Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shared Committee Power: How Crazy Is It?

From the Congressional Record, January 5, 2001, (107th Congress, 1st Session Issue: Vol. 147, No. 3 — Daily Edition). Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MS) on the Senate Floor discussing Senate Resolution 8, The Powersharing Agreement. [See the full text] The agreement was expanded by a leadership colloquy on January 8, 2001.

Mr. DASCHLE. The other day, I quoted the writer Thomas Wolfe who said: 
America is not only the place where miracles happen, they happen all the time.
If the resolution I will soon introduce is not miraculous, it is, at the very least,historic. It is also fair and reasonable. The details and the spirit of this agreement, which I expect the Senate to pass later today, should enable us to conduct our Nation's first 50/50 Senate in a most productive and bipartisan manner.

I especially thank the Republican leader, Senator Lott. We will enter into a colloquy in a period of time to be later determined, but I must say, without his leadership and his sense of basic fairness, this agreement would not have come about. He and I have spent many hours over the last several months, and now weeks, and certainly in the last several days, negotiating the details of this agreement. He spent many more hours consulting with the members of his caucus about it. He and they deserve credit for taking this unprecedented step. . .

Our negotiations involve many difficult issues and many strongly held opinions. Neither party got everything it wanted. Both sides made concessions. Both caucuses made principled compromises. That is the essence of democracy.

This agreement accurately reflects the historic composition of the Senate. More important, I believe it reflects the
political thinking of the American people. It calls for equal representation on Senate committees. Every committee would have the same number of Republicans and Democrats. And it specifies that Republicans will chair the committees after January 20. It allows for equal budgets and office space for both caucuses, at 50/50.

One of the most vexing questions we struggled with during our negotiations was how to break ties when committees are divided equally. We have agreed that in the event of a tie vote, either leader can move to discharge a bill or nomination. The Senate will then debate the motion to discharge for four hours, and that time will be equally divided. There will then be a vote on the motion. If the motion passes, the bill or nomination would be placed on the calendar.

Similarly, the resolution allows committee Chairs to discharge a subcommittee in the case of a tie vote and place the legislative item or nomination on the full committee agenda.

We arrived at this process after much thinking and exchange of ideas. Senator Lott has been concerned that equal representation on the committees could lead to gridlock. While I do not share that concern, I believe this was a fair concession to get this agreement. . .

Today's agreement makes a big downpayment on the bipartisanship we owe our country. Democrats and Republicans made significant concessions, putting the national interest first and putting party aside. . .

Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, I wouldn't say this is my preferred result, but I think it is a reasonable one with a serious dose of reality. We have work to do and we need to begin it now, not in a week or two or three or four. We need to conclude the assignment of our Members to the all important committees that will be having hearings on the nominees. . .

I would prefer to have a clear advantage on every committee and a clear advantage number-wise on everything. While that is preferable, it is not the reality. . .

What we have here, as difficult as it may make life for us, as difficult as it may be for our committee members and our chairmen and ranking members to make this situation work, it is going to require additional work, but it can be done. It is going to force us to work together more than we have in the past. No doubt. I do not think that is bad. I think this is a framework for bipartisanship. There has been a lot of talk about that word, and I am sure there are some people in this city, in this Chamber, who smirk at that, laugh at that. People across America are saying: I have heard enough of that; let's get some results here. . .

It is a framework to see if we really mean it. It can force us to live up to the truest and best meaning of that word-- nonpartisanship, Americanship, that is what we ought to call it--to find a way to get to these issues. . .

This is a classic case of extending the hand of friendship, of good faith. Will it lead to tremendous accomplishments or will that hand of friendship be bitten or the posterior kicked by one side or the other? It could, but we have to start from a position of good faith and reach out and say we are going to make this work.

If it does not work, then the American people will see. If these 50/50 committees do not function, then we can talk about obstructionism, and one way or the other, the American people will know who is trying to make it work and who is stalling it. If we come to this floor and have a debate on a tax bill and it passes this Senate by whatever number and does not get to conference or is tied up in conference or is killed in conference, do you think the American people are going to stand for that? I do not think so. We cannot let that happen. 
Yes, the shared power agreement did occur. From January 2001 to June 2001, during one of the most tumultuous times in American political history. George W. Bush, the Electoral College winner was declared the President over Democratic opponent Al Gore who received the majority of the popular vote. It was the closest presidential election in the nation's history, with a .009% margin, 537 votes, separating the two candidates in the decisive state, Florida.

So, maybe the idea of shared Congressional committee power is not so crazy or far fetched as some may think. The 2001 power-sharing agreement only lasted for five months when on May 24, 2001, Republican James Jeffords left the party to become an Independent and began caucusing with the Democrats, thus breaking the 50/50 party split in the Senate.

While it only lasted five months, the discussion above is refreshing in today’s highly polarized Congressional atmosphere. There are many lessons to be learned here and we should reflect on the words.

The 2001 shared power agreement and its rationale provides a beginning point for discussion of the need to change the committee power structure that currently exists and is doomed to produce one-sided solutions to exceedingly complex problems and issues. The current debate over a nationwide health care system is a great example.

Perhaps we should give this idea some thought and keep in mind the words of Senator Lott above:

“I think this is a framework for bipartisanship. . . nonpartisanship, Americanship, that is what we ought to call it. . .” 
Power-Sharing Legislation - Senators Lott and Daschle spoke to reporters about an agreement to have equal membership on Senate committees. . .

See my previous posts on the concept of Shared Committee Power:

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