Jim Hartman: Return to ‘regular order’

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman
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A return to the Senate’s “regular order” may be the only realistic way to break Washington gridlock and reduce the increasing polarized divisions among Americans.
“Regular order” refers to the textbook rules of the Senate requiring that an introduced bill be referred to the appropriate committee, given a public hearing, then discussed, debated and amended by members of both parties on the committee.
If the legislation has majority support in the committee, it’s sent to the full Senate, where it’s debated again and open for amendment by members of both parties, then subject to a final vote. “Regular order” might also be called “doing things the old-fashioned way.”
“Regular order” is a sensible process open to the public and invites bipartisan collaboration in the national interest.
But “regular order” is more than just Senate rules. To work, it requires a personal decision by elected leaders that their primary purpose is to get things done — and a willingness to find common ground.
Our American history demonstrates “regular order” working, beginning with our Founders who resolved differences by compromise.
More recently , great bipartisan agreements were reached — President Johnson and Sen. Everett Dirksen on civil-rights laws, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill on Social Security reform, and President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich on a balanced federal budget.
With supermajorities required in the Senate — notably the 60-vote minimum to end a filibuster — leaders of both parties had to look for support across the aisle and make concessions.
That tradition has been lost in recent years, as whichever party has the majority gets frustrated by the minority party’s ability to thwart their will. As a result, the majority party has done what it could to circumvent “regular order.”
Both parties’ approach has been to mandate legislation from the top down without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.
To beat the filibuster, leaders in both parties have fallen back on the budget reconciliation process, requiring only 51 votes. Reconciliation was intended for strictly fiscal measures to keep the government operating, but it’s used more broadly now to pass legislation and thereby distorting the original purpose.
That was the case in 2010 when Democrats used reconciliation to pass ObamaCare. Reconciliation was used in 2017 by Republicans seeking to repeal ObamaCare.
And, reconciliation was employed in 2021 when Democrats attempted passage of the Build Back Better bill. That top down legislation was filled with 2,000 pages of extraneous social, political and financial policies.
And, recall the quote from Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the 2,300 pages of top down imposed ObamaCare: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
When it came to repealing ObamaCare, Republicans short-circuited the process by having a special task force produce a “skinny repeal” bill that failed to even get 50 votes.
The Build Back Better bill included some absurd items. The Senate appeared close to approving this gigantic multitrillion-dollar left-liberal wish-list of programs that no senator can pretend to have read or understood.
Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to the Build Back Better bill announced Dec. 19 and earlier Sen. John McCain’s iconic thumbs down to the repeal of ObamaCare four years ago represented independent and courageous actions on behalf of bipartisan solutions to America’s problems.
Manchin and McCain used similar words to insist on legislative principles. They appealed to their colleagues for finding common ground and each modeled how it could be done.
“We have things we can do in a bipartisan way — the way the Senate is supposed to work…. Just go through the committees. Let’s work it,” Manchin said.
McCain closed his argument against repealing ObamaCare: “Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order.”
Jim Hartman lives in Genoa. Email lawdocman1@aol.com.


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