Friday, April 24, 2015

The Senate Flexes Its Muscles

After Republicans decisively captured the Senate in last fall’s elections, the number one question on everyone’s mind was a simple one: could the GOP use their newfound majority to actually govern? This was, of course, a notion worthy of a healthy dose of skepticism, given the Republican Party’s rather unimpressive track record after running things in the House for four years—and that’s to say nothing of the obstructive power that a Senate minority holds. It seemed that Republicans in the upper house did little to help themselves out of the gate, as the media wasted no time in eviscerating Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 46 of his colleagues for signing an open letter to Iran explaining the finer points of constitutional law surrounding treaties and executive agreements.

The letter, which is really quite brief and devoid of any inflammatory language or information that you wouldn’t learn in an AP Government course, inspired an almost comical level of overreaction among the leftist commentariat that is our nation’s news media. (I think my personal favorite was Pulitzer Prize winner Colbert King comparing the letter to the Dred Scott decision.) Apparently, an open letter explaining Congress’s ability to review agreements with foreign countries is treason. Or was it racist? I can’t remember; after hearing these same kinds of laughably overblown accusations thrown at Republicans every single time they exercise their right to disagree with our president, I’ve stopped keeping track or caring at all. But, I probably shouldn’t waste any more words on that here.

What I wanted to mention today was a bill that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted on last week—a vote in which, believe it or not, the Senate seems to have demonstrated some bona fide governing ability. The bill, sponsored by Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), mandates that Congress review any nuclear deal made between the White House and Iran before lifting economic sanctions on Iran’s regime. What was once racist treason is now, it seems, something that every single member of the Foreign Relations Committee will vote for. That’s right—the Corker bill passed committee unanimously, with 10 Republicans and 9 Democrats voting in favor.

Granted, the particulars of the bill are mostly uncontroversial. Although the bill states that a resolution of disapproval by both houses of Congress would prevent the sanctions from being lifted, it also goes to great lengths to make it clear that Congressional approval isn’t necessary to make a deal official. Additionally, in order to get Democratic support for the bill, the original Congressional review period of 60 days was halved to 30 and language was removed that would have required Iran to disavow its support for terrorism. Plenty on the hard right would tell you that those concessions on the part of the GOP majority are some kind of weakness, but I call it reasonable compromise.

In that same vein of compromise, both the House and Senate also managed last week to pass a permanent “doc fix,” ending the 18-year recurring nightmare of Congress making ad hoc adjustments to Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate. The SGR, which affects payments made to doctors by the federal government under Medicare, would (and did) make automatic and sharp cuts to those payments after each year in which medical costs exceeded the rate of inflation. Now, after a 92-8 vote in the Senate, Congress can finally stop passing laws to prevent those cuts year after year. I cannot emphasize enough what a monumental and game-changing act of bipartisanship that is. After negotiations between Speaker John Bohener and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi produced a workable bill for the House to vote on, the Senate demonstrated that they could spring into action and hold up their end of the deal. Now, the specter of the SGR has receded for the first time since 1997, when it was enacted as part of that year’s Balanced Budget Agreement.

But it didn’t stop there. In the time between I started and finished this post, the Senate also managed to get another huge monkey off its back by agreeing on a final version of a long-stalled human trafficking bill. By reaching yet another bipartisan consensus, the Senate is now clear to vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, whose confirmation was held up by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell until an agreement was made on the human trafficking bill. Now, I can already anticipate the Democratic talking points on this one—namely, that Senate Republicans held up Lynch’s nomination for a nearly unprecedented amount of time because (why else?) she’s black. This is, as usual, utter poppycock. It may have been Senator McConnell’s idea to tie her confirmation vote to the trafficking bill, but the only reason that bill was held up in the first place was because of concern among some Democratic senators regarding an abortion provision which, I might add, differed in almost no discernable way from the same abortion language that had been included in every public health bill since 1976. That, and the fact that many GOP senators disagree with Ms. Lynch’s stance on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, are what held up her nomination, nothing more.

So there you have it: not only has the Republican-led Senate managed to reach overwhelming bipartisan compromises on foreign policy and protections for victims of human trafficking, but they managed to fix one of our nation’s most vexing fiscal problems of the past eighteen years. These are no small feats, and Majority Leader McConnell has even drawn praise from both sides of the aisle for returning the Senate to working order after the infamously unproductive years of Harry Reid’s iron rule. Now, of course, only one pressing question remains: will any of this matter come 2016?

UPDATE: As of yesterday, Loretta Lynch has been officially confirmed as the next attorney general by a 56-43 vote. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?