Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Beating The Dead Horse Of Bipartisanship

Here I go again trying to defend the concept of true bipartisanship and ways to achieve it. I scratch my near bald head, watch the political shenanigans in amazement and am at a loss for words to describe the avalanche of governance garbage that is filling the space of our daily lives. "How can this be happening?" I ask. And then I answer, "It's so obvious. Why can't we get this right and move on?

An article, by David Frum,"How to Build an Autocracy", in the March 2017 issue of The Atlantic is enlightening and caught my attention when it talked about the power of Fox News to the typical Republican member of Congress and its ability boost or crush a Member's popularity with their constituency. That power has recently been increased big time with the recent Presidential endorsements.

E.G. 1/24/17 Tweet: "Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN - public is smart!" And about his recent CIA speech, Trump said, "That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I'll mention you -- we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches." He told ABC's David Muir, "Turn on Fox and see how it [CIA speech] was covered."

The end point of the discussion was that "oversight of Trump by the Republican congressional majority will very likely be cautious, conditional, and limited." This is a screaming red flag on the breakdown of governance and the Constitutional system of checks and balances that is supposed to protect us from an over zealous Executive branch.

The article rightly points out that, "As politics has become polarized, Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party. Recent presidents enjoying a same-party majority in Congress—Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, George W. Bush from 2003 through 2006—usually got their way."

Also discussed in the article is the incredible power of social media. Frum, in a hypothetical projection envisions, "social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true." Additionally, we have all been treated to the barrage of tweets from our new President and his self-proclaimed ability to speak truthfully and directly to the "people" and bypass the filter (i.e. fact checker) of the "mainstream media" which his Administration calls the "opposition party” which should "keep its mouth shut."

We must also not forget the enormous power that goes with the Presidency, i.e. control of all agencies including the FBI and CIA and other intelligence bodies. That power could be misused as it has been in the past to "harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods."

So, the Founders, in all their brilliance (and they were unbelievably brilliant) did not foresee the power of Fox News, social media and the high tech capabilities of intelligence gathering by those with nefarious or malicious intent. These factors have and could have a profound disruptive influence on the system of checks and balance they wove into the Constitution to keep the Executive branch in check.

Now back to the dead horse -- bipartisanship. By not engaging in true bipartisanship in governing, Congress relinquishes a considerable portion of its power over the Executive branch. True bipartisanship is not easy, and as I have said in previous posts, it runs counter to the DNA of most politicians, but it is the key to restoring Congress as the strongest branch of government as the Founders intended. It is also the key to ending gridlock, making Congress functional again, and elevating its approval ratings in the eyes of the public.

True bipartisanship begins with a basic recognition that you cannot govern an equally, ideologically divided nation with all of the power on one side. It is a recipe for disaster which is exactly what we have now under the existing power distribution scheme. It is why Congressional approval ratings generally range between 10%-20%. It is why Congress, by demonstrating its gross incompetence, has ceded nearly all of its power to the Executive branch. While Republicans currently have the power, my position and argument applies to both parties, no matter who has the power at any given time. Both parties share equally in their responsibility for Congressional gridlock.

As I have tried to explain in previous postings, true bipartisanship beginning with shared power in the committee and subcommittees system of the House and Senate could completely alter the legislative process dynamics, reduce the incentive for gridlock games and political posturing, maximize and focus staff resources and blunt the affect of excessive lobbying and financial influence.

As atypical as the concept of shared power in Congress is, it is not without precedent. The House and Senate Ethics Committees operate and function with the concept of shared power where there is equal party membership on the committees and the staff is nonpartisan and prohibited from engaging in any partisan political activity by Congressional rules.

Imagine legislative proposals for immigration reform, infrastructure development, health care and a host of other critical issues arriving on the House or Senate floor after being developed through a shared power committee structure.

The process would force bipartisanship at the beginning of the process. Imagine, at the subcommittee level where Members with specific knowledge of the subject matter from both sides of aisle each present their proposals for addressing the issue. They would most likely be markedly different. They would have to argue and debate, have hearings with experts and testimony equally from both sides, utilize unbiased staff resources to investigate and develop suggestions and finally craft a compromise. The process would be somewhat like the Conference Committee process where competing differences between House and Senate bills are resolved; however, it would be much more thorough, comprehensive and nonpartisan.

The compromise would have to achieve a majority vote of the subcommittee and move on to the full committee where it would again be debated, subjected to hearings, further scrutiny and finally a majority vote of the full committee.

As the legislation reached the House or Senate floor there would still be plenty of opportunity for dissent, as it is unlikely that proposal would achieve unanimous consent. Amendments and debate on those amendments would be expected and more conventional political maneuvering would likely occur where the majority party would obviously have the upper hand. However, legislation developed through this process would be much more credible and would have true bipartisan roots and support from Members from both sides with skin in the game.

Similarly, as with legislative development, the idea of shared committee power with nonpartisan staff would vastly improve the other major responsibility of Congress – Executive branch oversight. No longer would oversight be limited to just presidents and agencies of the opposite party; partisan witch hunts and character assassinations would likely be eliminated and effective review of agency programs, budgets and actions would be more normalized.

As indicated above, true bipartisanship would not be easy and is counter to the excessively polarized and partisan political environment that exists inside the Beltway. But, if Congress does not change its ways we are doomed with gridlock, ever increasing Executive branch power and the frightening future predicted in David Frum's article, "How to Build an Autocracy."

If Congress does not change its own ways (which is highly unlikely), the now completely scattered public pressure from interest groups and public demonstrations should be coordinated and focused on what I have called the Achilles' heel, the linchpin of Congressional dysfunction – the broken committee and subcommittee process.

Friday, February 10, 2017
Congressional Job ApprovalPPP (D)Approve 16, Disapprove 68Disapprove +52


  1. The committee process isn't broken. It is exactly the way that the party in power in Congress wants it. The standing committees have a preponderance of the majority party's representatives specifically to prevent gridlock. If all of the committees were equally divided between the two parties, nothing would ever get reported out to the floor. And, since the rules always favor the party in power, and the party in power benefits from the rules, why would you ever expect any changes to be made?

    The same situation pertains to the Electoral College System. Many people want to see it dismantled, but the party in power is ALWAYS in power BECAUSE of the Electoral College and therefore has zero incentive to make any changes to the system, which requires a constitutional amendment that neither party has the votes to pass.

  2. I think the committee process IS broken, but agree it's exactly the way the party in power wants it. It would be enormously magnanimous if the party in power would relinquish its grip on the power, that's why it will take a large scale coordinated and focused citizen uprising to ever change it. Same is true with the Electoral College System which I have blogged about at: I don't agree that nothing would get reported if there was equal party committee membership. What WOULD emerge would be vastly improved over what emerges now -- one sided solutions to two+ sided problems. And, if nothing emerged, maybe that would be a good thing.