How does one obviate a law that cannot be undone by the usual democratic processes? How can a legislator hold his or her head high, having sworn an oath to uphold and defend the constitution, when using every sneaky and underhanded method to undo it?
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In a republic, to enact a law, there first has to be a marshaling of forces in favor of a bill, and then voting on it by duly elected representatives. Given passage, then begins the enforcement phase with the agencies charged with carrying out the dictates of the law and putting it into practice by writing the “rules.” This is what we believed we knew as the democratic process.
However, new tactics are being employed by the conservatives in Congress to nullify any and all laws that they do not like or agree with, especially in cases where they have not been able to stop or reverse enactment via the normal, or constitutional, legislative process; that is the democratic process.
Rather than accept the majority decision of the duly elected legislators and the signing into law by the sitting president or governor, the new radical conservatives (not your father’s Republican Party) have devised ways to ensure that these laws will never come to pass (at least not in the form or function intended). And this does not relate just to recent laws, but conservatives have devised methods to blunt or render ineffective entire existing agencies they despise and existing laws they abhor. Examples are the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), established respectively in 1934 and 1970. The latter was signed into law by a Republican president.
On their face one would think that these agencies are all virtue and no sin. But to the far right these agencies are evil incarnate, stunting economic growth and encumbering and smothering our businesses with a myriad of regulations.
There are two primary techniques or methods of nullification employed.
“Legislative Capture” is played in many different ways. Primary among them is the complete withholding or the allocation of woefully insufficient funds to a targeted agency or department thus not allowing the agency or department to perform their mandated job. They remain in existence but as an empty shell. This is an abstract form of starvation.
Other tactics employed is to “salt” the boards or senior positions with conservatives who are instructed to do nothing at a minimum, or actively thwart or delay the implementation of any actions.
President Obama’s frustration in having spent years attempting to respect GOP legislators and find accommodation has resulted in his abandoning any attempt to reason with the “Party of No!” He has used his recess appointment power, provided by the Constitution, in spite of the Republican claim that the Senate is not in recess. The president has been castigated for this by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, numerous GOP legislators and the chattering class opinionators, such as Rush Limbaugh, who said that he had “pissed” on the Constitution. And now the supremes have weighed in stating that a recess of nine days or less is not a recess sufficient to permit appointments.
“Legislative Arbitrage” is the second tactic on all that is legislatively evil is to threaten an administrative agency with the promise of a continuous barrage of hearings and legal challenges. The agency is threatened with the entanglement of legal battles that will consume their resources and divert their attention from the business at hand. This threat, they are told, will not be carried out if the agency modifies their rules according to guidelines proposed by the GOP.
Make no bones about it; these tactics are nothing more or less than a perversion of the democratic process. And while they may not be illegal in the strict sense of the word, they are certainly a violation of the spirit of the law.
As with the war on terror that has become a conflict without end, the “game” of politics has become a continuous war. Not that of acceptable tension between two parties with different visions of the role of government and a unified aim of collectively governing a great nation. This game without end is seeing our democracy eroded and perverted.
To say that the art of compromise is nonexistent is a gross understatement. Compromise has become a pejorative, and internecine warfare has replaced governing. We are fast becoming little more than a banana republic and a laughing stock, all for the dubious honor of a recalcitrant conservative party pushing its agenda over the common good.
The GOP seems happy to accept a dysfunctional legislative branch that is not able to perform its constitutional role. That this is seen as a victory is more than sad. But politics is not a game; it is a deadly serious process that directly affects the lives of all Americans and indirectly the rest of the world.
Gene Altshuler is a resident of Cameron Park and a community activist interested in economic development and local government.