It’s my contention that through its own rules, the United States Congress (specifically the Senate) has allowed itself to be so tied up in knots, that it’s almost irrelevant anymore. The focus nowadays is virtually all on what the President is going to do, whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump. And this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
The Founders clearly intended the legislative branch to be the preeminent branch of government. After all, the very first section of the Constitution, Article 1, set forth the powers of the legislative branch, the Congress, not the powers of the president, or the courts. What was considered to be the most important power, the decision to determine war and peace, was given to the Congress.
The Founders’ decision about an executive, was almost an afterthought. It was left to Article 2, and it was decided that this executive would be called a president.
And the courts were even further down the totem pole – Article 3. The Constitution called for a “supreme Court,” and left it up to the Congress to decide whether any further federal courts below this supreme Court were necessary, and it left it to Congress to decide what types of cases these courts would hear. Congress did decide lower courts were desirable, and the U.S. District Courts and U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal were created.
Yes, it was intended that the three branches keep a wary eye on each other – checks and balances, but in recent years, the powers that the Founders intended be primarily exercised by the branch closest to the people, the legislative branch, have been allowed to drift away from Congress, and have been seized by presidents and courts. What has caused this shift in power? In my opinion, it’s an exceedingly stupid rule in the Senate, which requires not a simple majority vote to pass something (as is the case in the House), but 60 of the 100 Senators. In fact, the thing being considered will never even be voted on, unless this supermajority agrees. The impact is that a minority in the Senate has the power to stop anything from being accomplished, and usually does. Time and time again things that a majority of Americans want, pass the House, only to be stalled in the Senate.
The irony is that this stupid rule requiring 60 votes to pass anything, could be changed by a simple majority vote of 51 Senators. And in my view, they ought to do it, immediately. The last time it was modified, slightly, was when Harry Reid changed the rule to no longer require 60 votes for confirming federal judges (other than the Supreme Court) and cabinet officials. This change is now benefiting the Trump Administration (although the Democrats in the Senate are intentionally slowing down the confirmation process to keep Trump from hitting the ground running.)
There is one exception to the Senate rule requiring 60 votes. That’s through a process called reconciliation. It’s expected that this will be used to repeal and replace Obamacare, and to pass tax reform. But virtually anything else will require 60 Senate votes, and therefore won’t get done.
At least not through Congress. So instead, President Trump, just as President Obama did, will use executive orders to do things which our Founding Fathers intended be left to the representatives of the American people, the Congress.
In Barack Obama’s case, he famously acted with his “pen and phone” because in his words “we can’t wait.” He unilaterally allowed millions of individuals whose parents had brought them here illegally to stay, in violation of federal immigration law. He ordered his justice department not to enforce many existing drug laws. And he made substantial changes in the so-called Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), even though it had passed through congressional action in the first place, and thus shouldn’t have been changed except through congressional action.
Trump likewise has already shown that he’s more than happy to take action without consulting Congress, from suspending immigration from specific countries; to requiring that for every new regulation that comes into existence, two regulations must be abolished; to how and where federal funding is to be spent.
And that brings me to something the city of Cincinnati did recently. The city’s elected representatives, the city council and the mayor, decided to become a so-called “sanctuary city.” In essence what this means is that the city has decided that it will defy federal immigration laws. In my view, this is a major mistake.
First it puts our citizens at greater risk. Allowing criminals who are here illegally to be released without notifying federal immigration enforcement officials that they are in custody, unnecessarily endangers the public.
Further, the city is putting at risk millions and millions of federal dollars. Now when Barack Obama was president, there wouldn’t have been much risk of this, because Obama was sympathetic to sanctuary cities. But with Donald Trump now in the White House, it’s another ball game. The Enquirer quoted President Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, as saying “the President is going to do everything he can… to make sure that the cities that don’t comply… will not get federal funding.” Thus the city’s bone-headed decision could put at risk funding for such things as the Brent Spence Bridge, highway and transportation improvements, police and fire grants, and on and on.
The bottom line is, the city of Cincinnati’s decision to become a sanctuary city, shortly after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Our city leaders are basically daring President Trump to cut off their federal funding, to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. The city claims Trump can’t, or won’t do it. Why take the chance?