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Our Political Class: 114th Congress

I have a theory that ties in with John Boehner’s third election as Speaker of the House on Tuesday.

Could it be that the newly elected congressmen and women are greeted by one of the members who has been there long enough to be the chairperson of one of the many committees of the House and quickly informed that they now belong to a very exclusive group in which they can, with relative safety, ignore the voters who just elected them?

In the House there were 58 freshman members and in the Senate, there were 13, some of whom were formerly members of the House. In total, the opening session of Congress welcomed 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats.

Those contesting for the job of Speaker in addition to Boehner were Reps. Ted Yoho and Daniel Webster of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas. The Democrats nominated Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Four Democrats did not vote for her. Meanwhile Webster received 12 votes, Gohmert earned three, and Yoho won 2. Of the 408 votes cast, Boehner won 216.

My other theory is that enough members of the House had concluded that Boehner had done as good a job as possible under the circumstances and saw no reason to turn the job of Speaker over to someone who might rock the boat. His opposition came mostly from the strongly conservative bloc in the House.

What we likely have in the 114th Congress is a very pragmatic leadership who are not likely to do anything dramatic regarding immigration, energy, or any of the other issues about which conservatives want action. In both the House and the Senate, they know what they are up against. They will put forward legislation, but all it will do is demonstrate what we already know about Obama.

In his first speech on the floor of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (KY-R), the Majority Leader, said “Bipartisan compromise may not come easily for the President. The President’s supporters are pressing for militancy these days, not compromise.” Those supporters are the Far Left. I doubt that he or John Boehner met with the President that much over the past six years.

The Founding Fathers created a republic in which the business of legislating was intended to move slowly, subject to debate and the need for compromise. Obama has made it clear he has no intention to work with Congress, especially now that it is controlled by the GOP. So gridlock will continue and conservatives will stay angry.

Regarding my theory that our political class doesn’t really worry that much about what the voters want, do you recall the omnibus budget that was passed in the last hours of the previous Congress? That was 2,000-plus pages crammed full of things we are not likely to ever learn about until well after the money is spent. Does that suggest that the members of Congress think it wiser to keep us in the dark? Yes.

AA - Boehner and ObamaThink of it another way, Over the course of the last six years with Obama as President, the House passed some fifty resolutions calling for the repeal of ObamaCare. Were we supposed to take that seriously? Are we going to see legislation repealing, for instance, Obamacare’s medical device tax? Maybe. I will be very interested to see any legislation aimed at undermining ObamaCare because I believe the 114th Congress would prefer to wait for the courts to do that for them.

Boehner knew early on that Obama was a President who had little regard for Congress or, for that matter, the Constitution.

Despite a major rejection of the Democratic Party and Obama’s policies in the 2013 midterm elections, Obama has been acting as if the Party won those elections and they had confirmed his agenda. He has let it be known he has no intention of negotiating, preferring to use his veto power, unilateral executive orders, and to get what he wants via various federal agency regulations.

One of the most important functions of the 114th Congress will be oversight of departments and agencies. Has anyone heard from the Justice Department’s Lois Lerner lately? Any word about the Benghazi tragedy?

Little wonder that, after being elected to his third term as Speaker, Boehner said “All I ask is that we disagree without being disagreeable.” There are 435 members in the House of Representatives and Boehner is responsible primarily for its Republican members. If there are Democrats who are willing to cross the aisle, he will welcome their votes. As in the Senate, they will be needed on occasion.

Regarding the passage of legislation, Boehner said “It’s the real work. It’s a grind. The battle of ideas never ends and frankly never should. We Americans never quit,” adding “Let’s once and for all prove the skeptics wrong.”

It is worth keeping in mind, as Karl Rove reminded us in a Jan 7 commentary, “Every Republican senator and virtually every congressman challenged as insufficiently conservative won their primaries.” The voters have spoken.

As unhappy as many conservatives are with Boehner and those they call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), Boehner did not sound like a man expressing great joy at having been reelected to what appears to be a very difficult job. That this is his third term suggests that his colleagues in the House have a measure of respect for him that his critics do not.

The House and Senate used to be exclusively an old white man’s club. Now the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader are looking at an extraordinarily diverse membership.

The same day Boehner was reelected Speaker the Congressional Black Caucus hosted a swearing-in ceremony to welcome new and returning members of the House and Senate. There were 46 of them.

Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) will make history as the first black Republican woman in Congress. She and the others represent the largest Black Republican class in Congress since the Reconstruction era. Makes you wonder what those blacks rioting in the streets are so angry about? More than 125 blacks have been elected to Congress over the past forty years, including of course, Barack Obama.

The 114th Congress has been hailed by The Hill as the “Most diverse Congress in history to take power.” There are a record number of female lawmakers at 104, alongside 420 men. Hispanic lawmakers will number 33 with 30 in the House and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in the Senate. There are 12 Asian-Americans and Oklahoma has contributed two Native-Americans.

The Hill reports that “A vast majority of lawmakers identify as Christian, either Protestant or Catholic, along with 16 Mormons.” There are 28 Jews, two Buddhists, two Muslims, and one Hindu.

Think you’d like to have John Boehner’s job or Mitch McConnell’s? To all that diversity add political points of view that range from Far Left to Far Right.

Let me return to my original theory. In the House, though they must face election every two years, I suspect they quickly conclude that there is no satisfying the voters so they might as well vote as they wish. In the Senate where they face election every six years, that goes double or triple.

These are professional politicians. Of the new Congress, ten have been governors, 32 were mayors, and 251 served in state legislatures. It’s a job they have chosen and, frankly, I am glad it is them, not me.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

Challenging Obama’s Alleged Powers

The good news as 2015 debuts is that President Obama has managed to very nearly decimate the Democratic Party, leaving it weaker in Congress and throughout the nation than it has been in memory. The bad news is that he has weakened the nation in the eyes of the world. He is not trusted by world leaders and his next two years in office will only encourage our enemies.

“Checking Obama’s misuse of his foreign-affairs powers should be a top priority for the new Republican majorities in Congress,” urged John R. Bolton and John Yoo in the final issue of the National Review for 2014. Together they authored “Advice on ‘Advice and Consent.’” Bolton is a former U.S. ambassador and Yoo a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Both are affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute.

At home Obama’s popularity, generally remaining between 45% and 50%, has got to be one of the great polling mysteries, but in all polls 30% of those responding are unregenerate liberals so the reality of his job approval ratings is likely far lower than reported. At the same time, though, Congress has even lower approval ratings and the huge shift in power that occurred in the midterm elections suggests that the voters want to see some real action taken to curb Obama.

As Bolton and Yoo point out “These assertions of unilateral executive power raise constitutional conflicts of the first order. Congress must first ask whether any of Obama’s agreements include obligations sufficiently grave to amount to a treaty under the Constitution—or, alternatively, whether these potential deals flow from the President’s legitimate constitutional authority in foreign affairs, and thus need not be embodied in treaties.’

This is not the kind of thing the average person thinks about, let alone has the knowledge of Constitutional issues to understand. What we do know, however, is that Obama has little regard for the Congress and even less for the Constitution. That’s why the issues Bolton and Yoo address are important.

For example, “there are some reports…the administration has pledged not to use military force against Iran in exchange for a halt to its nuclear-weapons program.” The negotiations with Iran have met with such resistance from Iran that the U.S. and others participating in them have twice agreed to extend them. Iran has never demonstrated any other objective than to have its own nuclear weapons.

Bolton and Yoo say “Republicans and Democrats should agree on one thing when it comes to military force: An international agreement’s renunciation of the use of American force manifestly limits U.S. sovereignty, with enormous effects on national security. Obama’s move on Iran may well violate Article II of the Constitution.” Senate approval by a two-thirds supermajority would be needed for any such agreement with Iran. “White House claims that an Iran deal does not amount to a treaty ring false.”

The claims by the White House are universally false. That is something that Americans have learned the hard way over the past six years. While Presidents have long made ‘sole executive agreements’, treaties require the Senate’s advice and consent and Obama knows he’s not likely to get that.

It’s one thing for Obama to make a “climate change” deal with China—and a bad one at that—agreeing to cut U.S. “greenhouse gas” emissions, the fact remains that “The President cannot commit the nation to environmental standards on his own, because only Congress has the constitutional power to control interstate and international commerce (under which heading the federal government regulations the environment.)”

The new Congress is not going to go along with Obama’s deal with China because Obama lacks the authority to enact it. “At the very least”, say Bolton and Yoo, “the China climate deal should be approved by majorities in both houses of Congress, if not by two-thirds of the Senate.”

“Congress should use the tools that the Constitution provides to protect its political influence in foreign affairs,” say Bolton and Yoo, adding that “Congress can make clear that any agreement made by Obama alone binds only him.”

Other than his power as President to veto legislation sent to him, Obama lacks any real power to effect his foreign affairs initiatives and, domestically, he is not going to achieve anything other than by mean of executive orders and the use of federal government agencies to produce regulations. Congress has oversight and it can restrain and overturn the actions of agencies if they are particularly egregious and it is beginning at least to use it more frequently.

We are hoping that the new Congress is going to act on the voter’s expectation that it will restrain Obama’s efforts to push through programs that harm the best interests of the nation. In the long history of the nation, Congress has never encountered a President whose agenda is to do as much harm as possible.

The next two years will likely see many Democratic members of Congress voting with Republicans. They will do so because Obama has wreaked so much damage to the Party and because they are looking at the national elections coming in 2016 and positioning themselves for them if they must run for office.

Obama is not just the enemy of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. He is the enemy of the people.

© Alan Caruba 2015