Obama and Reid are trying to strike out Congress

Elizabeth Letchworth Former U.S. Senate Secretary
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On a recent campaign trip, President Obama announced that he was abandoning the line “pass this bill” in favor of “we can’t wait” — as in, “we can’t wait” for Congress to enact Obama’s jobs bill. He says that if Congress doesn’t enact his $447 billion plan, he will have no alternative but to go around Congress and implement much of his plan by executive order or by using the federal rulemaking process. This new game plan is not only flawed but, to use a baseball analogy, represents an attempt to strike out Congress.

Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made history when he challenged a longstanding Senate rule that allowed senators to offer motions to consider unrelated amendments once the Senate had voted to invoke cloture on a bill and limited the remaining debate. Reid won the vote and, as a result, senators can no longer make such motions after cloture has been invoked. Because Senate Republicans were outraged by the maneuver, Reid decided to recess the Senate for the rest of the week in order to let tempers cool.

During last Thursday’s Senate session, Reid managed to invoke cloture on the pending appropriations bill. The vote was 82-16 in favor of limiting the remaining amendments and debate on the appropriations bill that fully funds all programs within the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Affairs. When the Senate reconvenes next week, it will not be in order to offer any new amendments to the appropriations bill that funds the two departments.

Then, on Friday, Reid indicated that he would like the Senate to consider a part of the president’s stimulus bill that deals with building and repairing infrastructure. The proposal is nicknamed “Rebuild America Jobs” and provides $50 billion in immediate investments for highways, transit, rail and aviation. It would also establish a national infrastructure bank to the tune of $10 billion that will help fund a broad range of infrastructure projects. This piece of the president’s stimulus bill is paid for or offset by raising taxes on those making more than $1 million per year by 0.7%.

And just yesterday, the president announced that it is time for him to circumvent Congress and get moving on parts of his stimulus bill. The portion he wants to implement using executive orders includes a HUD program that would allow certain homeowners to refinance their homes without having to provide current employment verification. President Obama says this plan will prevent families from losing their homes to foreclosure.

Considering the Senate schedule (which Reid controls) and the change to the Senate rules (which Reid made), it seems like Reid is basically blocking Congress from acting on parts of the president’s stimulus bill. If Congress has been struck out and is no longer at bat or in a place where they might be able to act on some of these proposals, as a result of steps taken by Reid, then the president can more easily justify having to bypass Congress and push his proposals onto the American people without Congress having any say or input.

Having now learned these facts about the Senate, it makes one wonder if the new motto “we can’t wait” should be changed to “let’s avoid Congress.”

One last note: Yesterday, the Obama campaign sent out an email announcing the president’s new plan to use rulemaking to not only implement the housing refinance changes but also “announce new steps to help young people manage their federal student loan debt.” Stay tuned to see if this student loan initiative will become strike number four!

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.