17 March 2010

EDMUND GIBSON ROSS, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE NEED YOU?

An epidemic of cowardice is sweeping through the halls of Congress. Led by the most duplicitous Speaker since Thomas Brackett “Czar” Reed, eulogized by Henry Cabot Lodge as "a good hater,” the House of Representatives is about to display cowardice of the worst kind. They will place fear of the Czarina above love of the Constitution.

Reed was the Speaker of the House in the 54th and 55th Congresses. His famous dictum that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch," is probably inscribed on a card on Czarina Pelosi’s desk.

Pelosi and her cabal of anti-constitutionalists clearly pose the greatest threat to our system since the Radical Republicans of the 40th Congress. She wants her preferred version the so-called “health care reform bill” (which has nothing at all to do with health care and everything to do with centralized government control over the lives of citizens). Her caucus knows that any such bill is probably a deadly threat to their continued control of the House. Many representatives, especially those in swing districts, know that the people do not trust the proposed legislation and distrust the Congress even more.

They are afraid of voting for the deeply flawed bill, but afraid even more of Pelosi, herself a very good hater.

The problem facing that caucus is that the bill that the House passed is doomed because the Constitution, in Article I, Section 5, clause 2 provides that “ Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member. ” The rules adopted by Senate still allow a member, once recognized by the President to have the the floor, to speak until he or she surrenders the floor. This enables the filibuster, a parliamentary tool by which a minority of one may delay the business of the Senate for so long as he can keep the floor. It has been best portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Still, the Senate has somewhat limited that right by adopting a rule on “cloture” which allows a limitation on debate. A cloture motion requires a vote of three-fifths of the members to invoke cloture.

Moreover, Article I, Section 5, clause 3 provides that “Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, . . .; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.”

It was the “filibuster-proof” Senate that allowed Harry Reid to pass the Senate version of health care reform in the first place, a version that is anathema to all Republican Senators and many Democratic representatives. He had to do so because the House bill was anathema to a sufficient number of Senators that it could never pass the Senate. Even so, to get his 60 votes for cloture, Reid had to entice a number of Senators with sweetheart deals for their States, deals now entered into Senate Lore as the "Cornhusker Kickback," the "Louisiana Purchase," and others which were as costly but not susceptible to monikers.

The plan was for the House-Senate Committee to then take the two bills, work out a compromise and present the compromise to both houses for approval. Then came the election of Scott Brown, and that plan was dead. Reid could no longer prevent a filibuster.

Pelosi and Reid were in a real pickle.

There were two bills, each of which had passed one house. The only workable solution was for the House to adopt verbatim the version already approved by the Senate, avoiding the necessity of further action by the Senate and the inevitability of a filibuster.

But Pelosi hates the Senate bill, as do a significant number of her caucus. Even more, she hates and fears the Constitutional requirement that the affirmative assent of both houses is necessary before a bill is sent to the President. That pesky constitutional right of only 20% of the House could require her caucus to stand up and have recorded their vote on a bill that a majority of Americans do not trust and do not want. The votes would be recorded for posterity--and for use by their opponents for re-election--and that threatened the passage of the legislation.

Her caucus, a caucus of cowards, wants a bill that the Country does not want, but they do not want anyone to know that they voted for the bill. They want to be able to say “No, I did not vote for the Senate bill. I just voted to fix a 'flawed' bill that had already been enacted. I was against it before I was for it.”

They know that there is a strong likelihood that they will lose control of the House of Representatives if the bill passes and their constituents are presented with a recorded vote in favor. If they must actually conduct, in the words of the President, “an up or down vote," enough representatives faced with the loss of their seat if their vote is known might just vote “nay.”

“But,” says the Czarina, “let’s not let the Constitution get in the way.”

Side-stepping the Constitution, she has decided that the House need not vote on the Senate bill. Instead they will vote on a bill to re-write the Senate bill and in so-doing, “deem” the Senate bill to have passed both Houses of Congress. “Fie on the Constitutional right of the minority to demand the yeas and nays on a piece of legislation. Let them eat cake.”

Which brings me to Senator Ross. At the time of the gravest threat to the Constitution, graver even than that posed by the secession of the Southern States and the subsequent civil war, the Congress sought to convert our republican form of government with its separation of powers into a Parliamentary system. In 1867, President Andrew Johnson, who was seeking a Lincoln-esque reconstruction of the Union threatened to remove from office Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (a really scary dude).

After Lincoln's death, Stanton ignored the President, kept control of the War Department, assumed de facto control of the State Department, and used the Secret Service to spy on the President, members of Congress and other enemies, setting the precedent for J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. Unlike the President, Stanton wanted retribution against the South that would have made what France and Britain did to Germany after WWI look like a Sunday School picnic. And probably with the same results.

The majority in Congress who also favored punishing the South forever passed a law, over Johnson’s veto, making the long-observed right of the President to remove members of his cabinet contingent upon Senate approval. Johnson fired Stanton and the House promptly impeached him. The Senate tried the case and voted 35-19 to convict, one vote shy of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

While five Republican senators broke with their party leadership to oppose conviction, it is Senator Edmund Gibson Ross of Kansas, a hero of the Civil War, who is usually acknowledged to have cast the decisive vote (and thus saving the Constitution). No less worthy than John F. Kennedy, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, gives the credit to Ross. In recounting the vote, Ross later wrote “I looked into my open grave,” and he was right. He did the right thing, even though it called down upon his head the wrath of the vindictive and dictatorial leaders of his party and ended his political career.

Now the Czarina and her cabal seek to subvert the Constitution by purporting to enact legislation by fiat. Of course, the President could veto any such bill as he is required by his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” but he needs something upon which to claim political “victory.” And while it is likely that the Supreme Court will declare any “deemed” legislation to be a Constitutional nullity, that will take time.

So, for the sake of the American people and constitutional government, I pray that there are enough Edmund Gibson Ross-es among the members of the Democratic Party in Congress, representatives who will place their sworn duty to the Constitution above their fear of the Czarina.

2 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

I think I need to resign as Mom of Congress. I'm very very concerned.

Mac said...

Nah,

They need a Mom more than ever. These rowdy, sullen, angry, bickering teenage years are the worst.

So, I say again, "QG for Mom of Congress!"