the real losers, but their leaders are also being hurt
politically. There are indications the votes to end the costly and
unnecessary shutdown might be there, so why doesn’t Congress
just do it?
Well, that’s much easier said than done. We do live in a democracy, but it’s one that has been weakened by congressional rules
that are designed to put the welfare of political parties ahead of the public’s best interests.
If this event were happening in Louisiana, the issue would have already been resolved one way or the other. That’s because
this state’s Legislature may be one of the most democratic bodies in the country. Bills, with extremely rare exceptions, are
always heard in committees. They are either rejected or approved there. If approved, they are sent to the House and Senate
floors for final action.
Unfortunately, Congress has rules committees that decide if and when bills will be heard on the floor. The rules committees
are often called “the traffic cops of the House and Senate.” And congressional leaders often use the committees for personal
or political reasons. The current shutdown is a case in point.
The House could end the shutdown by passing a continuing resolution. Republicans are prepared to do it, but they have strings
attached, like delaying Obamacare for a year. The Senate would approve the resolution, but it wants nothing tied to it. So,
that is why there is a deadlock.
The key players in this dispute are House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. They
control their rules committees and personally decide which bills and resolutions get to the floors of their chambers for a
Congress didn’t always work that way. Committee chairmen during the last century decided which bills were brought to the floor
for a vote. That changed in the 1980s, according to a report by Bloomberg Business Week. It said the change came about when
most members of each party began to think alike.
“... Once you can get a whole party to agree on something, party discipline becomes possible. Once it’s possible, you can
wield it as a weapon,” Business Week said. And that is exactly what Boehner and Reid are doing over the shutdown.
Democrats controlled the House in the late 1970s and early 1980s when
Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts was speaker. Business Week
said he forced the chairman of the rules committee to answer to the
speaker’s office and that is how it works today. GOP Speaker
Newt Gingrich in the 1990s gave his office more strength when he did
away with seniority is choosing chairmen of committees
and gave the jobs to younger House members who were loyal to the
Dennis Hasert, an Illinois Republican, early in this century added another unique feature when he was speaker. It’s called
the Hasert Rule, which instructs the speaker to keep any bill off the floor if it doesn’t have support of “the majority of
The House has 435 members — 232 Republicans, 200 Democrats and 3 vacancies. Under the Hasert Rule, 117 or more of those 232
Republicans are reportedly preventing Boehner from bringing a resolution to the floor that could end the shutdown.
Boehner doesn’t want to lose his speaker’s job, so he is doing exactly what “the majority of the majority” is telling him
to do — don’t vote on ending the shutdown. Unfortunately, there is no way to know whether Boehner is right or wrong about
what that party majority wants because he won’t allow a vote on the shutdown.
Party members don’t want to force the issue because they could lose choice jobs and other perks of being in the party that
controls the House. Some who were quoted as saying they wanted a shutdown vote changed their tunes when confronted by the
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Penn., didn’t cave in. He told CNN, “I believe a clean CR (concurrent resolution) would pass comfortably.
I’m not here to predict the number, but I think it would clear the 217 vote barrier.”
Don’t get the idea this is just a Republican failing. The Democrats operate the same way. Reid was asked if he would negotiate
during the shutdown and said, “Not going to happen.”
President Obama is no different. He said he would talk to Republicans about deficits, health care, entitlements and taxes
only after they end the shutdown and increase the debt limit. There was some indication Friday both sides could be softening
their hard-line approach, but don’t hold your breath.
Why the possible change of heart? Look at the latest polls.
The Associated Press poll showed Obama’s approval rating dropping to
37 percent. And 62 percent of those surveyed blamed Republicans
for the shutdown. The Gallup poll had Obama with 49 percent favorable
and unfavorable ratings. Boehner’s rating was 27 percent
favorable and 51 percent unfavorable. Reid was at 27 favorable and 43
As you can see, there is no great love there for anyone in the
Washington political establishment. The only way out of this
folly is for both houses of Congress to fulfill their constitutional
obligations by voting to either end or continue the shutdown.
Then, let the chips fall where they may. Isn’t that the proven
• • •
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org