By Larry Levine –
In the legislative arena god is on the side of the guy with the most votes.
I realized this for the first time in the mid-1990s while listening to a clergymember pray for unity and civility on a day when the California State Assembly would be considering an extremely controversial measure on which neither side was going to flinch.
I hope President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer learned that lesson during the last 10 years while watching Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate run roughshod over the Democrats.
Biden and his team need to recognize some simple realities: while Biden pledged to unify the nation, he did not pledge to unify congress. A majority of the nation may harbor some desire for the abstraction of political unity they are more interested in getting things done.
Offer Americans a choice between an efficient and effective vaccination program to bring an end to the pandemic on the one hand or peaceful co-existence between Biden/Schumer and McConnell on the other hand and they would tell you to send McConnell packing.
Offer Americans a choice between financial support for struggling families and small business owners as part of a pandemic relief package on the one hand or allowing McConnell to hold onto the filibuster he treasures as a device for obstruction and they would tell you to shove the filibuster out the door along with McConnell.
Offer Americans a choice between an economic recovery legislative package on the one hand or unity between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate on the other hand and see how fast the pretty sounding call for unity gets kicked to the curb.
Americans didn’t elect Joe Biden to make nice with Mitch McConnell or any of the other members of his gang of weasels in the Senate. They elected Joe Biden to get rid of Donald Trump and deal forcefully with the pandemic and economic woes that beset the nation. If Biden and the Democrats don’t deliver on that the 2022 mid-term elections are likely to return control of congress to the Republicans and turn the final two years of Biden’s first term into an exercise in futility. And that likely would return the White House to Republican control in 2024.
Unity is something Republicans want when they are in the minority. When they are the majority they find nothing wrong with denying a hearing to an Obama Supreme Court nominee for a year and then ramming through confirmation of a Trump nominee in weeks. They find nothing wrong with deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and then attacking Biden’s pandemic relief plan as too expensive. They find nothing wrong with letting hundreds of pieces of legislation passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives gather dust without consideration in the Senate and blaming Democrats for the stalemate.
Biden was Vice President and Schumer was in the Senate when President Barack Obama spent the first year of his first time trying to bring Republicans along to support the Affordable Care Act. He had voting majorities in both houses of Congress. Instead of flexing the muscles of the majority he opted to try to bring everyone to the table to reach consensus even after McConnell declared he didn’t intend to play. In that year Republicans renamed the ACA “Obamacare” and talked of death panels. The act ultimately enacted was weakened as public support wilted under the Republican blitz. Then, in the 2010 mid-term elections the Republicans used “Obamacare” as the weapon to wrest control of both houses of Congress, control they would retain for the remaining six years of Obama’s Presidency.
The lesson for Biden and Schumer now is that you cannot unify with those who don’t want unity. From their instant opposition to Biden’s pandemic recovery proposal it’s clear the Republicans don’t want to be united.
So, don’t get sucked into their game. Don’t be pushed around by pundits who attach themselves to the unity promise and try to hold you to it. You have the most votes. Use them to get things done and the nation will forgive you for not uniting with a recalcitrant opposition party. And don’t forget these two other wisdoms from the world of politics:
When you have the votes, stop debating and call for a vote, and
Success in politics means not just doing good things but making sure the voters know you did them.