January 4, 2019

Congress, Grow a Backbone

For the past two years, Congress, under Republican control, refused to pass bills—in many cases, even refused to consider bills—that President Trump had declared he would not sign. Undoubtedly, congressional Republicans and the president were often in agreement regarding public policy, though likely not always. Party loyalty was assuredly being put before concerns for the public good.

The Founding Fathers created a form of government consisting of three branches. Those branches—executive, legislative, and judicial—were related to one another, but they were intended to possess a substantial degree of independence. In particular, it was not the intent of the Constitution that the president would be the determiner of what bills Congress would pass.

To a remarkable degree, President Trump has merged the legislative and executive branches into a unified body for the creation of public policy. More worrisome still has been the Republican packing of the judicial branch with judges holding unpopular views, but views consistent with those of our current, unpopular president. It is not hyperbolic to suggest that the checks and balances built into the polity of the United States of America are threatened as never before.

A ray of hope for democracy is represented by the capture of control of the House of Representatives by members of the Democratic (not Democrat!) Party. Democrats are immediately challenging what has become the status quo. The House has passed spending legislation consistent with what the Senate passed in the previous Congress. That legislation lacks funding for Trump’s ill-conceived wall, however. The Senate should concur with what the House has done and challenge the president to veto the legislation. Surely, Trump would be inclined to exercise a veto, but doing so would likely be widely unpopular, particularly among workers being deprived of their livelihood by the current partial government shutdown.

Congress has an opportunity to assert its independence and should do so forthwith. It is unlikely that Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell will allow a vote on legislation the president doesn't want, but allowing the Senate to vote on the legislation passed by the House will give the Senate, Senator McConnell, and the American people more power. Congress’s growth of a backbone just might force the president to do something he doesn’t want to do. At the very least, it would put President Trump between a rock and a hard place.

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