Timothy D. Easley, AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reacts to a reporters question during a news conference Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Louisville, Ky.

At some point in recent political history, congressional leaders grabbed hold of the notion that if their side can’t muster a majority to support passage of a bill, that bill won’t make it to the floor for consideration.

As a result today, the Democrat-controlled House passes bills the Senate won’t consider. The House, in turn, doesn't have any to consider from the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has allowed precious few bills onto the floor. Instead, he has focused the Senate’s energy on confirming judges and executive branch appointments. (To be fair, the Senate did pass a foreign policy bill that the House has ignored.)

The theory, which Politico.com recently attributed to McConnell, is that appointing conservative judges will do more in the long run to effect change than passing legislation today.

The problem is this stokes the nation’s political divide while tacitly acknowledging that the courts, not the legislative branch charged with writing laws, will be the most powerful branch of government going forward.

That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Federal judges are not elected. By design, they are accountable to the law, not the people. But the people’s elected representatives are the ones who ought to be grappling with the big issues of the day — immigration reform, gun violence, election security, health care reform and others — finding compromises and passing laws.

Instead, they seem to be in a never-ending campaign mode.

McConnell, like others who served before him, seems unwilling to bring any matter up for debate unless it has a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority before debate begins. But the art of good public policy begins with debate.

If Democrats in the House pass something Senate Republicans find repulsive, they ought to have a chance to go on record as voting against it. However, once debate begins, ideas might surface and acceptable compromises might emerge. Republics thrive through this sort of exercise, not by ignoring issues until one side has the votes to ram through its version of a solution.

As Politico noted, the Senate this year has allowed only seven votes on amendments, and it has no open amendment process. Most recently, Democrats have been clamoring for legislation that would protect the nation’s complicated election system from hackers in the 2020 presidential election. The Mueller report clearly identified efforts by Russian operatives to disrupt the 2016 election, and there is little reason to doubt they will try to do the same next year.

McConnell has refused to consider this, saying elections are local government matters, and that Congress already has appropriated money to local governments to help them secure their systems. Also, he believes some of the proposed laws, making foreign interference illegal and requiring a reporting process when such attempts are made, are little more than political efforts to embarrass the president.

41 comments on this story

But why not allow debate on these matters and give senators a chance to go on the record with their votes? Why not let a robust debate expose true motives or perhaps find ways to strengthen local elections without imposing unnecessary mandates?

Immigration reform is a prime example of the dangers of congressional inaction. Border Patrol and the courts are inadequately funded to deal with the influx of immigrants and asylum-seekers. Laws are antiquated.

Presidents issue executive orders that face judicial review and are subject to reversal by future presidents. Uncertainty reigns. Congress is the only branch with the power to change this. Its inaction is inexcusable.