There is a common misconception that, if Mr. Bush becomes president,
the Senate will be evenly divided. It will not! Our founding fathers
recognized that with each state electing two senators, and an even
number of members in the upper chamber of Congress, the possibility
existed for a deadlock. Therefore, they wisely decided that the vice
president of the United States also would serve as the president of the
Senate and would have the ability to cast tie-breaking votes.
The Democrat pickup of five Senate seats is not good news for
Republicans, but it doesn’t change things all that much. A Senate rule,
which is unique to the upper chamber, known as a filibuster — the
ability of senators to literally debate a bill forever — has caused a
lot of important legislation to end up in the trash heap.
It takes a three-fifth vote or 60 senators to invoke cloture, halt
debate, and get down to the “question,” better known as the vote.
Therefore, it never has been easy to pass a bill in the Senate. It
Members must be willing to expend a lot of political capital to get
something passed. They have to make such a powerful case for a bill
that a significant number of senators from the minority party will break
ranks and support it. In order for that to happen, they have to be
willing to take their case directly to the American people who, when
energized, pick up their phones and call their own senators to urge them
to support the legislation. This is a good thing. It makes it very
difficult for the Congress to sneak something by us.
When the party in control of the Senate has the president on its
side, the job of persuasion is so much easier because the president has
the ability to use what is called the “bully pulpit.” When a president
speaks, he makes news. What he says is impossible to ignore, and, if a
president believes in a piece of legislation and is willing to make a
case for it, the country will get behind him.
In 2001, the Republicans not only will control both houses of
Congress; it now looks as if their nominee, George W. Bush, will become
president. This will be the first time in 48 years that this has
happened. However, they are preparing for this rare opportunity to lead
the country in a rather odd way by waving the white flag of surrender.
In Congress, particularly in the upper chamber, there is talk of
power sharing. Majority Leader Trent Lott has not yet agreed to
Democrat demands of chairing half of the committees, but he is thinking
seriously about giving the minority party an equal number of seats on
every committee. In the 40 years Democrats had a lock on Congress, this
would have been unthinkable, even laughable.
The House of Representatives operates under a different set of rules
and does not have to contend with the filibuster. As a result it is
much easier for the majority party to pass legislation. You would never
know it. Congressional Republicans have been to the White House with
their hats in their hands, trying to work out a budget compromise with
Mr. Clinton that involves spending another 20 billion on discretionary
Thankfully, one Republican in leadership, Majority Whip Tom Delay,
finally stood up and said, “Enough! Let’s pass a Continuing Resolution
for the final four spending bills that will keep the seven agencies
involved running at last year’s levels and get us through this fiscal
year. That will leave the tough decisions on the departments of Health
and Human Services and Education for the new administration.” That
little move would save “We, the Taxpayers” a cool $195 billion over the
next 10 years.
As you might expect, Delay is taking a lot of criticism from
moderates in his party, but the idea is popular among conservatives and
is catching on.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush has signaled that, if he becomes president,
he may be willing to place Democrats in as many as five Cabinet posts.
Vice President Al Gore apparently never felt the need to make this kind
This kind of generosity displayed by the GOP is spurred by the
thought that, in two years, the Democrats may pick up another senator
and win enough seats to capture the House of Representatives.
Republicans are playing defense, hoping against hope that, if they
should lose power, the Democrats will treat them kindly.
News flash! GOP, if you are preparing to lose, you will lose. That
much is certain. Either you use this once-in-48-year opportunity or
you coast. If you coast, there is only one way to go, downhill, or down
the hall to the minority offices.
You must be willing to make the case for the principles and the
legislation that you believe will put this country on the right track or
you might as well begin cleaning out your desks. If you don’t, in two
years, the voters will make you do it.