Last month, the president tweeted: “It is disgraceful what the Do-Nothing Democrats are doing (the Impeachment Scam), but it is also disgraceful what they are NOT doing, namely, the USMCA vote, Prescription Drug Price Reduction, Gun Safety, Infrastructure, and much more!”
The president wanted his Twitter followers to believe the only business Democrats have pursued over the last year is his impeachment. His message was simply untrue.
Under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House also passed more than 300 bills, 275 of them with bipartisan support, but almost all of those measures are languishing on the Senate majority leader’s desk. Under Mitch McConnell and his minions, including our own senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, the Senate has become a dead-end street where almost nothing that might benefit average Americans has been passed into law.
Even popular legislation like lowering prescription drug prices, which the House passed and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said will save Medicare nearly a half trillion dollars over 10 years, is dead in the water. That’s because Big Pharma opposes authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug pricing — and nobody is more beholden to Big Pharma than McConnell and his allies.
On another crucial health care issue, the House passed the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, which is the last bill the health insurance industry wants enacted. McConnell opposes the measure. It’s going nowhere, even though the president has frequently said he supports the policy. Apparently, he hasn’t talked to McConnell.
Also contrary to Trump’s claim, gun safety legislation, including closing gun-show loopholes and strengthening background checks, was passed by the House last February with wide public and bipartisan support. But it was dead on arrival when it reached the Senate. Again, the National Rifle Association instructed the Senate majority leader to stall. Nothing will happen, and there has been no demand or even encouragement to act from the White House.
The “For-the-People Act.” also passed by the House, would make Election Day a federal holiday while expanding voter registration. Is that not good for our democracy? Not as far as the Senate is concerned. How about equal pay for equal work? No action. The Paycheck Fairness Act, also passed with bipartisan House support, gathers dust in the Senate. Might we agree that the Violence Against Women Act should be continued? We might, but the Senate has it stymied.
With respect to the environment, if you accept the scientific consensus, as the Pentagon does, that climate change poses a threat to U.S. national security, then the Climate Action Now Act should be signed into law? But, it will not as long as McConnell is running the Senate.
And, of course, there are the Dreamers, those immigrant children brought here as small children and who know no other country. A dispositive bill passed by the House has died in the Senate.
Minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour for more than a decade. The Raise the Wage Act would gradually increase it to $15 an hour over six years, helping ensure that hard working full-time Americans making the minimum won’t need government subsidies to make ends meet. That’s common sense to most everyone — except McConnell.
There is a lot of other House-passed legislation the Senate majority leader is refusing to even discuss, let alone consider for passage. While the president continues to rail against climate change, public schools, and the lack of House action, McConnell quietly buries legislation.
One might ask: How can Mitch McConnell be a one-man roadblock to the things Americans need so badly? Very simply, because he can. The Senate allows it.
The Senate majority leader holds astonishing power, none of which is laid out in the Constitution. Chief among the majority leader’s powers is the ability to set the agenda, decide when it is in session, and determine which measures will be debated, then voted on. One person decides all this. The founders did not address how the Senate would run itself or who would be in charge. Appointing leaders among Senate members and the power they wield has developed with gradual, very gradual, speed.
An interesting twist is that McConnell has refused to take up essential issues because he says the president has not told him what bills he will support. This is a dangerous game to play with an erratic president who changes his position from one day to the next. McConnell’s stance precludes senators from debating and voting on legislation that is currently favored by most Americans.
This is not what the founders wanted. Congress was always meant to be the most active of the branches of government, the “first among equals” in the language of Thomas Jefferson. However, McConnell has largely put it to sleep.
Don Tortorice is a former attorney and professor at the Law School of the College of William and Mary.