Don’t lose the forest from trees with the shutdown

This is mainly about Mitch McConnell and the archaic rules of Congress. But first let’s give a kudo to Chuck Schumer and the other Democrats who voted to re-open the federal government on Monday. They quickly recognized that they better apply “the first law of holes, or the law of holes.” It is an adage which states that “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”.

If logic prevailed, the Democrats had the high ground going into the shutdown. They were standing up for dreamers, children, and perhaps most importantly, a return to an orderly way of governing. But as Democrats have had to learn time after time, logic does not prevail in the world of the Republican Brain. Thus, Schumer wisely recognized that he and his fellow Democrats were digging themselves into a hole, and the best thing to do was to turn tail. He and they did, and this chapter will probably be quickly forgotten.

On the other hand, the whole processes revealed, and continues to demonstrate, that there may be some Republicans who really do care about governing and providing good government for the American people. The “Gangs of Eight,” the “Number Twos” and other bi-partisan groups that were seeking solutions to immigration issues and beyond, showed for the first time in years that there might be middle ground.

Plaudits to Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and others who were willing to talk about compromise. And there were Democrats who reached out as well, particularly Illinois’ Dick Durbin and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. But because of Senate rules, in many ways, the compromise discussions are fruitless.

You see, there is this paragon of virtue named Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who essentially can do whatever he wants to when it comes to what is discussed and voted upon on the Senate floor. The same is true with Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is not a partisan problem; Democrats have historically used the same obstructionism, witness the reigns of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The problem is that these legislative chambers do not work in any way that resembles a democracy. Suppose that you were in a room of one hundred people, theoretically equal. Actually, in the House of Representatives where there are 435 members, the equality is clearer as each member has roughly the same number of constituents in his / her district as everyone else.

Whether it’s 100 or 435, the question is, how do you establish a system which best provides for expressing the will of the majority, while protecting legitimate interests of the minority? In a high-tech world, finding the will of the majority can be relatively simple with electronic voting.

Suppose that ten members of one of the houses of Congress sign a petition saying that they would like to have discussion today and possible vote on reforming immigration policy. On a good day, there could be a simple vote on whether to consider the issues. But most days are more complicated, and there may be numerous other issues which other members of Congress want to consider. But regardless of how complicated it might be, we have at our disposal methods of putting issues in a logical order, and then establishing a reasonable amount of time to discuss and vote on any issues. For insight as to how to do this in an orderly fashion, check out ranked voting. There can be complications, but regardless of how detailed the process becomes, every effort should be made to work to allow the majority will to prevail.

This means that no Mitch McConnells should stand in the way of the democratic process. He is no more important than any other member of Congress. The rules that give him such stature are not based on anything logical or fair.

To enact this reform, considerable thought, involving compromise, is involved. But the process should not involve obstructionism. None of this is easy, but the one thing that is clear is that there is no place for autocracy in a democratic system.

So, when we hit the next possible roadblock on keeping the government open, possibly by Feb. 8, let’s not forget how arbitrary and undemocratic the current system is. We won’t have real change in the outcomes until we change the process. It’s not sexy, but it’s where results actually happen.

Follow-up: In an effort to circumvent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stranglehold on how the shutdown was debated, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill attempted to get the unanimous consent of the Senate to ensure that military personnel were paid through the course of the shutdown. McConnell shot her down.  Video Link