What to Remember When the Senators Vote
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Senator Paul Simon represented the people of Illinois in the U.S. House and Senate for 22 years. In addition to his congressional service Simon also made a failed run for President in 1988. While in Congress from 1975-1997, Simon’s claim to fame besides his ubiquitous bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses was his high principles and personal integrity.
What is less remembered about Simon was that he was political scholar and professor despite the fact that he never received a university degree. Both as an office holder as well as a teacher, Simon often discussed why the greatest test for a politician was whether he understood that a Member of Congress needed to be able to vote his conscience even if it contradicted the wishes of his constituency or his party. This is what guided him throughout his career and this is the precise principle which many current Members of the Senate and the House do not seem to comprehend.
The President has boondoggled the Republican Congress into believing that they must pass a tax bill—any tax bill—before Christmas. Trump has convinced the Congress that there is no Republican alternative or other option. To begin the next session of Congress in January without any achievements to show for itself, will force Trump to place the onus of their failure solely on the doorsteps of Congress. They are the ones who will need to face the voters next November, not the President.
What Trump and the weak-kneed GOP Members fail to comprehend is that their tax bill is flawed and insufficiently prepared. There indeed may be many components in the bill which have merit, but the overall bill damages too many people, has not been properly debated in Congress, and must be slowly fleshed out, not rammed through. By contrast, the 1986 Reagan tax reform bill, which economists still blame for many of today’s huge deficits, passed the Senate with wide, bi-partisan support after almost eleven months of consideration.
When John McCain returned to the Senate after his brain cancer surgery, he stated in his dramatic speech that it was time for the Congress to return to regular orders. Unfortunately, his call fell on deaf ears. The Congress appears now to be moving toward possibly passing a dramatic tax bill without having held formal hearings in either House, without a full bill mark-up, with the entire deal being cut behind closed doors, and with most of the Members only seeing the full bill just before voting. This process is the total antithesis of what McCain was urging when Congress considered the proposed “repeal and replace” of Obamacare. The results of Congress’ failure last summer could well be repeated now.
Both Simon and McCain have crucial lessons to teach which no one in Congress appreciates. McCain may love his party but he loves his country more. McCain wants the legislative process to conduct business as it is supposed to do. Simon’s lesson for Congress is that at the end of the day you will be judged by history not by how well you heeled to your party’s wishes; but rather how well you acted to fix your nation’s problems. Did you govern or were you a pawn that was used by your party for strictly partisan ends?