Speaker of the House & Senate Majority Leader Have Too Much Power

Observing a Democratic House of Representatives spar with the Republican Senate reveals how the leaderships within both parties– I’m talking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi here– possess far too much power, stifling the democratic elements that are supposed to propel our legislative processes.  

Thus, our congress now operates in a fashion that seems entirely out of touch with a much wider, international populist revolution of sorts extending far beyond politics, challenging the mainstream media, academia, traditional 20th century corporate models– including even the way companies market with the goal of establishing genuine connection with those they serve– and even cultural ethical assumptions, in the wake, for example, of the #MeToo movement.

Politically speaking though, the most revealing aspect of this global populist revolution is not Trump winning the 2016 Presidential election, and is not the worldwide nationalism and protectionism, at least as I contemplate it. Rather, what strikes me most is how many Democrats are running in the 2020 Primary elections.

The plethora of candidates indicates to me an uptick in passion and earnestness to cast aside assumptions of electability, and “Establishment” choices of who the next president should be.

Put another way, “the people” are hammering a stake into the dying heart of conventional concentrations of power.

Not in congress however.

(And even less so with respect to the presidency. Read this excellent article by Foreign Affairs for more on that specifically)

Unfortunately, the extreme concentrations of power held by Pelosi and McConnell are stalling and weakening our country from any kind of truly political productivity.

Tell me (really, please do!): what is the last major congressional achievement you can think of (if you don’t count when the unanimously passed a resolution “to reject [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s proposal to interrogate US officials.”). Maybe repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” nearly a decade ago?  

To be clear, this is a problem which is exacerbated by both parties!

Consider just how it seems, at times, like Speaker Pelosi gets treated as if she were Queen of the Democrats.

The growing call among her fellow House Democrats for President Trump’s impeachment serves as an illustrative example.

As Politico reports,

[Rep.] Nadler [of NY} pressed Pelosi to allow his committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump — the second such request he’s made in recent weeks only to be rebuffed by the California Democrat and other senior leaders

Why should any lawmaker– or any person for that matter!– enjoy the pedestal of such a high status that she or he gets to deny or “allow” significant legislative  “requests”–?

Please don’t get me wrong here. I get that leadership and management are paramount to making things happen and, theoretically, with efficiency, but “leadership” in a democracy should not be confused with exceptional powers such as has been granted to Nancy Pelosi.   

Maybe it doesn’t seem so awful to some of you when the one granted with so much power and status is part of your own political party, or your faction of your political party, but, if you’re a Democrat these days, how exactly do you feel about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s power to prevent the House’s legislative progress from moving any further?

How do you feel about the way he prevented a vote from taking place on the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court?

Would you rather “bite the bullet” as they say, and chalk it up to a consequence of American politics when things of this sort occur, or are you inclined to think it would be better if McConnell never had that kind of power and that future Senate Majority leaders never do either?

As Salon’s Daley Gruen writes:

How is it possible that one man, for whom odds are neither you nor I voted, has absolute control over the ignition switch to our country, as well as the brakes, the gas, the wheels, the seats and the windows? After a bloody revolution to escape monarchical rule, our Congress was designed to be a conference of extraordinary citizens representing a polity of constituencies as equals, pushing and pulling our country towards the truest manifestation of the popular will. It’s why we call it the People’s House. But instead, “Mitch and Nancy” and their predecessors have enjoyed unchecked rule.

In a democracy, what comes to a vote should be determined by a process, a system, a democratic mechanism – not the whims of one person. If a bill fulfills some reasonable procedural trigger point, it should automatically go up for a vote by the entire body.

Gruen informs us further in the Salon piece that although it seems mostly like lip service, at least since the Democrats took back the House

any legislation that achieves 290 co-sponsors will automatically get a floor vote in the House. That threshold, however, is exceedingly high and not so different than the almost never used “Discharge Petition,” which already allows the House to force a vote if an absolute majority of 218 members sign a petition for it. [But] A democratic process should be regular order – not an act of defiance.

Indeed!

That’s why I believe Democratic Presidential primary candidates like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke (O’Rourke has been calling for impeachment just shy of a year now), along with other clear-headed legislators like Representative Al Green of Texas, and my own Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (though not for much longer as my wife and I are moving out of this congressional district) who don’t let Pelosi dictate their apparent convictions, are exceptional and worth our appreciation.

We should support more politicians like them.

Also, as suggested by Gruen, congress as a whole should vote on which bills go the floor for consideration. Why not a simple plurality?

The concentrations of power held by Pelosi and McConnell are unfair, undemocratic, and out of fashion. Giving the rest of Congress more say in things like its own legislative agenda would be a step in the right direction.

[Click here for an interesting read on the history of power growth within the position of the Speaker the Sen. Majority Leader]

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Author: Sean O'Connor

Hey! I'm Sean O'Connor a political activist, philosopher, and vlogger from central New Jersey. I'm 33 and recently graduated from William Paterson University with a BA in Liberal Studies. Currently I work as a writing tutor at Mercer County Community College though I working towards a transition that will allow me split my time between work on my blog and political activism/non-profit organization activities.

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