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What should the House do? Part 1: Veto-proof actions… then aim for a thousand vetoes

 

Guest author David Brin — scientist, technology consultant, best-selling author, and one of the “World’s Best Futurists” — explores a myriad of topics on his lively and always interesting blog: politics, science, history, science fiction, etc. For more posts by David, visit the CONTRARY BRIN blog.You can also find his books and short stories at his website. Here's our November article from David:

 

What should the House do? Part 1: Veto-proof actions… then aim for a thousand vetoes

Courtesy of David Brin, Contrary Brin Blog 

Okay so the Democrats got one half of one-third of the U.S. government. Can they actually do anything, opposed by a GOP-controlled Senate and a White House ruled by a vindictive toddler? In fact there are many possibilities — some of them (see below) likely to shock and surprise, with judo-like effectiveness — if only someone gave the new House leadership brain-boost pills. 

That snark is only partly deserved. Nancy Pelosi and her team have already crafted a top priority bill for the 116th Congress. “HR1” will push for many of the electoral reforms I’ll discuss below. Mark Pocan (D-Wi) said that HB1 will reestablish voting rights for all, specifically outlawing the interstate cross check system and removing barriers to being able to cast a vote. 

(HR1 for the 115th Congress was the treasonous Tax Bill that stole from our kids, sent debt skyrocketing, raped the middle class and gifted more than half a trillion dollars to top 0.001% elites, who were supposed to spend it all expanding “supply” through investments in R&D and industrial productive capacity. As with all “Supply Side” promises, this one was instantly broken – most of the largesse went to stock buy-backs, a practice that the Greatest Generation wisely made illegal.)

And yes, oh you lefty purists out there, electoral reform and other process issues are more urgent than futile railings about health care or immigration! You will get nowhere with your agendas unless first we eliminate the cosmic levels of cheating that now warp U.S. elections, especially in every Red State. Everyone in our loose, broad coalition-to-save-America agrees on that. So that has to come first.

Oh, but go ahead and announce your priorities! Like…

A new “Contract With America”? 

Senator Bernie Sanders, the sage uncle of the Democratic Party’s left wing (and so much like my own Dad that hearing his voice makes me plotz!) has come out for his party to declare a Progressive version of Newt Gingrich’s brilliant 1994 manifesto – the “Contract With America,” laying down in detail what the party and movement will aim to achieve.

(I called for something similar in both 2006 and 2017. About 1/3 of Newt’s “contract reforms" were, in fact, reasonable! And hence were dropped the instant Gingrich was replaced by Dennis “friend to boys” Hastert. Most of the rest was pro-feudal service to oligarchs. But polemically the Contract was golden.)

Benie’s list is about 50% things that all decent and modern/sapient citizens would want! The other 50% are rather socialistic and only feasible if we first get our fiscal house in order. Moreover, we must grit our teeth in expectation that Foxheads will shriek “the Commies want to bankrupt us!” How ironic when, in fact, our headlong dive into fiscal insolvency is entirely the GOP’s doing.

Sanders isn’t the only one with an agenda  for the Democratic House. According to the KL Gates (financial industry) Newsletter, Democratic priorities will include: reforms to ease financing of low income housing… "plus a focus on cybersecurity and FinTech, as well as a coordinated effort to stem President Trump’s regulatory relief plans, particularly with respect to the rulemaking and enforcement activities of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.”

Alas, there is a core problem with all of these ambitious aims… that even controlling the U.S. House of representatives, the Democrats cannot actually enact any of these things. Not even one of them, given an obstinately GOP-controlled Senate and a veto-wielding sillyperson in the White House.

So, let’s get practical, hm? 
What can be accomplished just by the House all by itself? 
Actions that it can do alone, that would have direct and immediate effects? 
Or at least score real political points?

What the House can do, even by itself

Number one, of course, is investigations. No longer controlled by oligarchy-shills like California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, House committees will go on a tear, issuing subpoenas, grilling witnesses and demanding answers. The whole nation is dialed in on this one. My chief concern is protecting the lives and independence of these men and women, who will be endangering everything Vladimir Putin worked for.

That much is obvious. But I'll talk more about subpoenas, soon, with a surprising proposal that would shake Washington to its roots.

Number two, revoke the 2001 War Powers Resolution. To the best of my knowledge, the votes that gave George W. Bush carte blanche, just after the 9/11 attacks, were not bills or "law." The House and Senate separately declared that it was the sense of the majority of the members not to oppose the president applying his powers as Commander in Chief, sending troops into violent action overseas.

This means that each chamber may withdraw its own resolution at any time! The House does not need Senate approval to declare that it is re-asserting the constitutional power of Congress over declarations of war.

It wouldn’t be easy for President Trump to oppose this in the originalist-oriented Supreme Court that he worked hard to create. Here is what James Madison, the central designer of the U.S. Constitution, said about having Congress, not President, make any decision to go to war: 

“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast: ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.” (Helvidius no. 4) 

So much for "Founders' Intent"!    

Nor will you likely see much demurral from senior members of the U.S. military officer corps, who are both devoutly constitutionalist and deeply skeptical of being ordered into impulsive quagmires, as happened under both Bushes. (You liberals out there desperately need to revise your stereotypes about the brave and highly intellectual men and women officers who are our bulwark, the third best-educated clade in modern American life. Indeed, their meticulous attention is probably what has — till now — prevented a contrived "event" from triggering the Stupidwar-with-Iran that Putin, the Saudis and Rupert Murdoch all fervently want.) 

The House of Representative could do this on the very first day of the 166th Congress. They should do it. They must.

Number three, restore the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Newt banished the highly respected OTA for the same reason Donald Trump refused (for the first time in 70 years) to appoint a White House Science Advisor — because the neutral and non-partisan experts in OTA kept saying "that's not really true" to propaganda assertions pushed by an increasingly insane Republican political caste.  Hence, no action would more clearly demonstrate Democrats' fealty to fact-centered professions – from science to journalism to the Intelligence Community and Officer Corps — than re-establishing the office. And I believe it can be done without Senate cooperation.

The new OTA should incorporate some of the design parameters I included in my FACT Act, using diversity and competitiveness to neutralize inevitable claims by Fox n' pals that it is a "ministry of truth," or even a biased arm of the Democratic Party. One element: invite every Congress member to appoint a scientist/statistician from his or her home district, to be both a personal aide and a co-supervisor of the new OTA. There are ways to scotch the spew from all the svengalis who thrive on lies. It can begin with OTA.

Number 4, get back to work. The last four Republican-led Congresses drastically reduced the amount of working days, times in session, committee hearings and every other aspect of working for citizens. And that's even including all the frippery-futile Clinton-Benghazi "investigations." 

The ratio of hours spent "fund-raising" or serving special interests vs. actual hours worked has skyrocketed. In fact, since 1997, GOP-run Congresses have been thelaziest since before the Great Depression, except when it comes to passing "supply side" tax gifts to the aristocracy.

Democrats can and must make this clear to voters while dramatically changing House rules that allowed such travesty.

(The excuse: "I'm going home to spend time with my constituents" should only work if the representative actually puts in an 8-hour day meeting with folks at home from all parties and walks of life. And ever heard of Skype?)

Now we get to the most original suggestion -- a judo move that the new Democratic Majority in the House could do right away, without interference from the Senate or President, that could shock the nation and zap us partway out of partisan funk. But it would take guts and a truly long view.

Number 5, permanently empower individual members and the minority party. 

We all saw how Rep. Devin Nunes toadied to Donald Trump by refusing every request by Democratic members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to question pertinent witnesses. Way back in the first nine decades of the 20th Century, minority members of committees used to be treated with some respect and chairmen sometimes let them have investigatory powers. But not since Hastert. Not in this century. And sure, the GOP is girding itself to whine and moan – hypocritically – about being treated the same way they treated the dems…

…unless, DP majority learns to perform political judo! Think! Someday, you'll be in the minority again! In fact, history suggests the DP will have this power only briefly. So, is there a reform Nancy Pelosi and the leadership might institute, that would change all this permanently? I know a way. 

Give each member of the House one subpoena per session, that she or he can impose on anyone, compelling two or more hours of testimony before a chosen committee! And give these member subpoenas priority over those issued by chairmen.

Yes, this means Republicans would get almost two hundred subpoenas to use across the next two years. That's 400 hours of inconvenience, if they choose to use it that way (spread across many subcommittees). But will they? Or will each member jealously guard her subpoena, hoping to apply it in some way that looks effective to the folks back home? 

(If that's too many to be wieldy? Fine, let any three representatives combine (once) to issue a subpoena — kind of like quarks. Surely 140 hours of testimony, spread across all the House committees, will be bearable, in order to ensure that the minority will never, ever-again, be prevented from focusing a spotlight where needed.)

Think about how Democrats would have loved to have this during their last 8 years in the wilderness! And how they may need it once again. Think about how this would push back against partisanship, by vesting power back in the members themselves, only some of whom are party attack dogs. Others? Well, encouraging individualism ain't such a bad thing. And setting the precedent means we'd never have congressional committees utterly whitewash, as we saw done by traitors like Nunes.

What's to stop the Republicans from abusing this power as minority party… thenending it when they regain majority? Again think it through:

It will look great that Democrats confidently and fairly ceded this sensible reform to the nation… and it would look bloody horrible if the republicans first USE it and then yank it back when they're in charge.

Would that necessarily stop them? Not by itself. But this is a long game we're in. And making dogmatic-horror partisan shills look bad is gonna be job #1 for the democrats, this term. Get used to that! Live with it. Use it. 

A combination: grant the subpoena privilege only to those House members with good attendance – office hours, committees and floor votes! Two birds, one stone. 

Number 6, draw lots for a DP "flattery squad." It is as distatseful as hell, but hear me out. We have a mentally unbalanced person in the White House, who reacts almost entirely out of reflex and not sapient thought. He must be opposed and neutralized. But for all our sakes, some adults need also to soothethis cranky toddler. I've suggested this elsewhere… and I'll explain in a coda, below.

That's it for things the House can do all alone. (You are welcome to suggest others below, in comments.)  And so, we come to actual proposedlegislation. Bills that probably won't get by the Senate and Trump, but are guaranteed – nonetheless – to make them look truly awful

These bills won't become law? Then draw in those vetoes! 

We've just discussed actions Democrats in the House can performwithout needing cooperation from the GOP-controlled Senate or the kindergarten White House. Next, they should offer up bill after bill, each offering some narrow, distinct and blatantly reasonable step toward sanity.

Forget giant acts of legislation that will never get past the Senate and that give Foxites ammo, reinforcing confederate will to "resist wild socialism." Try those social engineering things first in California, Oregon and New York, etc. Your job in the 116th is narrower, so focus.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, you should concentrate on very basic justice. Trot out bill after bill that makes so much sense that some GOP senators might have to vote for some, or risk political suicide. And when Trump vetoes them, he will die by a thousand cuts! Here are examples:

  • Limit expenditures on Presidential trips and Secret Service to just twice the annual rate spent on President Obama. And family members only get protection at home, not on personal business trips. If Trump squeals over that, follow by asking why?
  • Quadruple the charges for use of Air Force One on political ventures.
  • Require that presidential meetings with foreign leaders be recorded and include at least one interpreter vetted/approved by the FBI, CIA and the Council for Foreign Affairs. Require that the Secret Service detail include speakers of languages that might be used with the President.
  • If a person claims that an IRS audit is in progress, allow the IRS to state publicly whether or not it’s true and whether full disclosure is likely to do harm. Allow the IRS to  narrow the scope of any investigation so that non-pertinent portions of a tax return may be released by the taxpayer without harm.
  • Restore the Special Prosecutor Act.
  • Make the job of White House Science Advisor one of several that will be filled automatically in a non-partisan way, offering the President a choice of a dozen proposed by the National Academy, and choosing one at random, if he fails to do so. Require two hours a month of face-to-face advising.
  • Whistleblower protections! Especially a system to reward “henchmen” who tattle on truly terrible things. 
  • Declare that any state enacting Voter ID or registration-limiting rules must appropriate funds to effectively help the poor, minorities, the young and elderly to get the needed ID, to comply with the new restrictions.  Instead of inveighing against voter ID laws in principle – a trap which makes it look as if Democrats want voter fraud, make it about compliance assistance - always demanded by businesses, when they face new regulations. Voter ID states must open more centers to help the poor, instead of maliciously closing DMV offices. It must be adequate to ensure voter participation by any group does not decline, or else that state is in violation of the 14th Amendment. 
  • Pass a narrow DACA bill that puts any decent GOP Senator in a moral bind, forcing some of them to go along. But yes, draw that Trumpian veto.
  • Transparency in political donations by elites. 
  • End gerrymandering in the last few blue states – Illinois and Maryland – then pass an anti-gerrymandering bill in the House and dare vulnerable GOP senators to oppose it. When they do, change "GOP" to "POC" - Party of Cheaters.
  • Actually "drain the swamp." Offer up reforms that limit revolving doors and K Street graft etc. Then dare the Senate not to go along.
  • My FACT Act… Seriously. There's not one more important thing. Well, I do keep trying.

Each of these proposals is narrowly targeted to seem so fair and obvious that it ought to be non-partisan. Polemically, this was the root power of Gingrich's "Contract." Picture putting Republican senators in a position of opposing such things! And then justifying it.

The "list" has only just begun! 

I'll soon offer part 2 of this list of suggestions to the new House of Representatives. Next time we'll dive into pragmatic measures that might reform the Electoral College without an amendment!  Or spread the practice of rank choice voting, which would let those of you purists out there vote for your true love without screwing the nation, as you did in 2000 and 2016. And much more.

Some of you likely recall that I've done this before! And not one of the proposals I made in 2008 got even the slightest leverage, alas. (They are still good suggestions! We'd be better off now, if only…)

Today, I concentrated on things that even just one chamber might accomplish, as we bide our time till the real transformative election — our Gettysburg in the foresight year, 2020. Meanwhile counting on our skilled officers and civil servants and a myriad decent citizens and allies to keep Western Civilization alive till then, against attacks — covert and open — by its enemies.

Till then, dear Congresswoman and Congressman, get used to the fact that the next two years will be frustrating. If your goal is to pass major bills on Health Care or Universal College or other major items on Bernie's "contract," good luck. Go ahead and shift that Overton "Expectations Window."

But meanwhile, today's list offers some highly targeted things that just might have real, pragmatic effects!

We are counting on you not just to be moral and right and decent and genuinely patriotic.  Please also be smart.

Coda re: the "Flattery Squad" 

I've said it before. A dozen top level Democrats who are electorally safe and who have strong stomachs should announce that they are going to draw lots and/or pick straws. Never tell the press or public what it's for! But within days, two of the dems start making nice toward Donald Trump!

Not in any political way! It can be "I oppose the president's policy regarding "X"… but he is truly one handsome mofo." 

Or "Stop teasing his hair and his kids! Both are really good looking."

Hey, can it hurt? As an experiment? Especially since the whole nation will know what's going on? Fox will yammer about how obvious a ploy it is. Trump may even grin and say: "I know it's a ploy!" But then he'll add "At last a Democrat is saying the truth about me!" 

And he'll invite the flatterer to lunch. He won't be able to help it. A junkie is a junkie and this is his fix.

This would have been a great job for Al Franken, if far-liberals hadn't thoughtlessly and recklessly shot us in the face. Alas.

[Originally published on 11-25-18]
 

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