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Frank writes: "Changing the House and Senate rules, and having those bodies meet more frequently are all good ideas. But they will not fix a Congress run by people who seek to render government ineffective. Only the voters can change this."

Barney Frank: "Changing congressional rules is a good idea. But that won't fix a Congress run by people who seek to render government ineffective." (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Barney Frank: "Changing congressional rules is a good idea. But that won't fix a Congress run by people who seek to render government ineffective." (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Want to Fix Our Dysfunctional Congress? Vote Right-Wing Republicans Out of Office

By Barney Frank, Guardian UK

29 October 14


Changing congressional rules is a good idea. But that won’t fix a Congress run by people who seek to render government ineffective

recently participated in a panel convened by Esquire Magazine, in which they asked four retired members of congress –Senators Lott and Daschle, Congressman Livingston, and me – to make recommendations about how to improve the function of Congress, including syncing up the House and Senate’s schedules, eliminating gerrymandering and speeding up the confirmations of executive appointees. I agree with all of them.

But as I made clear in the panel’s discussions, there is a much more important step that has to be taken before they can have any real beneficial impact. The reason we have suffered from a wholly dysfunctional Congress for the past four years is not procedural: it’s political.

Changing the House and Senate rules, and having those bodies meet more frequently are all good ideas. But they will not fix a Congress run by people who seek to render government ineffective. Only the voters can change this.

As long as the Republican Party is dominated by leaders of extreme ideological rigidity, and they escape the blame that they deserve, the dysfunctional situation in Congress will continue. Voters who are unhappy at gridlock need follow only a two-step program: first, pay some serious attention to who has caused this breakdown; second, vote them out of power.

Review recent history: we did not talk about the total meltdown of the national legislative function under Ronald Reagan, nor George HW Bush, nor Bill Clinton, nor George W. Bush. Neither was complaint heard in the first two years of the Obama Administration. The problem began after the election of 2010, when there was a sharp acceleration of the trend to the right that had been occurring within the Republican Party for some time.

For an example, just look to January 2008, when Bush saw economic problems looming and he asked Congress to cooperate with a stimulus program. The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, fully cooperated – and despite the fact that doing so would mean a better economy during the Presidential election year, they passed the legislation that Bush requested.

A little over a year later, when Barack Obama – facing an even more severe economic problem brought upon by excessive financial deregulation – similarly asked Congress for a stimulus, the Democratic leadership cooperated. But the Republicans (fortunately then in the minority) did everything they could to obstruct the President’s request. Even though a bill finally passed, the need to get three Republican Senators to vote yes on it led to a reduction of $80bn in the final package, retarding the extent to which the program helped the economy.

Or compare Representative John Boehner with House Speaker John Boehner. Early in the Bush years, he helped pass a significant expansion of the federal role in education – No Child Left Behind. I voted against it, but it was hardly a sign of Congressional dysfunction: Boehner’s main congressional partner in getting it enacted was then-Senator Ted Kennedy. Not 10 years later, Speaker Boehner assumed leadership of a House which vigorously obstructed any effort by President Obama to take legislative action on anything.

What changed was not Boehner’s own approach to governing, but the membership of the party that he was supposed to be leading. The Republican transition was by then complete: what was once a conservative party that sought to expand the role of the private sector (but understood the need for a vigorous public sector) had become a radical, right-wing group dominated by people who do not understand that government has any constructive role in our society.

Not surprisingly, with a Congress run in substantial part by people who do not believe government should work, it doesn’t.

Usually in American politics, when a party moves too far to its ideological extreme, it is punished at the polls. That happened to the Republicans in 1964 when Barry Goldwater was the nominee, and to Democrats under George McGovern. In 2010, that dynamic was superseded by the wave of public anger over the financial crisis and the means taken to resolve it. It is one of the saddest ironies of history that, while it was Republican policies which to a great extent brought about the crash, Democrats were penalized for what was needed to do to recover from it.

The most striking example of the public’s misreading of history has to do with the bail-outs. There were five of these in the crisis period: Bear Stearns; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; AIG; the Troubled Asset Relief Program (which went to a variety of companies); and the auto industry. All five were initiated by George Bush but, despite that, public opinion polls show that the Democrats are blamed far more than the Republicans for authoring them.

Because of those attitudes, dysfunctional Republicans won control of the House in 2010 despite moving to an ideological position out of sync with the American people. It has created problems for the Republicans at the presidential level – as evidenced by Mitt Romney’s own lurch to the right to win the nomination, and his subsequent awkward effort to move back toward the center. It also produced Democratic Senate victories in five states where more reasonable conservatives could have won, had they not been beaten in their own primaries by extremists of varying degrees of implausibility.

A major obstacle to sensible politics is the intellectually lazy response of many unhappy voters with regard to the abysmal performance of Congress – the “a plague on both their Houses” approach taken by many, leading them to blame Democrats and Republicans alike for the problem caused by the Tea Party control of the Republican Party.

Fueled by that anger in 2010 and aided by Congressional gerrymandering in 2011 (thanks to having run so many state Houses in 2010), Republicans still hold the House and now threaten to take the Senate as well.

Ideally, Republican voters who still believe in government – albeit from a conservative perspective – will increase their participation in primaries so that the ideologically pure do not continue to dominate. But until that day comes – and people like former Senator Bob Dole and the 2001 version of John Boehner can exercise leadership in a sensible conservative party – it is up to the voters in November.

Once the extreme antigovernment faction has been driven out of government, the steps that I and my Esquire co-panelists recommended can play a very helpful role in improving the functions of Congress. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+24 # thekidde 2014-10-29 13:24
We can only hope. Good luck and keep truckin'. We've a long way to go.
+21 # sfintersect 2014-10-29 13:30
BRAVO! So well said & I will pass this along & post it everywhere. Thank you for just telling the plain truth!
+8 # btfeldman 2014-10-29 13:51
Bravo indeed, Barney Frank; Along those lines I would suggest "Vote Them Away," a "frank" (as it's described) and compatible musical piece:
+3 # propsguy 2014-10-29 13:52
so are we to vote right wing democrats into office? let's face it, our choices aren't good, our choices aren't even choices!

as emma goldman and/or mark twain said "if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal"
+15 # MidwestDick 2014-10-29 14:21
So, voting must be working, because "they" ARE making it illegal, in WI, TX, OH etc.
-22 # MidwesTom 2014-10-29 14:59
Business used to love a divided dysfunctional Congress, the fewer new rules and regulations the better for future planning. No business wants to invest capital into an uncertain situation. However, the acceleration of Executive Orders under both Bush and Obama has resulted in a new route to uncertainty.
+8 # rockieball 2014-10-30 07:35
you can lead some people to the facts and yet they will still deny the truth,
+5 # rockieball 2014-10-30 07:49
It's Republican hypocrisy when it comes to the use of Executive orders. G.W. Bush made 291 of them. 173 in his first term 118 in his second. Reagan made 381. The old man Bush 166 (one term served) Clinton 364. YET!!! Reagan, and both the Bushes were termed "Men of Action," by the Republicans and it's mouth piece Fox News, and the radio talking heads lead by Rush Limpbutt. While Clinton and now Obama are said by these same people "Abuse of Power." Yet when it comes to Republicans in power is it any wonder the ENTIRE world laughs at them and calls them bigots.
+3 # rockieball 2014-10-30 07:53
Forgot Obama has made 193 Exec. orders 147 in first term and only 46 in his second. He has bent over backwards to try and work with the Republican leadership at the cost of his popularity. While the Republican leadership has been bending hom forward and saying "Bring on the KY and take this Mr. President."
+17 # Buddha 2014-10-29 15:00
It is only the pervasive ignorance of the American low-information voter that allows this corruption to continue. And as I see that ignorance getting worse, not better, I see little chance that Change can occur from within the corrupt system...
+5 # REDPILLED 2014-10-29 15:20
If you still believe in voting, then ALSO vote imperialist, neocon, neoliberal Democrats out of office as well as voting out those regressives in the Repulsive Party.
+14 # Vardoz 2014-10-29 15:28
The GOP has been blocking every move Obama has made to try and improve things and people have actually bought their bull shit! Also when the Dems had the house and senate the GOP blocked everything using the filibuster and tricky laws like the SECRET HOLD - look it up if you don't know what it is. If the GOP takes over both houses we are doomed in every way- it will be open season by the corporations and the 1% on the majorities lives and the destruction of our environment! It is truly a frightening reality since we know that corporations and our sold out reps have no regard for mankind or the environment- it's profits at all costs to everything. Also an NPR report just came out saying that this excuse that there are not enough skilled people for jobs is total BS since there are plenty of skilled college kids out there who can't get a job and there are 4 skilled people to every job. This demonstrates how much outsourcing, which the GOP supports is hurting our economy so much. So spread the word and tell everyone to vote Democratic Progressives into office. We have got to show them which side we are on.
+6 # kitster 2014-10-29 15:47
yes, yes, yes. republicans are the gaudy obstructionist party. but the democrats have also been a thorn in the side of potus o. now they've deserted him entirely and are trying to run against pachys as the more conservative choice. we the people are screwed with either political animal. it's not bless anymore...IT'S GOD HELP THE AMERIKAN PEOPLE!!!
+5 # RMDC 2014-10-29 19:05
It is too late. Congressional districts have been so heavily gerrymandered that no one's vote counts anymore. The republicans simply own enough districts to keep control of congress forever. The senate is a little better because these elections are state-wide. But now that we have Citizens United and unlimited and secret campaign funding, the republicans will soon take control of the senate and will never give it up.

Voting is a fraud. If voting could change anything, it would be illegal. Voting is only an empty ritual that keeps people thinking they live in a democracy. They don't. They live is a fascist state. As long as they are quiet and keep working and paying taxes, they will be left alone. If they demand change, they will be suppressed with police violence.
+3 # jon 2014-10-29 21:13
And that really is the way it is.

I hope the Koch brothers and their ilk - and bought and paid for legislators - are happy that they have destroyed the greatest Democracy in history.

To win a race trophy by buying it, is no victory. Those poor empty, synthetic excuses for American men.

I would not want to meet our Maker in their shoes.
+1 # Walter J Smith 2014-10-29 19:20
Perhaps someone could remind Barney Frank that he had nary a whisper to complain about Nancy Pelosi packing a Barney Frank chaired Banking Committee, with re-election frenzied, banking money hungry newly elected Democrats, so that committee was rendered dysfunctional with the Democrats in charge, 2009-11.

And, of course, the Democrats never came within a hint of grasping why they were run out of that House control position. Duh.

We may or may not ever get another functional Congress. The GOP certainly will not achieve that; nor will the Democrats. Those parties are far too religiously devoted to swooning and drooling over Wall Street's most malicious criminals.
+3 # lewagner 2014-10-29 20:00
100 percent of congress voted to rearm Israel.
+8 # James Marcus 2014-10-29 20:11
Wrong. Sorry. ALL politicians are now 'Sold Out' to the Same Money!
The 'VOTE' has become a charade of 'choice'. And most all of the 'players' are liars.
Want Change?
We must replace them all. No Campaign, or Other, Political Contributions, at all. Publicly funded RE-elections.
Term Limits, and reduced Benefits/Salari es
(It's a Service Position)
Get The Money OUT!

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