As the struggle within the Republican Caucus unfolded in the election of a new Speaker of the House, I called it a clown act. My view was simple: the differences needed to be resolved in the Republican Conference before the Speaker election began.
One of the interesting, yet unfortunate dimensions of the several days drama was the lexicon of the drama—the vocabulary of politicians and reporters alike. The dissenters in the Republican Party were almost always characterized using disparaging words and phrases—extreme, excessive, out-of-touch, crazies. And indeed, some were.
But there were others, Representative Chip Roy, for example, whose principal objections were aimed at how Congress works. He and his allies were using the only tool they had to reform the legislating process and try to reduce spending.
Now let me briefly get into the weeds. Congressional leadership over the last several Congresses has consolidated power at the top to an extent that individual members (Members) might as well go to a Spa and give their respective Whips (the Party’s conformist job) a proxy to vote for them.
And since serious Members of Congress have either bought into or are neutered by the concentrated power, the media often takes the path of least resistance and features loudmouths whose principal talent is attracting attention. News without outrage is not attention-getting so “let’s go find the provocateurs.”
Who cares what Republican Members like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz think about a particular piece of legislation or appropriation. Yet their vainglorious conduct is given disproportionate and misleading weight in news stories. On the Left, the Squad, gets way more coverage than the weight of their thought or power deserves.
The Roy wing (my simplification) of the Republican dissenters in its negotiations insisted on what is referred to as “regular order”. Essentially, the rule changes they demanded would break apart omnibus bills that consume thousands of pages, requiring specific bills. For example, twelve appropriation bills instead of one. And this process would give individual members of Congress the right to propose amendments on the floor before a final vote. While this would be a long and sometimes messy process, the act of making law would be more transparent and Members could be held accountable. There were other changes insisted on like requiring that legislation be published at least 72 hours ahead of a vote.
Having tried your patience, let me close with this point. Newscasters and commentators alike in the Speaker fight kept referring to dissenters as “hard Right” Members. Were there election skeptics and/or deniers in the group? Yes. But should that forever negate potential legislative contributions? No. Keep in mind that much of President Biden’s legislative agenda is an outgrowth of policies pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-identified Socialist.
There is, of course, risk in opening up the Congressional process. One can argue that only a handful of the 435 Members are rational, studied and accountable. If that is the case, the Republic is in trouble.
If the deal with the new Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is in fact implemented, we voters will get (if we want) a clearer view of what our Representatives think and how he/she represents us. The more independent thinkers, regardless of Party orthodoxy, will not be as easily herded into, well, the herd. Seems to me that is indeed a worthy reform. And if that is an outgrowth of the “hard Right” dissent, they should be applauded.
And, let me add. There will be many who disparage a Member because he/she takes a hardline on spending. The issue will be distilled into the bills plea, not its cost. How can you vote against a bill that helps “widows and orphans”? This has been going on for a long time and the distillers have won and our debt has ballooned. If the “hard Right” moves spotlight spending excess, good for them.
Complicated stories do not yield rationally to stick-figure images. Often the essence of the story is in the detail and when it is shrunk to generalizations, we are ill-served. Dissent in America has been honored; the herd should not thoughtlessly besmirch it.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.