.

First of all, as President of the U.S. Senate you are in the foremost position to issue such a manifesto. Secondly, your 36 year career as an active U.S. Senator, combined with nearly 8 years as Vice President and Senate President, has given you a perspective unmatched by any individual. Thirdly, your apparent retirement from elected office, gives you a credibility and neutrality which is necessary to speak on a controversial issue that demands bipartisanship, yet defies resolution because of its powerful political scope that benefits both major political parties. Finally, as the Obama Administration draws to a close and a new Presidency has yet to be decided, and a new Congressional session looms, the timing could not be better to set the stage for a new era Senatorial reform.

As you and all Washington, DC insiders know well, certain Senate procedures and rules are a major contributor to governmental gridlock and dysfunction. The excessive increase in the so-called “silent filibuster”; the arcane procedure known as a Senatorial “hold”; and the ability of Senate Leadership and Committee Chairs to ignore Constitutionally-mandated functions (advise and consent) because there are no specified procedural time limits (e.g. Supreme Court appointment), are a few examples of rules and procedures that demand changes.

Some will argue that such changes require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, but that argument has been dispelled by both Republicans and Democrats.

Again, citing the Brennan Center, “The Constitution nowhere requires a two-thirds vote for changing Senate rules and does not even mention filibusters. The Constitution states that ‘each house may determine the rules of its proceedings,’ and the document requires a two-thirds vote only for impeachments, expelling a member, ratifying treaties, overriding presidential vetoes, and proposing constitutional amendments. There is simply no reason to believe that the framers of the Constitution thought a two-thirds vote could be required for the Senate (or the House) to change its rules. The straightforward inference is that, as a constitutional matter, only a simple majority is required.”2

Without going into the details of these extreme extra-parliamentary practices that both parties have self-imposed on House & Senate procedures, it is these very practices that have led, in large part, to the current dysfunctional government and the increasing public unrest.

It is my opinion that if you dig deep into the search for solutions you can find it in the simple concept of "majority rule." For the last several decades inside political manipulation by both parties has undermined this basic concept, and as a result given rise to a devilish concept of "minority rule." This nightmarish concept defies compromise and feeds on government stagnation, obstruction and inaction on increasingly perplexing problems and issues that demand action -- that's why the public is mad – that’s why they have lost their trust and respect for government.

Not only do these practices grind decision making to a standstill, but they allow for increased leverage for lobbyists and moneyed influences. These practices are the "demons of democracy" and have led to the public’s perception that Congress is basically useless as a governing body – e.g. approval ratings less than 10%.

As Thomas Jefferson pointed out way back in 1809, "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends, the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them." He also said, "All... being equally free, no one has a right to say what shall be law for the others. Our way is to put these questions to the vote, and to consider that as law for which the majority votes."3

The “demons of democracy” have so distorted the democratic process envisioned by the Founders and the Constitution, as to make it unrecognizable. No elected President (Democrat, Republican or Independent) can achieve their stated or envisioned goals for the country because of these constraints. The result is that the majority public and winning candidate are denied any opportunity to see their vision actually implemented.

We must have trust in the majority rule system as it may not always deliver the results that we, as an individual, envision; however, if decisions are really bad, the majority corrects itself by changing direction. The founders and our Constitution were based on the concept of majority rule and we have now drifted away from that cornerstone.

Mr. Vice President, your leadership on this vital issue at this critical time can help turn the tide of what is becoming a dangerous decline in the public’s belief in our democratic form of government and our political leaders from both major parties.

I refer you to my blog – J.P. McJefferson: Exposing the Underpinnings of a Broken Government – for postings, commentary, tools, resources and court cases relating to broken government.

Please use your position, experience and authority to address these critical issues in an Advisory Opinion on internal Senate procedures.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Comment: "How American Politics Went Insane"

(comment in response to Jonathan Rauch's article published in The Atlantic, July/August, 2016 issue -- "How American Politics Went Insane")

This is an excellent article that focuses on many of the underlying reasons that have led to the sad state of our current dysfunctional government and the increasing public unrest. It is my opinion that if you dig deep into the search for solutions you can find it in the simple concept of "majority rule." For the last several decades inside political manipulation by both parties has undermined this basic concept, and as a result given rise to a devilish concept of "minority rule." This nightmarish concept defies compromise and feeds on government stagnation, obstruction and inaction on increasingly perplexing problems and issues that demand action -- that's why the public is mad.
The deep-rooted underpinnings of this increased dysfunction are Congressional rules and procedures all designed to frustrate the concept of majority rule -- abuses of the filibuster process in the Senate (silent filibuster & extensive use); senatorial holds; the “Hastert rule” in the House; riders & unrelated amendments, etc. Not only do they grind decision making to a standstill, but they allow for increased leverage for lobbyists and moneyed influences.
These are the "demons of democracy" that, as this article indicates have led to, "the general public’s reflexive, unreasoning hostility to politicians and the process of politics. Neurotic hatred of the political class. . ." As Thomas Jefferson pointed out way back in 1809, "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends, the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them."
But, solutions are at hand. I agree with the article which indicates, "Restoring the earmarks that help grease legislative success requires nothing more than a change in congressional rules. . ." This is true and every Washington politician and political insider knows it. Yet reforms to correct the process are few and far between because both parties use the "demons" to their advantage to manipulate political outcomes.
The public, the media, political reformers and the few remaining "statesmen" in Congress must focus their efforts like a laser beam on the "demons" and press for changes to restore majority rule. As I point out in one of my blog posts, you have to trust the majority rule system as it may not always deliver the results that you want -- if decisions are really bad, the majority corrects itself by changing direction -- if you can't live with majority rule then you should probably seek another alternative, somewhere else.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Unrelated Amendments & Riders – Tricks of the Political Trade

(provided as a comment on H.R.2578 on the excellent website

H.R.2578 is a good example of legislative and political manipulation designed to confuse the public and hide important issue votes -- the practice of adding unrelated amendments, indirectly related and riders to bills under consideration. It is a ploy designed to deceive the public, sneak through legislation and make it difficult to hold legislators accountable. You can see here on the website, the important significance of some of the amendments to this bill that were considered and voted on are not revealed and you cannot tell how your Members voted. Unrelated amendments are a significant contributor to Congressional gridlock and broken government and should be eliminated.

The primary purpose of this bill was to provide appropriations to the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice (DOJ), science agencies, and several related agencies. Yet four, highly controversial amendments relating to gun regulations were offered and defeated in separate and very close votes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How should Congress react to the Orlando shooting?

(Response to a question posted on the Quora website)

In a better world, Congress should react to the Orlando shooting by doing something close to the wishes of the majority American public and in their best interest in terms of their public safety and security. Unfortunately, the Congressional action we have seen in reaction to Orlando, Sandy Hook and countless others, is the most appalling example of gridlock and a broken government – Congress did nothing; again, and again, and again.

  • 55% favor stricter gun control laws
  • 54% favor an outright ban on “assault-type guns
  • 54% favor a ban on high-capacity or extended ammunition clips
  • 92% favor expanded background checks
  • 87 % favor preventing certain people, such as convicted felons or people with mental health problems, from owning guns
  • 85% favor preventing people who are on the U.S. government's Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns

So, the American public clearly wants expanded controls and regulations of guns and people who buy them; however, the same poll also shows us that 90% of the public opposes preventing all Americans from owning guns. So, the public does not want the government to “take our guns away”, and based on public opinion, it seems to be only a fantasy conspiracy theory that such an action would ever be undertaken.

Despite the overwhelming public will; despite an old fashion standing Senate filibuster; despite an unprecedented 26-hour sit-in by House Democrats – Congress refused to do anything with respect to the Orlando shooting. If Congress didn’t act following the slaughter of twenty, 6 and 7 year olds at Sandy Hook; should we be surprised that they didn’t react to a massacre of 49 innocent souls in an Orlando nightclub?

While it may be easy to blame the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their money and lobbyists, we need to look deeper at what allows Congress to blatantly disregard public opinion and give so much power to a minority interest. It’s not just the NRA and it’s not just the gun issue. It’s about a host of issues and the inability of Congress to address difficult issues and take action.

It’s the result of a complex labyrinth of House and Senate rules (formal and informal) and procedures that are designed to frustrate the Founding Father’s cornerstone of democracy – “majority rule.” Thomas Jefferson, a staunch advocate of majority rule said: "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends, the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them." --Thomas Jefferson to Annapolis Citizens, 1809. ME 16:337

A scary thought for sure; and when it’s boiled down, the lack of majority rule is the underlying reason for most of the public unrest that is characterized as broken, dysfunctional government and gridlock. When you prevent majority rule you allow a minority to control decisions, as Alexander Hamilton pointed out, “To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision). . .” Federalist Paper #22.

Yes, we have a very divided electorate which seems to have grown more divided in recent years. But, the move to prevent majority rule has also made it more difficult to craft bipartisan solutions.

In the House of Representatives a measure cannot even be brought to the Floor unless a majority of the majority party (Republicans) agrees – the so-called “Hastart Rule”. Thus, based on the current numbers of Republican and Democrats in the House, all major issues are controlled by 29% of the members.

In the Senate, the old, standing filibuster has evolved into the new “silent” filibuster, where a Member simply says he will filibuster and action which then automatically requires a supermajority of 60 to bring an action to a vote. And, if that’s not enough, there is now an overused procedure called a “Senatorial hold” which allows any individual Senator to bring any action to a halt by placing a “hold” on it until certain demands are met.

These are just some of the procedural “tricks” that are used to prevent majority rule and they are used by both Democrats and Republicans. The sad part is that all Senators and Representatives know these procedures are resulting in the political gridlock that the public resents, but they refuse to eliminate them. Both parties use them to prevent majority rule, avoid responsibility, and create the gridlock which they can use as an excuse for their inaction.

The media, responsible government reform organizations, and the few ethical Members of the House and Senate (we used to call them “statesmen”) need to focus more attention on these, modern-day “demons of democracy” and the ease by which they could be eliminated if the right public pressure were applied.

Reasonable gun control regulations could have been implemented years ago, and many other important issues could have been addressed if these destructive mechanisms were scrubbed or seriously revised. And, who knows how many lives might have been saved.