Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done

And What You Can Do About It

America has serious problems. We need serious adults, working together, to solve them. Our government is supposed to do that, but most members of Congress care more about pleasing their big bucks corporate campaign donors than in doing the job that we hired them to do. Republicans claim to believe in the “free market”. Well WE are the market they’re trying to reach.

There are two chambers of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution allows each chamber to make its own operating rules. The party holding the majority of the seats controls the chamber and committees have enormous power. The majority party leaders appoint all committee chairs, who are nearly always majority members. In this Congress, Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate.

There are 435 House seats, distributed among the states by population. The current House contains 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans. With a full House, a bill needs at least 218 votes to pass the House. Now, with two vacancies, 217 votes will pass a standard bill.

There are 100 Senators, two from each state. They include 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them, and 47 Republicans. In case of a tie vote, the Constitution empowers the Vice President, currently Joe Biden, to break the tie. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass most bills, but any senator can call a filibuster, which stops a bill dead in its tracks. It takes 60 votes, called cloture, to end a filibuster and permit a final up-or-down vote on a bill’s merits. House rules do not permit filibusters.

Every bill must pass both House and Senate, and be signed by the president, to become law. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. That’s 292 House and 67 Senate votes.

Given the numbers, House Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want to do. House Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass anything without support from at least 25 Republicans. The 53 Senate Democrats hold a technical majority, but Republican filibusters stifle nearly all Democratic bills. The Senate Democratic majority can prevent bills passed by the House Republicans from going further.

Teapartiers wield much more power than they deserve. They made SO much noise about “We the People” in the 2010 election, but only 14 percent of Americans are strong tea party supporters.  Only 74 House members and 10 Senators identify themselves as teapartiers, all registered Republicans. That’s only 16 percent of the entire Congress and 29 percent of the Republicans. The other 71 percent of Republicans are terrified to stand up to them.

Despite the Congressional oath of office, they owe their allegiance to the corporations who paid for their campaigns but they pander to the teapartiers. Mainstream Republicans are so out of touch with reality that they think the teapartiers represent public opinion.

Teapartiers don’t have a different vision of government, as traditional Republicans do. They want NO government. They want no services, no goals, and no sense of community. They whine incessantly about the Constitution, yet they’re always wrong when they quote it. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Congressman Ron Paul declared that every conservative who objects to government spending should “. . . take care of yourself, don’t ask the government for anything”. (Source, Paragraph 17) Sure. I’d pay money to see that happen.

And that’s why Congress is stuck. That’s why we need grownups in Congress who understand that we can only solve our problems with common sense and compromise. President Neville Chamberlain has compromised to the point where he might as well be a teapartier. Republicans stomp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue. Republicans have no morals. Democrats have no spine.

Every now and then someone suggests holding a national referendum on a particular issue, like raising taxes on gazillionaires, or same-sex marriage, or creating jobs. A referendum is a public vote on an issue rather than a candidate. That’s just not possible. Our Constitution does not permit a national referendum on any subject.

In order to hold a referendum, we would have to amend the Constitution. Then we would have to get a particular referendum question onto the ballot according to the procedures outlined in the amendment. And then we would all have to convince a majority of voters to support our particular position in the referendum. That would take about a billion dollars and about 10 years of serious community organizing. Good luck.

The Supreme Court may have given corporations the same status as people, but corporations still don’t vote. Real people vote. I vote. You can vote. We can’t count on Congress to do their jobs, so we have to push them. We all can influence Congress. Yes we can, but don’t waste your time with online petitions. They’re the least effective method of making social change. The article linked below has more information on influencing Congress. Demand that your representatives honor their oath of office.

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

We may be stuck in neutral until the 2012 elections, but this is a good time to learn the issues and exercise your lobbying muscles. Learn where your members and the committee chairs stand. Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Read newspapers. Watch C-Span. Yes, really. Read the Constitution. Ask yourself who benefits from public policies.

  • Who benefits from shipping jobs overseas?
  • Who benefits from destroying labor unions?
  • Who benefits from decimating public education?
  • Who benefits from demolishing the middle class?
  • Who benefits from gazillionaire and corporate tax cuts?
  • Who benefits from allowing the infrastructure to crumble?
  • Who benefits from unlimited corporate campaign donations?
  • Who benefits from cutting Social Security, Medicare, and social services?
  • Who benefits from preventing the poor and the unemployed from voting?

You can be your own lobbyist. Your future is worth a couple of hours a week. Call, write, and visit your legislators. Volunteer for your candidate’s campaign. You know what’s important to you. Stand up for yourself. Demand that your representatives represent you. And then vote.

 And remember. WE ARE ONE.

 For More Information:

Congress by the Numbers

The White House

House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Information on all Congressional Legislation

On the Issues—Legislators, In Their Own Words

U.S. Constitution

C-Span

Get Your Message to Your Legislators

Watch Out America. They’re Coming for You Next

We Are All Welfare Recipients

 

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