Former Congress member: Don’t let Senate usurp House’s powers
A former Democratic member of Congress has come out swinging in an op-ed for The Hill against “the suggestion that the Senate is so tied in knots that the House will simply have to accept without change whatever can win 60 votes in the Senate.”
Martin Frost, a moderate Democrat who represented the 24th Texas congressional district from 1979 to 2005 — when he was squeezed out in a controversial redistricting engineered by Tom DeLay — is concerned about the consequences “if President Obama lets divided Senate Democrats dictate the shape of his legislative agenda.”
Frost points out that in recent years “far-reaching legislation” has typically originated in the House, been “walked back to the center” by the Senate, and wound up somewhere in between. But earlier this fall, the House accepted a measure from the Senate without taking it through conference committee because of an impending deadline for extension of unemployment benefits.
Now suggestions have begun to appear that it would make things simpler if even major pieces of legislation, like heath care reform, were passed in the same manner.
Huffington Post congressional correspondent Ryan Grim reported last week, “There is increased chatter on Capitol Hill about a possible ‘ping-ponging’ of the Senate health care bill: that chamber would pass its health care bill, send it to the House and the House would be asked to pass it with no changes and send it directly to the president.”
“You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize, and the prize is health care reform,”a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer told Grim. “I think it’s a great idea if it means health care reform gets passed… Eventually, they’re going to have a bill that passes both houses. If you can do it without the long, arduous process, why not?”
A day later, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein picked up on the idea, writing, “The expectation is that after the Senate passes its health-care reform bill, it will enter into negotiations with the House to merge the two bills. But maybe not! If the Senate passes a bill the House can live with, the House can pass it with no changes, and the bill can head right to the president’s desk. That would allow health-care reform to be signed before the year’s end.”
Frost, however, sees this as a terrible idea.
“Members of the House did not come to Washington simply to bring home appropriations pork for their districts and to take an occasional foreign trip,” he writes. “No one is suggesting that congressional consensus will be easy on any of the hot-button issues next year. However, Speaker Pelosi would face an absolute revolt in her own caucus if a weakened Senate Democratic Caucus got to be the sole author of major legislation in the next year. And she might wind up leading the revolt herself.”
“President Obama is going to have to figure out how a bicameral legislature works,” Frost concludes. “If he doesn’t and lets a divided Senate Democratic Caucus become the lowest common denominator and dictate the shape of his legislative agenda, he faces the prospect of a very difficult year.”