Younger Democrats in Congress Have the Leverage to Start Legislating

It is essential that the parties start working together on the Hill if we are to restore any degree of confidence by the American people in the Congress. A good place to start is with the 18 members of the Blue Dog Coalition.

The reality is that the leadership of the minority party in Congress always resists bipartisan cooperation. The position of the Democratic leadership is logical on one level, but self-defeating on another. The job of Nancy Pelosi is to make the minority party into the majority party. Working with the Majority party undermines the goal of vilifying the Majority for election purposes. However, it is short-sighted in that it makes it impossible for the Democrats in Congress to pass any legislation. Moreover, since the Republicans now fully control the legislatures and governorships in 32 states, and the Democrats only have total control in 6, the prospects of a future Democratic majority while perhaps not impossible, is highly unlikely for the next 12 years. So for a Democrat who is not in a position of leadership, refusing to participate in the legislative process is biting off their nose to spite their face.

However, there are a lot of Democrats elected over the last decade who career path into leadership is blocked by the seniority system (the Republican abandoned seniority in the 1990s). They would like the opportunity to join in the legislative process and achieve some accomplishments that help their constituents. It would be smart for the Majority Republicans to allow them to offer amendments, maybe directing appropriations to vitally needed projects in their districts (a reformed, transparent and measured reform of earmarks might be a good start). Passing amendments and help shaping bills in Committee allows minority party Members to vote for authorization and appropriation bills that help their constituents on issues like energy, infrastructure, and tax policy. It also allows them to be legislators instead of passive and hostile observers. Most importantly, Congress passes individual authorization and appropriation bills with bipartisan majorities.

Given the intransigence of the Freedom Caucus on agenda items supposedly endorsed by the Republican governing coalition, Democrats willing to work with the Republican leadership might find they have an enormous amount of political leverage in moderating bills they think are too conservative for their constituents.

Given the intransigence of the Freedom Caucus on agenda items supposedly endorsed by the Republican governing coalition, Democrats willing to work with the Republican leadership might find they have an enormous amount of political leverage in moderating bills they think are too conservative for their constituents

Currently, the potential leverage of willing Members of the political minority depends on the tactical decisions of the majority leadership. A way to make that leverage permanent would be to reform the current legislative process in the House (and the Senate too).

One way to address opening up the legislative process to the willing, is by creating a bipartisan, bicameral Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. It is a tried and tested way that Congress has enacted reforms in the past. Every few decades, Congress takes an objective, critical look at itself and determines that it needs significant measures to get rid of the dysfunction. Congress has created three of these committees before (in the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s), and they considered virtually every aspect of the legislative process. Each was instrumental in the evolution of the legislature.

Given the depths of dysfunction and gridlock, it’s time now for Congress to create a new Joint Committee that could give Members of both parties an opportunity to be more active legislators. The broken budget process, an atrophied committee system, and insufficient personnel and resources are just a few more of the pressing issues. Members from both parties that are sick and tired of partisan gridlock, would have the opportunity to offer and build support for good ideas on reform. A Joint Committee would examine these proposals carefully and allow Congress to come to a consensus on how to restore American’s faith in the governing process.

There are times when it is in the interest of the majority party to give the minority party more rights — at least those in the minority that have an interest in legislating. It may seem to run counter to today’s fierce partisanship, but it is an intelligent play by a newer Member of the Democratic Party who would like to shape public policy and maybe build a legislative record that creates opportunities to gain more power in the future.

It might even help make Congress work again.

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