The Special Temptations of a House Divided
by Michael Spencer
The writers of the Constitution believed Congress was the branch of government closest to the people. With the terms of representatives being short, no political parties in existence and no thought of a permanent political class making this a career, high hopes were placed in congress. The Founders never conceived of the money, influence and affluence made possible by a few terms in government. They knew nothing about PACs, soft money or lobbyists. They pictured debate by patriotic citizen voices, representing the interests of the states, but always giving highest regard to the principals of the republic and the Constitution.
The upcoming 107th Congress presents the greatest challenge yet to this centerpiece of government. As a “house divided” nearly equally, and the branch of government most bitterly invested in the partisan rhetoric and political corruption of our era, congress is fast approaching a point of crisis. With the Presidency brought to unprecedented weakness by Bill Clinton, and the Judicial branch stained by the post-election controversies, the country cannot afford for congress to sink further into the quicksand of gridlock and self-interest. More than ever, the country needs “the People’s House” to rise to the Founders’ vision and intentions.
Republicans have a special interest in the success of this congress. Since 1994, they have controlled the House and now, in 2001, the White House and the Senate as well. The American people have a right to know if a “do nothing” 106th congress (whose only goal appeared to be making liberals happy and spending records amounts of money on bad programs) will be followed by a “do even less” 107th congress?
Legislative priorities seem clearer than ever in recent history. Both parties are talking about the same issues, though with predictable differences in approach. Americans will clearly not be satisfied with legislative failure on issues like Medicare, prescription drugs and Social security. If Congress fails to make meaningful progress on these issues, finger-pointing and dueling press conferences won’t repair the damage. President Bush is not going to be wielding much of a veto pen. If congress sends a bill to the President, he almost certainly will support it. What a great opportunity for Republicans to actual govern, and not just obfuscate, object and whine.
Now is the time for the parties to rise above fund-raising from their base for the next election and make it their focus to restore the dignity of the institution through which they serve. The House and Senate are not just places for the parties to meet and yell at each other or further personal agendas; they are the bodies given the voice of the people for the purpose of making America all it promises it’s citizens it will be.
The temptations for a divided congress are considerable, but America has heard and seen enough of excuses. If Republicans can’t fulfill the opportunity to lead, then America will be justified in taking away the opportunity. The next two years are critical for congress and all Americans.