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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Who will take the blame for congressional dysfunction later this year?

Congress is broken. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to understand this.

Congress in 2018 bears little resemblance to what the Founding Fathers envisioned for the institution back in 1787, where the Constitution intended for the “people’s House” to be the driving force behind passing budgets and laws that reflected the will of the People. Since United States representatives are elected every two years Omnibus bill(from roughly the same size districts throughout the states), they are theoretically closest to their constituents and the most accountable for their actions.

Or in our contemporary times maybe we should call it in-actions.

But is this a fair depiction of what’s really going on today? After all, the senate has become the epicenter of sloth in 21st century America. Whatever the House manages to pass is often/usually tied up in the dysfunctional upper chamber, a legislative body held hostage to archaic rules and traditions that not only no longer make sense, they’re destroying the brilliant checks and balances legislative system the Founders setup over 230 years ago.

President Donald Trump highlighted the malaise at his recent signing ceremony for the absurd omnibus spending bill, once again calling for the elimination of the filibuster rule (which requires 60 votes to end debate on a measure). Needless to say the word “filibuster” appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution itself and has been abused by both sides in recent times to stall if not stop the entire process.

Much hay was made a year ago this time when the Republican senate majority “nuked” the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move made necessary by Democrats who weren’t willing to advance the nomination of now Justice Neil Gorsuch to a vote (to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia and hence bring the Supreme Court back to a full bench of nine justices).

Despite Gorsuch’s sterling qualifications Democrats sought to perpetuate the Supreme Court’s intractable 4-4 ideological deadlock. They perceived Gorsuch’s textual constitutionalism as a threat to their notion of advancing progressivism rather than something to be celebrated. Democrats saw themselves as being one vote away from irrelevance (note: Joe Biden seems to agree).

Many argue Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should employ the same “nuclear option” again to get things moving and allow the Founders’ system to work as originally intended. Others believe ditching the filibuster completely wouldn’t even be enough, however.

Dennis Lennox wrote last week in the Washington Examiner, “The House needs a way to overrule a Senate that doesn't act on or rejects budget bills that have passed the House. That might mean the House can pass a budget or appropriations bill if the Senate hasn't acted in a given period of time (perhaps three months). Alternatively, perhaps a super-majority of the House could vote to send a budget or appropriations bill straight to the president's desk, without any Senate action.

“The Founding Fathers recognized the legitimacy of the popularly elected House of Representatives, as the Constitution requires budget bills to originate in the lower house. Yet for years the Republican-controlled House has passed budget bills only for them to die in the Senate, where minority Democrats can obstruct and block the GOP from enacting the political program that gave them a majority at the ballot box. (The dysfunction is only worse when a different party controls each house.)

“This has forced the federal government to budget through stopgap measures, be it continuing resolutions or the recently enacted omnibus bill that runs through the end of September. It has also denied the majority, with its unified control of the legislative and executive branches, the right to govern.”

Lennox (in part) blames the 105-year-old 17th Amendment (which allowed for the popular election of senators rather than being chosen by state legislatures as originally devised) for the current stalemate. When citizens began choosing their senators (instead of their states) the senate morphed into somewhat of a super legislature rather than acting as the voices of states seeking to check the growth and power of the federal government.

Theoretically speaking senators don’t feel the weight of their decisions when they go six years in between elections – there’s less accountability. In addition, state governments no longer have any sway over their federal senators. Here in Virginia, for example, our two senators are liberal Democrats who supported Obamacare and its potentially budget busting expansion of Medicaid. Republican majorities in the state legislature didn’t go for it, however, correctly recognizing the disastrous budget consequences that would ensue if Virginia went down that path (like what has happened in California).

Virginia’s Democrat governors (including current Gov. Ralph Northam) tried to force Medicaid expansion and have been thwarted. The system still functions at the state level.

Recalling the popularly elected federal senators would be nearly impossible despite Mark Warner and Tim Kaine’s regularly ignoring the will of the state legislature. The federal senate is out of control – it could easily be argued the vast expansion of the federal government is directly related to the enactment of the 17th Amendment and the abuse of the filibuster rule.

If you don’t believe it just look at how Minority Leader Chuck Schumer uses the filibuster to kill legislation before it’s even touched by senate committees. Lennox is correct – the budgetary process has devolved into regular fights over passing omnibus spending bills that everyone supposedly hates. There’s no such thing as fiscal discipline when representatives and senators simply vote for bills to keep the government sending out checks. The system is ripe for abuse – and there are plenty of miscreants in both parties in Congress who take advantage of it.

Meanwhile President Trump resides at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and is somewhat powerless to do anything about it short of threatening a veto which would merely send the huge bill back to the same hapless Congress to rework.

Trump’s #NeverTrump enemies say he wasn’t hoodwinked into signing the most recent bill. Jonah Goldberg wrote in National Review, “A source who was involved in drafting the bill tells me that the White House was in the loop on the negotiations. Trump’s legislative-affairs director, Marc Short, signed off on the deal — and seemed to be as surprised as anyone by the veto threat. The president was briefed on the major pieces all along. And let’s not forget: Trump agreed to, lobbied for, and signed into law the budget framework for the legislation in February.

“Why the lie? Undoubtedly for some people, it’s too hard to process the idea that the president deserves blame or is out of his depth. Many of the same people decrying all the wasteful spending in the bill haven’t noted that Trump’s stated reason for threatening a veto was that it didn’t spend more on a wall or include a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“But cognitive dissonance is only part of the story. This stabbed-in-the-back narrative — Dolchstoss in German — is not merely a cynical excuse for letting Trump off the hook. It also lays essential groundwork for Trump to escape blame if the GOP loses the House in the 2018 midterms.”

Naturally #NeverTrumpers like Goldberg would pin all the blame on Trump if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker Pelosi again next January. At the other end of the conservative spectrum some Trump supporters suggest the president isn’t culpable at all for the budget mess, pointing to Republican congressional leaders for their lack of negotiating backbone and a complete unwillingness to push Democrats to the brink with a threat of a government shutdown should they fail to supply enough votes.

Oddly enough, both are right. But the current system also deserves a big slice of the blame pie because as argued above, it’s not functioning as it was designed to do. Chuck Schumer must snuggle up at night to a pillow with “filibuster” stitched into the seams – it’s his saving grace for everything except judicial nominees these days.

The filibuster gives Schumer extraordinary power he doesn’t deserve, a virtual veto over any ideas the House advances through the legislative process. The senate was not meant to hold up legislation as much as to serve in an advisory capacity and filter against the ravages of unchecked populism. These days even popular bills – such as the ban on partial birth abortion – are smothered by Schumer and his tyrannical minority.

Is this what James Madison wanted? Hardly.

As far as “blame” for the 2018 elections goes, liberals feel emboldened to claim Pelosi’s potential Speakership is a good thing to tout rather than an albatross around all of their necks. Liberal organizer Robert Creamer wrote at The Huffington Post, “The conclusion is clear: Democrats win by projecting a strong, populist economic message, including a heavy emphasis on health care. And they win by refusing to hedge on immigration, women’s rights, civil rights, etc. ― and by framing the debate in terms of values.

“That is exactly the strategy that Nancy Pelosi has charted for the Democrats in the House…

“If Democrats are successful in catching the anti-Trump wave and channeling it into victory on Nov. 6, it will not be in spite of Nancy Pelosi. It will be because Democrats in the House chose one of the most effective message strategists, organizers, fundraisers and political generals in modern American history to be their leader.”

This is certainly one way to look at it. Creamer is correct – statistically speaking there’s no correlation between the popularity of the House leader and electoral success for either party, and that the president’s favorability ratings are a much better indicator of how a party will fare in any given cycle.

But it’s safe to say the American electorate is much more polarized now than at any time in recent memory and much will depend on how the respective parties motivate their bases to turn out in November.

For Republicans the snide arrogant face of Nancy Pelosi is symbolic of everything that’s wrong in Washington. The GOP will also likely have healthy economic numbers on their side as well as relative peace in the world and maybe even an agreement with Kim Jong-un to give up his nukes.

Vice President Mike Pence is out on the trail plugging the tax cuts as well.

What will Democrats offer? Pelosi, Schumer and obstruction/#resistance. The snowflake revolution will have long since died out and the backlash of those stirred up by dupes like David Hogg will have begun. Hogg – and Pelosi – should keep talking. So should Crooked Hillary Clinton. It’s the best campaign ad the GOP could ever hope to make.

Americans realize Congress is broken and no fix is easily detectable on the horizon. As the midterm elections approach voters will pay more attention to the state of the country and which party might possibly make things better. Republicans are in better shape than the pundits think.

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