American voters have heard a lot this campaign season from both presidential candidates about the need to work in a bipartisan fashion, but neither candidate truly supported a bipartisan approach to resolving the economic crisis we faced this week. Both took the usual approach of accepting a flawed bill proposed by the Executive Branch and tacking on some perks and pork to sweeten the deal. They then crossed their fingers and hoped that the revised bill could garner enough supporters who would hold their nose and pass it despite the churning in their gut and the ire of their constituents.
The real leadership came from representatives in the House who examined the bill, unearthed its many flaws and sounded alarm over the unprecedented power it placed in the hands of the Executive Branch. A small group of Democratic and Republican representatives refused to be bullied and frightened into submission. They balked at their leadership’s insistence that it was the Bush way, jazzed up a bit with some constituent candy, or imminent doom and destruction at the hands of the wrathful free market god. They courageously voted NO on the bill. Then they talked and creatively proposed intelligent alternatives to the administration plan.
As I write this, some Republican representatives are going to the Rules Committee to request permission to add an amendment to the bill that would significantly reduce the pork that was added by the Senate while also limiting the power of the Executive branch and taking back power for the Congress in oversight and approval. The Democratic opposition to the bill, led by Ohio’s own Marcy Kaptur and Peter DeFazio (OR) proposed a totally different plan that would pay for the bailout with a tax on stock trades while attempting to stabilize the market by increasing the FDIC limit and changing SEC mark to market valuation of assets.
While the plans proposed by the Democratic and Republican holdouts in the House are different, they have some things in common.
- They limit the power given to the Executive Branch and reclaim power for the Congress
- They cut the amount of government money that is given to the Secretary of the Treasury upfront and make him or her more accountable to Congress for the way it is spent.
- Neither bill includes pork and perks totally unrelated to the immediate crisis. It isn’t that some of those perks and pork barrel projects aren’t worthy, it’s just that they shouldn’t be lumped together so that they can’t be fairly debated and passed on their own merit.
In fairness to the leadership, some changes were made to the president’s proposal that improved it, but they pushed their colleagues to pass it and acted like officers of the Executive Branch instead providing creative leadership to the Congress. It’s time we had a Congress that can work across the aisle to protect the American taxpayers from an Executive Branch that has usurped power that wasn’t given to it under the Constitution. It is time for our Representatives to work in a bipartisan manner to solve problems instead of playing politics with legislation. Their constituents deserve bills that they can understand, strong bills that address the issue instead of bills that are so encumbered by amendments and weakened by compromise that they are ineffective. The best solutions aren’t created by throwing a little of everyone’s ideas into a bill with hundreds of almost incomprehensible pages of legalism and passing it. Then when it doesn’t solve the problem, the parties blame each other for the failure.
The best solutions come from creative problem solving by people of good faith with respect for each other even when they offer different approaches to solving the problem. Creativity, problem solving and respect, and courage that’s what I saw in the deliberations of some members of the House this week. Unfortunately these were not qualities I found evident in their leadership.