Congress needs to unclog the drain
Posted on June 15, 2021
This is technical, but don’t let that discourage you. They are considering doing away with the filibuster rule. I think they should, and I’ll tell you why.
When the first congress met under the newly adopted constitution in 1789, it was not our first rodeo.
Representative bodies had been meeting and deciding what to do for the good of everyone for nearly 200 years already in America. There were rules about such things, and the first order of business was to adopt some, or make some up, that let business get done.
Five hundred years before, in England, the people took the King down a peg with Magna Charta and now we had decided to do away with one man rule all together.
To get that done had not been an easy process. The mechanism of doing it was procedural, not military. Yes there had been fighting and conflict, but that did not create a new government, it only eliminated an old one.
Parliamentary procedure came to us from Parliament, in England, where proper procedures for nearly every circumstance had been developed including how to handle what to do when a majority violates the fundamental rights of a minority group.
Well, almost everything; they did abolish slavery peacefully long before we did violently, but never quite managed to make their peace with Ireland. Still, they have a long history of collective problem solving over a time span encountering many problems and it endures.
So too we have faced adversity, some better than others, and will again no doubt. The issue of the moment seems to be whether to spend the money necessary to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. If you don’t travel much, you may not appreciate how great the problem really is, but we can’t keep using concrete made by our grandfathers and think it will be fine.
The loads placed on our roads and bridges have been increased. When I drove a semi, 30 years ago, we had a length law and a weight limit, both of which have been long exceeded. Today’s highways carry many times the tonnage from just a decade ago. There are limits and we see the cracks revealing them.
Neglect was not the cause of this failure to maintain our transportation system. It’s a self inflicted wound. Political groups opposing taxes of any sort have manipulated our democratic system of governance to crisis levels.
Ironically, the body politic seems vigorous and strong and the economy is making record profits. So what’s holding us back? The repairs are needed, we have the means, and people need the work. The answer is we have a procedural rule that was made by accident that clogs the works.
Tradition is a fine thing but I’m not Amish and I don’t mind progress. Back when Aaron Burr was presiding over the Senate as vice-president he said the procedure of ending debate by majority vote on someone’s “call for the previous question” was redundant and should be eliminated.
He was wrong, and short sighted, just like when he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
It was expected, he argued, that elected officials would always put the interests of the country first, rather than petty personal issues, so debate would always end on its own once everyone had been heard from. That proved not to be true and has now morphed into a stagnation producing procedural plug whereby majority no longer rules. Administrations now come and go and accomplish little as vows are made to thwart the will of the majority.
What this does is create congressional constipation. We need a laxative and we shouldn’t have to wait for another election cycle. Come on Congress, get over yourself and do your job.
Gregg Bonelli is a former attorney and has earned a Juris Doctor degree with distinction from John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
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