As the United States Congress careens the nation toward yet another government shutdown showdown, it is time for the Senate, once hailed as the world’s greatest deliberative body, to be rescued and resuscitated from years of anemic legislative effort and the annihilation of regular order with real debate. The comatose Senate needs an intervention. One person has the power, right and permission to revive and restore the Senate — Vice President Mike Pence.
During the first two years of the Trump administration, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, more than 76 percent of the bills passed by the House received no action in the Senate. Well over 500 bills sit somewhere on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk (he must have the mother-of-all-desks). Former House Speaker Paul Ryan prophetically predicted early in 2018 that Republicans were in danger of losing the majority in the House if they couldn’t break the logjam in the Senate and pass the then 569 House-passed bills gathering dust in Mcconnell’s office. To Speaker Ryan those bills represented the promises on which they won election — promises representatives needed to keep.
House members often complain that the Senate is the place where great legislation goes to die.
Leader McConnell isn’t alone in the responsibility for grinding the legislative wheels of the Senate to a halt. He is ably assisted in the effort by his tag-team collusion partner Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Together they have ensured there is no real debate, no opportunity for their members to offer bills, or even amendments, on the floor for votes.
From the moment the last shutdown began, the McConnell-Schumer team used various Senate rules and arcane procedural moves to ensure that none of the other 98 Senators could do anything to advance real solutions that would fund the government. Both men seem content to rely on their combined and closely aligned political calculus, rather take action to address the needs of the nation. Fake fights and false choices allow each of them to raise precious campaign cash for 2020, demonize their opponents with predictable partisan wedge-issues and convince the American people that the country is just too divided to solve real problems.
The mighty deliberative muscles of the Senate are so atrophied that were a real crisis to arise, there would be serious question as to whether it could rally and rise up to protect the interests of the American people. The serious intervention and white-knight-style rescue mission required to save the Senate can best be addressed by a white-haired vice president from Indiana.
Regardless of whether you are a fan of the vice president, it is the office of the Vice President that holds the keys to saving the Senate. I said the same thing about Joe Biden when he occupied the position in the Obama administration.
Under the Constitution, the vice president is the presiding officer in the Senate. The Constitution doesn’t declare that the vice president is only responsible for breaking tie votes in the Senate. No, the vice president is to be the president of the Senate.
Early in our Republic’s history, the vice president did preside over the Senate and the majority leader played more of a vote-counting, whip role.
The vice president could open up the floor of the Senate immediately for continuous debate, the introduction of amendments from all senators and votes — regular, meaningful votes — in front of the American people.
As far as advancing President Trump’s agenda, Pence would force that the bills tied to the agenda be debated and voted on. If bills are blocked by Senate Democrats just for political purposes, that would become abundantly clear to voters. If the agenda itself is not what the American people want, that would also become crystal clear. If Nancy Pelosi took on a McConnell-style strategy of not voting on bills passed by the Senate, the nation would see it.
The current collusion creates confusion rather than clarity and allows both political parties to point fingers, place blame and play politics rather than take responsibility for leading.
The president presented a number of policy initiatives in his State of the Union address that brought Democrats and Republicans to their feet. There are countless points of possible, immediate collaboration to be taken up in both the House and the Senate. The vice president sitting and presiding over the Senate would ensure they all got a proper hearing, vetting and votes.9 comments on this story
Pence, sitting with the Senate gavel in his hand, would apply a sort of deliberative defibrillator shock treatment to the flatlining institution of the Senate. With all 100 Senators fulling and properly engaging, the Senate could actually demonstrate its commitment to action — driven by decency, respect and civility — on behalf of the citizens each senator represents.
The vice president could start by taking the gavel every single morning and after Chaplain Black prays for the country and the institution of the Senate, Pence could declare that the world’s greatest deliberative body is alive and once again open to do the nation’s business. He really could, and I think he should.