“Why can’t Congress get anything done?” I’m asked this question a lot lately, whether at events throughout the district, in letters from constituents, or even at the grocery store. It’s a legitimate question.
Many Americans are rightly frustrated that the gridlock in Washington is slowing down a once-promising agenda of reform. President Donald Trump and most every congressional Republican ran on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, crack down on illegal immigration, overhaul Dodd-Frank, reform our broken tax code, rebuild the military, and fix the VA. Yet ten months into our Republican majority, how much of that has actually been accomplished?
I understand this frustration because I’m frustrated, too. My frustration, however, is from the perspective of a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, which has taken action on almost every major agenda item already. On May 4 we passed legislation that repeals Obamacare and replaces it with a system designed to lower costs and increase choices. On June 8 we passed legislation that overhauls Dodd-Frank and untangles the mess of financial regulations hurting hometown lenders, small businesses, and farmers. On September 14 we passed an appropriations package that funds construction of a border wall and increases funding for the military.
My House colleagues and I worked hard to get these bills written, through committee, passed on the floor, and sent to the Senate. As you can imagine, it has been extremely disappointing to see this good policy that will truly help American families and small businesses pile up on the other side of the Capitol. The Senate has been unable to pass any of these key agenda bills and send them to the President for his signature.
I’m reminded of the old tale of the eager young Democratic Congressman who came to Washington in the 1980s ready to shake things up. Full of gusto, he told his colleagues he wanted to meet some House Republicans so he could size up the enemy. It was Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill who corrected him. Republicans are just the opposition, Speaker O’Neill said. The Senate is the enemy.
That’s all in jest, of course. I have great respect for the Senate, and Alabama has been fortunate to have strong representation in the Senate for many years. And, to be fair, the Senate has passed several very important measures, including 14 Congressional Review Act bills rolling back Obama-era regulations and legislation to usher in historic reforms at the VA. Just this week, they successfully amended and passed our budget resolution to pave the way for pro-growth tax reform.
Some have argued that the rules of the Senate should be changed so that the mere threat of a Democrat filibuster cannot keep worthwhile legislation from receiving a vote. However, it’s worth remembering that no filibusters caused Senate Republicans to fall short of the 50 votes needed to pass an Obamacare repeal bill. Another problem is the fact that the Senate must devote so much valuable time to confirming presidential nominees. Some, including President Trump, have questioned whether so many sub-Cabinet appointments should require Senate confirmation. There are currently 1,212 presidential-appointed positions that must be confirmed by the Senate. As of now, only 175 have been confirmed.
Whatever the solution may be, the Senate must find a way to be more productive.
While we cannot control what happens on the other side of the Capitol, the House will remain focused on keeping our promises. The basics of our pro-growth tax reform package were rolled out this month, and I’m optimistic we can pass legislation within the next several weeks. The Senate’s successful passage of the budget resolution is a good sign that tax reform legislation has a chance to pass there, too. Delivering on tax reform would be a tremendous boost to the economy and demonstrate that Congress is serious about addressing the nation’s problems.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.