Robert F. Jakubowicz: Election won't fix gridlock in D.C.


PITTSFIELD >> The late and renowned Williams College political scientist James McGregor Burns called America's separation of powers government a "horse and buggy political system" in the modern world. He noted that since the end of WW II, democracies have opted for parliamentary systems over our separation of powers systems because of the risk of having a dysfunctional government when the separate branches stopped working together. This is what has happened in our nation, causing today's political and election turmoil.

The elephant in the voting booth this presidential election year is the congressional election. The House is expected to retain its Republican majority due in large part to the gerrymandered congressional districts favoring GOP candidates. But in the Senate, 24 of the GOP's 54 majority seats are up for election and pundits think that at least 10 of them are vulnerable and could be won by Democrats. These seats are held by first-term Republicans in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Colorado.

If the Republican majority in Congress does not change in this year's election, then there is no reason to think that either Sen. Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, as president, would get the legislative support they need to implement the similar progressive policies that they are campaigning on. The front-runners on the Republican side, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, would likely get the same congressional brush-off from their fellow Republicans.

For Trump it would be partly because of some of his highly questionable proposals and partly for the cost of many of his campaign promises, such as massive deportations of illegal immigrants, opting out of trade agreements, a huge increase of our military force, infrastructure repair, and so on that would all require a big tax-and-spend government policy — anathema to hard core conservatives.

For Sen. Cruz it would be for his uncompromising positions on public policy issues and his past hostility toward fellow senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whom he called a liar.

The current Senate status quo of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two independents would mean that the choice of a Supreme Court justice by a Democratic president who would repeal the Citizens United decision, as both Sanders and Clinton have promised they would select, would be voted down by the Republicans. As for a Republican president, his pick would likely be blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

Clinton says her ability to get along with senators of both parties would allow her to work successfully with the Senate. Sanders says that if his programs were blocked by GOP congressional leaders he would direct their attention to the large public and revolutionary support he expects to have behind his presidency, which would intimidate the Republicans into working with him.

Trump would also resort to intimidation. He recently said that if House Speaker Paul Ryan would not work with him he would pay a heavy price. It is difficult to see how Cruz and this congressional leadership could get along after Cruz's insulting and belligerent attitude toward his colleagues.

It will be up to the voters in the Senate races this year to decide whether the new president will have a workable majority in at least that body to be able to pick his or her cabinet, top administrators and at least one Supreme Court justice and possibly more justices.

If the Republicans lose their 10 vulnerable seats to the Democrats, who manage to hold onto their 10 seats up for election, the latter will become the majority in the Senate. However, this majority would not be enough to overcome Republican filibusters. Conversely it would assure a majority Democratic vote to block any attempt by the Republicans to pass any of their proposals, including their much-threatened repeal of Obamacare.

The Republicans only need six more seats, assuming they hold onto the 54 they have, to block filibusters by Democrats that would give them a free hand in Congress because the house is expected to hold its majority of 246 Republicans to 188 Democrats. But even in this scenario, a Democratic president could still exercise his or her veto power, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House to overide.

The fix for the electoral mess is easy. It's sending elected officials to Washington who are willing to compromise and do the job of governing. The difficulty is finding them and electing them to office.

Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular Eagle contributor.


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