Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Undoing—The State of American Government

 No. This is not a review of “The Undoing,” the recent HBO murder mystery series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Rather, The Undoing is a concise description of federal government practice we have come to live under for decades.

With each change of political party controlling the White House, presidents have been rapid-fire signing executive orders undoing, reversing, the dictates of their predecessor. 

Take, for example, the issue of funding overseas organizations that provide health care and pregnancy counseling that includes the option of an abortion. As soon as they are sworn in Republican presidents have restricted the dispersal of U.S. monies to the organizations. Newly inaugurated Democratic presidents immediately reinstate the flow of funds. 

The ideological seesaw plays out at home, as well. Democrats support Planned Parenthood, Republicans don’t. Democrats seek greater environmental protections, Republicans act to lessen the burden on industry. 

This topsy-turvy style of government deprives businesses and citizens the ability to do long-term planning, never knowing which set of rules will apply in four year or longer segments, but always ironically confident that current rules will be upended under a new, different party, administration. 

The humor in all this back and forth is the indignation professed by the party not in power. Each new president let it be known how he (it’s always been a he, so far) would act if elected. “No Surprises” could easily be the message placed on a president’s Oval Office desk, much like “The Buck Stops Here” adorned Harry S. Truman’s desk. 

So let’s not be gullible or amazed at the pace and extent of Joe Biden’s executive order blitz. Donald Trump did it. So did Barak Obama. So did George W. Bush. So did Bill Clinton. 

Elections have consequences. While legislative action is preferable, more long lasting and difficult to negate via executive order, a divided Congress has necessitated presidential mandates to effect change, however fleeting under the next presidential election it might be.  

Getting both chambers of Congress to agree to legislation is monumentally difficult. We are seeing that now with President Joseph Biden’s $1.9 trillion package of pandemic and economic relief. Controlled by a narrow margin of Democrats, the House should pass it without too much noise.

But to pass the Senate and the threat of a filibuster that could be ended by no less than 60 senators, Democrats would have to either secure the votes of 10 Republicans or use a reconciliation process that would require just 51 votes. 

To the rescue of bi-partisanship 10 Republicans stepped forward seeking compromise from Biden. Were they honest brokers? 

Nay. Those 10 GOP senators were involved in a Kabuki political play. Their opening bid of a $618 billion relief package was not a serious counter offer. It was intended to fool middle of the road voters into believing Republicans really want to work with Democrats to clean up the mess Donald Trump left us (or should that have read, “left the U.S.?).

If Democrats are to move off their $1.9 trillion package it probably would require Republican acceptance of a deal encompassing between $1.4 trillion and $1.6 trillion. 

Fear Factor: To get the Republicans to more than double their opening bid would take enormous courage. They would have to overcome a politician’s number one fear—the fear of losing a primary. 

Given the state of our electoral process, extremists in both parties often have decisive influence on who wins a primary. Consorting with the enemy on compromise legislation is prima facia evidence to partisans that an incumbent is not a sufficiently true believer. 

Of the 10 GOP senators who met with Biden, five have the luxury of not facing reelection until 2026. They are Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore-Capito of West Virginia, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. 

Mitt Romney of Utah faces the voters again in 2024. 

Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana would seek reelection in 2022. 

Rob Portman of Ohio has chosen to retire rather than hit the campaign trail next year. Ohio has drifted more to the right in recent years. Portman’s expressed interest in seeking bipartisan solutions placed him in fear of losing his seat to a more conservative voice. 

This is the sorry state of politics today. Principled compromise is rejected. Extremism rules. Champions of the former choose retirement.

For another view of Portman’s legacy, click on the link: https://apple.news/ANjR4t6uwSzm1W2QR-1XCWA.