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Lowman S. Henry

Lowman S. Henry

Chairman & CEO
Lincoln Institute
of Public Opinion Research

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Town Hall Commentary

Is Congress Obsolete?

by Lowman S. Henry
 

It is still early in the race for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, but the rise of "outsider" candidates such as Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson to the top of the polls has revealed what can only be described as outrage over the ineptitude of the party's establishment leadership. For the past seven years the GOP has stumbled and bungled failing to effectively check the near-despotic power of President Obama or even present a coherent alternative to his policies.

Given the fact the president is governing by fiat the question arises: Is congress obsolete? Sure, the U.S. Constitution requires three branches of government. But, with most of that document shredded by the president and the courts as congress stands idly by, you have to wonder whether or not the legislative branch matters anymore.

November last Republicans swept into control of the United States Senate. From sea to shining sea voters rejected Democratic candidates delivering a mandate to congress for change. Since the onset of GOP control last January nothing has changed. There has been no discernable difference between a Senate led by Harry Reid and that run by Mitch McConnell.

Voters are furious that the message they delivered has not been heeded.

And the impotence of the Republican congress continues apace. President Obama has negotiated a multi-national nuclear deal with Iran that is opposed by a solid majority of both voters and members of congress. Yet it will go into effect. Why? Because the president out maneuvered congressional leadership by calling the deal an executive agreement rather than a treaty.

A pact between nations is by definition a treaty. Treaties require a two-thirds vote in the affirmation by the U.S. Senate for ratification. But executive agreements go into effect unless they are specifically rejected by congress. Congress will reject the Iran accord, but one-third of the Senate can sustain a presidential veto and it appears the president has those votes. Thus the will of a substantial majority of congress — and of the American people will be thwarted.

It is not just the president who shows congress no respect. The Supreme Court of the United States, in two rulings on the Affordable Care Act essentially ruled that what congress passed isn't what it meant thus allowing Obamacare to remain in effect. Clearly the court — or at least Chief Justice John Roberts — views congress as a useless appendage.

Congress has been marginalized in even its most basic tasks. Most years a federal budget is not passed resulting in periodic "fiscal cliffs" as members dither up to and sometimes past budget deadlines before enacting so-called "continuing resolutions," to allow spending to continue at past levels. The next act in the budget drama will play out in the coming weeks as the October 1st deadline for a new spending plan looms.

The GOP's ineffective congressional leadership is already cuing up its next capitulation. A series of recent videos has exposed the gruesome and horrific excesses of Planned Parenthood's abortion mills. Despite the fact the U.S. Constitution requires all federal spending to originate in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP, look for congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood to fail.

President Obama, unable to build either public or congressional support for his radical policies, has made good on his pledge to use his pen to by-pass the legislature. When congress blocked a job-crushing cap-and-trade bill, the president simply put his agenda into place by having the Environmental Protection Agency issue massive numbers of new regulations. Congress can't reach consensus on immigration reform, so the president orders border patrol to stand down as illegal aliens swarm into the country. So-called "sanctuary cities" refuse to enforce federal law; congress stands idly by taking no action to force compliance.

And so issue after issue, year after year congress has proven to be irrelevant. Yet Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate prop up incompetent leadership while the voters who sent them to Washington look on with increasing dismay. Voters now understand the presidency is what really matters. Having seen epic failure from congress — and by extension the GOP establishment — they are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Outsiders like Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina may be untested, but voters now appear willing to go for untested rather than those who have been tested and repeatedly failed.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.



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