GOP Thumbs Nose At American People
The continuing frustration of the American public and Congressional Democrats at the inability, or rather the unwillingness of the GOP Congress to do anything about fixing some of our most serious societal ills reached new heights recently on several fronts. The two most recent areas where our elected representatives earned a big fat “F” on their reports card deal with the issues of gun control in the wake of the latest mass shooting tragedy, which took place in Orlando, Florida and the issue of immigration reform, which included a decision (or lack thereof) of the Supreme Court.
The Senate, prompted by an unusual filibuster, wherein Senators actually spent the entire time actually talking, rather than just threatening to, did manage to vote on four motions dealing with proposed gun regulations which could have made some progress in making legally obtaining guns much more difficult for people deemed by most of us to be undesirable as owners or wielders of the same. Unfortunately, as could have been easily predicted, they all failed to garner support from the necessary 60 senators for actual passage under Senate rules. They did, however, at least vote on the issue, leaving a record for voters to use in deciding whether to retain or replace their senators when next they stand for election.
The House had a little more dramatic activity on the issue of gun control, with Democrats demonstrating to try to at least hold votes on legislation in that chamber, whose rules do not permit filibustering. Not only did Speaker Ryan not agree to bring any legislation to the floor of the House to debate and vote on, he deigned in his imperial wisdom to turn off the cameras C-SPAN uses to cover the floor so they couldn’t televise the controversy. Only breaking the House Rules by using a social media app on a cell phone allowed for coverage of the event in real time. No doubt, they’ll try to ban cell phones from the House next. So much for transparency in deliberations at the People’s House.
To rub salt in the open wounds of Americans seeking some sort of action by their government to stem this endless tide of preventable slaughter of innocents, Ryan allowed his fellow Republican NRA minions to skulk off on their merry way for their July 4th recess without so much as casting a vote one way or the other for the record. Thus, unlike their compatriots in the Senate, House members (all of whom must stand for re-election in November) can effectively hide their views from their constituents. Such a lack of moral courage has become a hallmark of GOP Congressional leadership. They seem content to cover the tracks of their members and allow them to avoid directly taking controversial stands while protecting the interests of their contributing lobbyists over those of their real constituents. Why do the members of the House get a pass here? Do we elect people to represent us in Congress by dealing with issues like this through debate and passage of laws and acting to serve our best interests by voting accordingly, or to avoid taking anything resembling a controversial stand anytime during an election year?
It’s possible to find out who takes campaign donations from the NRA and other gun lobby entities, as well as who benefits from ads financed by their money donated to Super-PACs. But there is really no substitute to knowing absolutely how someone voted on a specific issue when it came to passage or failure of an actual bill. We have that with the Senate (where only a third face voters in any election cycle anyway), but not the House. These are the same folks who repeatedly refuse to deal with budgetary issues (their main Constitutional duty), until they are faced with a default on the debt or imminent government shutdown.
The Senate, while showing marginally more courage on the gun control issues than the House by virtue of at least taking votes, fails miserably in an area where the House holds no sway – confirming nominees to the Supreme Court. President Obama nominated a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia months ago as part of his job. Republican Senators from Mitch McConnell on down have refused to schedule Justice Committee confirmation hearings or an up or down vote on the nominee, saying the next President must be the one to nominate the next Justice next year. No such rule is enumerated in the Constitution. The Senate is just arbitrarily refusing to do its job – plain and simple. The fact that the evenly ideologically divided Court means that 4-4 ties are likely to be the case in many important decisions made until a replacement Justice is confirmed makes no difference to them. Such was the case recently in a case concerning Executive Orders the President made regarding undocumented immigrants, millions of whom face deportation as the result of a tie in the Supreme Court. The lower court ruling that the Executive Order was unconstitutional stays in effect.
The tie putting millions of immigrants in legal jeopardy is bad enough in and of itself. However, the Executive Orders may not have been deemed necessary at all if Congress had not been derelict in its duty to pass Immigration Reform, which both parties have known has been needed for years now. A couple of years ago, the Senate actually passed Immigration Reform legislation which the President probably would have signed, but the GOP-dominated House, under the leadership of Speaker John Boehner, refused to even consider, let alone vote on.
Losing two consecutive Presidential elections has not deterred the GOP from hindering any legislative progress on any matter of significance since they took control of the House after the 2010 midterm elections. They have increased their majority in the House and gained a majority in the Senate in 2014. Obstruction is too kind a word to describe what their behavior has meant and continues to make in the lives of millions of people in this country. How many thousands of lives will be lost to gun violence before something is done at the Federal level to control who can purchase and possess which firearms? How many millions of people will be negatively affected by decisions an inadequately staffed Supreme Court cannot make?
This Congress has even exceeded its immediate predecessor in forging a legacy of incompetence and refusing to carry out its Constitutional duties – to the extent of causing harm, sometimes irreparable, to the lives and livelihoods of many millions of people whose interests they have been elected to serve. They appear to be daring us to do something about their behavior. They’ve been getting away with this crap for years, and become even more emboldened every time they get away with it. We pay their salaries. We elect them to office. Refusing to part with any of their pre-determined lengthy recesses to make sure they do what we hire them to do is unacceptable. I didn’t elect my Representative and Senators so they can take time off to raise campaign money and run for re-election to represent the NRA, ALEC, or any other lobbying group willing to fill their coffers at the risk to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the constituents they are elected to represent.
A vast majority of even NRA members think people on terror watch lists, people who we won’t even let ride in an airplane, should not be permitted to purchase or own guns. Most also feel that background checks should be required for all purchases. Many millions of people need to have their immigration status and path forward articulated in new immigration statutes. Budgets need to be made, nominations confirmed, authorizations for the use of military force approved. In short, work needs to be done to earn vacations. Not that every member of Congress is as inept or intent on foot-dragging as their leadership seems to be, but the body as a whole needs to function at a much higher level than it has been.
Congress will apparently not change on its own. Unless we radically change its composition this November, either Trump will be able to run roughshod over it or Clinton will have a built-in excuse to achieve nothing requiring Congressional approval for four years. They’ve thumbed their noses at President Obama and their own constituents for far too long. They’ve managed to get the two least-liked major party Presidential nominees in history apparently set to square off in an issue-free presidential election this fall. Perhaps they think we’ll forget all about them. The gun issue will die down until the next school or church or bar or factory gets attacked by a lone gunman, at which time their NRA and gun manufacturing buddies can make another killing at the cash registers in preparation of a scared populace arming itself to the teeth in anticipation of a new round of gun-regulation and confiscation that never happens.
What we need to do is demand more from our elected officials at every level. They need to be answerable and accountable to us. We elect them and pay their salaries. They are not born to office nor appointed to it for life (with the possible exception of judges). We deserve to know more about how they conduct themselves on the job and how they vote (or obstruct voting) on the issues which affect our lives. Secret hearings on budgets (secret budgets, for that matter), secret hearings held about classified information (way too much is classified than needs be for national security purposes) need to be the exception rather than the rule. Transparency in government is essential to a well-informed populace.
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell need to stop depending on arcane rules and meaningless calendars to avoid getting stuff done, excuse inaction or defer controversial decisions until such a time as it won’t hurt their chances of job retention or is made absolutely essential in order to avert an impending catastrophe. Do what your bosses (namely, We the People) want you to do. Act, don’t obfuscate. Make your decisions public and in a timely manner. We, as voters, or even as just plain human beings, deserve to be heard by and to hear from you. Don’t expect to be voted back in if you refuse to vote or vote the wrong way on important issues. Blaming inaction on party leadership won’t work anymore. Increase the pressure from the bottom up, and eventually, the Ryans, McConnells and others now standing in the way will either have to give way or be pushed aside in favor of those who will.
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