In the aftermath of the failed early Senate votes to repeal Obamacare, Donald Trump tweeted, “The very outdated filibuster rule must go. Budget reconciliation is killing R’s in Senate. Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!” And followed with this Tweet, “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time.”
As it turned out, even 51 votes could not be found to support any of the measures to repeal Obamacare. In late-night dramatic fashion, on the final Senate vote called “skinny repeal,” John McCain was the last to vote and his would be the deciding vote. Amidst the crowd of curious and frustrated senators at 1:30 am, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell staring him down, McCain approached the tally clerk, extended his hand equidistant between yea and nay, held it for what seemed like an eternity, and then lowered his thumb in opposition.
Despite Trump’s insistence, McCain’s no vote was a stark reminder that policymaking isn’t about winning. It is about making sound public policy. Of course, the blame game immediately ensued – proving further how torn politics is between winning and doing the right thing.
Calmer voices are now calling for “regular order.” And now is as good a time as any to start doing what should have been done from the outset. In the case of repealing Obamacare, regular order would mean the majority pushing for repeal would create a bill to do so and the bill would be formally introduced with media hoopla to gain some momentum. Trump and the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress could tout its appeal. The Democrats, likewise, could attack it. The bill would then be assigned to appropriate committees. It would be debated. Amendments, including striking the enacting clause (killing it), would be offered. Those amendments would be debated. No doubt the majority would prevail and the bill would move to the full body of both chambers.
On the floors of the House and Senate, respectively, more amendments and debate would occur. Once each chamber passed a bill, a conference between the House and Senate would ensue wherein the real politicking would take place. In conference is where the real political pros do their best work. This is where all of the horse-trading comes to bear. Once the conference has agreed to one bill that bill goes back to both bodies for a final vote. That is regular order.
Instead, after the House passed a repeal bill, Senate Republicans disregarded it and sought to create their own repeal bill. Except they decided to create it behind closed doors and assigned thirteen Republican senators to come up with a viable bill. Truth is those thirteen senators were assigned an impossible task. The Senate, unlike the House, is equally divided between parties, save two votes. If there ever is a place where regular order is called for, it is the Senate. The general rule for exercising regular order, if one has to choose to do so, is that a divided body requires it.
We somehow forgot that while Trump won the election he did not win the popular vote. Our nation is divided. There is no better time for regular order than now. True, repealing Obamacare would be unlikely but repealing Obamacare is not the highest sign of democracy. The result of regular order is its highest sign – whatever the result.
Winning is a wonderful thing. But maybe America needs a new standard for winning? Maybe winning ought to be defined more by the use of regular order than its abuse? Conservatives, especially, invoke the sacred nature of our Constitution. That document was crafted to create regular order. Processes matter and we should trust the process.
Yes, there are times when regular order cannot attain productive and positive results. Refer to President Lincoln and the Civil War. Many conservatives today disdain Lincoln precisely because he violated regular order in conducting that war. But he had to break order to save a nation. These instances are the exceptions to the rule. Is Obamacare in the same league as the Civil War? Way more often than not, regular order, as designed in the wisdom of our founding fathers, is the best approach to conduct America’s business.
Trump thinks regular order is nonsense. He just wants to win. This is his biggest problem and why it is one of the reasons Trump is unfit to be president. Trust the process. Regular order works more often than not and it can heal a nation more often than not.