Congress lurches from crisis to crisis — here’s how to fix it
Washington, December 17, 2020
Tags: Budget & Debt
Fox News op-ed from Reps. Budd, Biggs, Roy, Perry, & Cline
Americans have become used to two things in December: the holiday season and a looming government shutdown right before Christmas.
Like a scripted play, the media always portray this in a similar fashion — shirts and skins, the bad guys versus the good guys, those who want to govern and those who want "obstruct." It’s so predictable at this point that we ought to call it the Capitol Hill Christmas Pageant.
In reality, these so-called "crisis" moments are often manufactured in order to force members to support spending they would otherwise oppose. Bills are presented as "must-pass," but only because congressional leadership lets them linger until the last minute.
A small handful of power brokers hammer out massive, complicated, trillion-dollar bills behind closed doors, only to release them to members hours before they must cast an up-or-down vote.
Don’t like it? Tough. If you choose to stand against the broken legislative process, you’ll be attacked — at times from some in your own party — and set yourself up for attack ads.
Those who raise reasonable, principled objections are labeled "obstructionists." They are chastised for trying to do their best to represent the needs of their individual constituencies. The only thing that ever really changes when all is said and done is how many zeros are added to the price tag — a buck reprehensibly passed to future generations of Americans.
The truth is that real legislating is difficult. It’s supposed to be.
The House of Representatives is a consensus-driven body, meaning it should require broad coalitions to get a bill across the finish line. The body accomplishes said consensus working diligently through the committee process — but even more, the full body is supposed to have a full debate on the House floor.
Members should then be able to raise substantive objections, debate them, and amend the bill being considered. Once their voices have been heard, every member should have the chance to cast an up or down vote.
Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t operated this way in a long time. Thanks to a process governed primarily by an authoritarian Rules Committee, the House has not had an open debate, nor has it allowed rank-and-file members to amend bills since May of 2016.
This includes any bill you could name in the past four years — the CARES Act, which spent trillions of taxpayer dollars; the National Defense Authorization Act; or even last week’s bill on ceiling fan regulations.
This past September, for example, members received the legislative text of the stopgap government spending bill just minutes before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., scheduled it for a vote on the floor.
Four months later, as we are about to recess for the holidays, the House hasn’t even gotten that far. Last week we voted on another stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown in order to give congressional leadership another seven days to drum up some sort of "deal," which the vast majority of members won’t know the details of likely until the day of the vote.
Two days before the government shuts down unless we approve funding, we have no legislative text and are all but guaranteed there will be no real debate, no amendments, and no time to vet the legislation before we are forced to cast our vote.
Even worse, now our colleagues don’t even have to show up to shortchange the American people, since so many have decided to vote by proxy instead of coming to work to do the people’s business in person. One even decided to phone in his vote from the comfort of his boat.
The framers of our Constitution — the ones who spent months carefully deliberating and debating the ends and means of government in a stuffy room with the windows closed in Philadelphia over 200 years ago — never intended for us to do business this way.
Congress, due to its nature and design, was given the responsibility of thoughtfully deliberating on behalf of the American people. That’s why we were elected to ensure that we address the needs and desires of the whole American people, not just the ones whose representatives have a seat at the table of congressional leadership.
And if they could see us now, you can be certain that the creators of this body would be disgusted both at our laziness as legislators and the dereliction of our duty to the American people.
The current process is nothing short of legislative oligarchy masquerading as representative government.
In this upcoming session, Congress should pass no bill that has not gone through committee for a full hearing and markup. We should not pass anything we haven’t been given at least 72 hours to review, or that we cannot openly amend and debate on the floor.
We should ensure that bills cover single subjects so that we can deliberate them on their merits alone, and not on the merits of must-pass provisions that leadership has attached to them. Finally, we should come to work to do our jobs, rather than allowing this chamber to establish quorums with members voting from their boats or elsewhere.
That is how representative government based on the consent of the governed is supposed to work. That is how Congress used to operate. And that is what the American people should demand that their government do again.