July 12, 2013

Suddenly a lot is happening in Congress, but it is too soon to tell if any of it is good.

Just when I was getting discouraged by the apparent inability of the GOP majority in the House to pass much of anything, the Republicans were able to do something sensible by separating our food stamp funding and policy from our agriculture program funding and policy.  Whether Republicans will address the realities of the food stamp program in a sensible way remains to be seen. But it is good to have a separate debate about what this program has become.

A record 47 million Americans are now on food stamps. Is this program a vivid example of President Obama’s dependent society, which discourages the unemployed or underemployed from actively participating in the job market; or is it essential assistance that must be maintained until the economy improves? The debate will set the obvious trap for Republicans to be labeled as cruel, heartless, etc. — much as the Democrats did on the House floor yesterday when objecting to this more rational approach.

Meanwhile, yesterday, over in the Senate, somebody opened up a can of parliamentary whoop-ass. In a fight over the minority’s rights to block votes on executive-branch nominees, Majority Leader Harry Reid essentially called Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar; McConnell, in turn, said that Reid is the worst Senate leader ever.

Something does need to be done to fix the broken process of nominating and confirming executive-branch nominees. Ideally, Republicans and Democrats would agree to reforms that would speed the vetting process within the executive branch and would allow the legislative branch to hold more timely votes. The current process is exploited by both parties and is undemocratic. Some seasoned Democrats are among those who oppose a change because they fear Republican abuse will mimic Democratic abuse when Republicans are in the majority. Well, maybe a system of mutually-assured abuse is the best we can do. Perhaps a change in the rules is a bad idea whose time has come.

For the first time in a few months, the action taking place in both houses of Congress really matters. The images and the end results could do a lot to shape both parties. But I’m not sure if leaders in either party actually have a plan that will enable them to use these debates to produce a desirable outcome. Well, confusion is nothing if not interesting. Stay tuned.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.