The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as ObamaCare, was signed into law on March 23, 2010. It was passed with only Democratic votes in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. In September 2009, The Tea Party organized a march on Washington and protests in other cities. The protestors were opposing the proposals for ObamaCare, increased federal spending, bigger government, and higher taxes. In 2010, the Republicans were elected to a majority in the House of Representatives and in 2014, the Republicans were elected to a small majority in the Senate. So why, after the elected Republicans promised smaller government, lower taxes, and less spending, did the government continue to grow? At the heart of the matter is the difference between process and policy. There is also the element of showmanship—the Republicans voted to repeal ObamaCare on a regular basis knowing that even if they had the votes to repeal it, they did not have the votes to override a Presidential veto that would surely occur.
So how does the process impact the policy? The following notes are taken from a Heritage Action Sentinel Brief explaining how Washington actually works.
“We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time”
Well, that promise was quickly broken.
The Heritage Action Brief explains:
Congressmen may claim that they had no other choice but to vote on the package once Leadership made the decision. That is not true; it was not a fait accompli. As is custom, right before the House voted on the CR (Continuing Resolution), Leadership holds a procedural rule vote to consider every bill and set the terms of the debate. Any member who did not like the process whereby the subsequent provisions were to be considered has the opportunity to vote against the rule. This would prevent Leadership from packaging in unfavorable legislation, like the Ex-Im reauthorization or a myriad of other bad legislation.
Hiding Policy in Process. For more than a decade, GOP Leadership, when in control of the House, has promulgated the view that procedural “rule” votes are routine, party line votes that should be approved without a second thought. This has given them a relatively free license to bring bills to the floor not supported by conservatives, and they rely on Democrats for the necessary votes to pass them. The concept of “logrolling” bad bills into a crucial funding measure or, worse, a matter of foreign policy, is a compelling reason (one of many) for challenging a procedural rule. Not to mention, the American people voted this type of legislating out of office in 2010 when House Republicans adopted the Pledge of America, which precluded the packaging of unpopular legislation together.
Remember this the next time your Representative tells you they have no choice but to vote for more bad policy. Usually they only need to vote NO on the rule to change the process and allow better policy.
The longest serving congressman in history, former Michigan Representative John Dingell once said, “I’ll let you write the substance…you let me write the procedure, and I’ll [beat] you every time.” In other words, process is policy, and Congressmen who vote on auto-pilot on process fail to represent their constituents on a vast number of votes.
This is the swamp that needs to be drained. The best thing President Trump could do would be to give the conservatives in Congress the courage to stand up against the process status quo. It is time to make Congress more transparent and more responsive to the voters. We saw in this past election that the voters will speak up. It is time that our representatives started listening.