End to Congressional Gridlock, Opportunities And Dangers for Republicans Ahead

The 115th Congress (2017-2018) provides opportunities to end gridlock and pass legislation on infrastructure investments, health care reform, financial regulation and deregulation, and possibly immigration. Congress also has opportunities to reassert bipartisan oversight into investigations, and to take back some authority it has given away to the executive branch.

There was widespread frustration, on both the left and right, with gridlock in Congress 2011-2016.  Republicans blocked many things that President Obama proposed. He threatened to veto bills they passed. And when they refused to consider his legislation, he advanced causes by taking temporary executive actions (which Donald Trump promises to reverse).

It would be highly ironic and hypocritical if those Republicans who screamed about Obama’s executive actions as a violation of the Constitution now cheer, cast a blind eye or are silent about the executive actions of Donald Trump. They may face a dilemma — choose constitutional principles or reveal themselves to be all about unprincipled, inconsistent, blind pursuit of ruthless power.

Despite predictions that frustration with the Republican Congress would create a Democratic sweep or “throw the rascals out” wave in 2016, that didn’t happen. Voters mostly stuck with their Republican incumbents, and Republican control of Congress. Democrats gained a few seats.

A Republican president and a Republican Congress now have full responsibility for policy-making and can’t blame anyone but themselves if they fail to agree on a flurry of legislative activity in 2017-18 — improvements in infrastructure investments, health care, financial deregulation, and immigration. The challenge is that Republicans have disagreed vehemently amongst themselves on the best courses of action to follow. They are deeply split amongst deficit hawks and supply siders, those who want to simply repeal Obamacare and those who struggle to replace it with something better, foreign policy hawks and isolationists, nativists hostile to immigration who want to deport millions and friends of business who want a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

If they pass unpopular legislation, or conversely refuse to act and break their promises, we could possibly see a fierce reaction from voters and a “throw the bums out” mantra in the 2018 midterms, with a return to divided government. As congressional margins now stand, Democrats are unlikely to take both houses of Congress until at least 2020 unless Republicans fall apart in internecine warfare.

Another potential danger for Republicans in Congress involves their responsibility for oversight into the executive branch. If they suppress inquiries into questionable practices of the Trump administration, or don’t allow for bipartisan investigations, this could infuriate voters back home that Congress is not a good steward of the people’s resources.

Congressional Query Into Russian Meddling Could Revive Bipartisan Oversight, NYT: “Once a proud tradition in Congress, bipartisan oversight has suffered in the last few decades as Congress became increasingly polarized and lawmakers grew reluctant to take on presidents of their own party for fear of giving ammunition to the other side.

It has been part of a steady trend of Congress ceding authority to the executive branch — a pattern that lawmakers of both parties acknowledge but have done little about.

Ms. Brian said she believed a major factor in the House was a shift by Republicans away from picking committee chairs on the basis of seniority and expertise and more on fund-raising and ties to the leadership.

“That changed everything,” she said. “It meant there was no longer an institutional pride in the committee’s work. It was all about how you were helping your party vis-à-vis the other side.”

“That change ripped the heart out of congressional oversight,” she said.

Leaders of both parties say they want Congress to regain some of its stature and power as a coequal branch of government. How lawmakers respond to accounts of Russian interference, and what are certain to be other disputes with the new administration, will help determine if they do so.

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