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Congress: Design Flaw or the Way It’s Supposed to Be?

March 6, 2014

Kevin Bardin ’15  Inside Politics

An olive branch has been offered and if accepted by the necessary majority, the American public may have some of its faith in the Senate restored. The hope is that this week a bipartisan bill will be proposed before the Senate and will receive the needed votes to pass which would mark the first sign of noticeable progress since November 2013 when Senate Democrats blocked Republicans’ attempts to filibuster President Obama’s judicial nominees.

The bill that represents bipartisan progress is the result of collaboration between Democratic Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Republican Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina. The bill itself is hardly earthshaking – legislation on childcare assistance – but the fact that it will be presented to the Senate without time limits or restrictions on amendments is the real impetus for hope. If Senators are able to withstand the temptation to bring up party driven legislation during the process, the bill’s acceptance could build a basis for a more cooperative Senate.

Since November, both sides of the aisle have been guilty of politically motivated voting within Congress. Senate Democrats enraged Republicans when they moved to change the necessary margin to block filibusters from the two-thirds majority to a simple majority. In retaliation, last Thursday Senate Republicans voted down a Veterans Affairs bill that would have extended veterans’ benefits. Ironically, one of the most outspoken critics of the bill was Senator Burr of North Carolina, the same senator who co-authored the bipartisan childcare assistance bill.

The need of Burr and the majority of Senate to return to a productive pace is stimulated by next fall’s elections. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is also partially responsible for the plan to get the Senate back on track; he and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee met to discuss how to best relieve some of the pressure that has been building within the Senate. Their eventual plan to choose the childcare assistance bill appears to be a case of serious handholding in Congress, but it may prove to be the most effective method. Schumer and Alexander also scheduled multiple bills of at least equal bipartisanship agreement to follow the childcare assistance bill in hopes of further repairing the rift in Senate.

While these attempts to jump start the Senate are appreciated, those who complain about the inefficiency of the body must recognize that this is hardly a new battle. Partisan conflicts have been reported by the Journal of Commerce and New York Times as early as 1860, blaming one side of the aisle for an unwillingness to show bipartisan support. This constant grind is our government’s essential safeguard against impassioned and irrational lawmaking, protecting us against hastily prepared legislation: a measure that for the most part has proven effective.

Should the childcare assistance bill brought by Senators Mikulski and Burr prove successful this week, we are not relegated to believe that the American system has failed; nor should we fall into depression if the bill is voted down. What the American public must focus on is the fact that the apparent inefficiency of Congress is all according to plan.

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