Obamacare 'Disaster' Has Implications for MA Politicians and Bay State's National Sway

Monday, November 18, 2013

The problems with the roll-out of Obamacare have most members of the Republican Party salivating.

They believe Obamacare is the key to winning big in the mid-term congressional elections next year and expanding their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Greg Walden, the congressman from Oregon who chairs the Republican campaign committee in the House, calls Obamacare a “Category 5 political hurricane,” the defining issue of the 2014 elections.

In a recent New York Times analysis, (“As Troubles Pile Up, a Crisis of Confidence,” Friday, Nov. 15), Michael D. Shear wrote:

“The difficulties have put Mr. Obama on the defensive at exactly the moment he might have seized political advantage in a dysfunctional Washington.  If not for the health care disaster, the two-week shutdown of the government last month would have been an opportunity for Mr. Obama to sharpen the contrast with Republicans.  Democratic lawmakers expressed growing frustration on Thursday with the opportunities the party had missed to hammer home the ideological differences between the two parties.  The lawmakers say there is intensifying anxiety within the Democratic caucus that the poor execution of the health care law could bleed into their 2014 re-election campaigns.”

Most observers, I guess, wouldn’t bet a dollar today that the Democrats will win enough seats to displace Republicans as the majority in the House and take the power that comes with majority status.  An awesome power it is.

Republicans and Democrats now hold, respectively, 231 and 200 seats in the 435-member House.  (Four seats are vacant.)  If every seat in Congress were filled, Democrats would need at least 218 to form a majority.  Can the number of Democrat reps possibly grow at that rate, 9%, when their party leader, Obama, is struggling to stay on his feet?

There are two Democrat congressmen from Massachusetts, Jim McGovern and Richie Neal, who devoutly wish it to be possible.  Every Massachusetts citizen who votes as if his self-interest is his compass should wish similarly.

There’s plenty of time, as it is measured in politics, for Obama to turn things around, and for his fellow Democrats to gain fortitude and standing from such a feat.  But history is not on the side of the Democrats.  Usually, the president’s party loses House seats in the mid-terms.  When that party does defy the norm and gain seats, it does not usually increase its numbers by 9% or 10%.

If that were to happen, McGovern and Neal would almost certainly become the chairs of two of the most powerful committees in Congress, House Rules and House Ways and Means, respectively.

According to a government-operated website, http://rules.house.gov, the Rules Committee is “amongst the oldest standing committees in the House” and is “the mechanism that the Speaker uses to maintain control of the House Floor.”  The committee, it says, “has the authority to do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure.”

If you wonder how power like that translates in the real world, go to Boston and tour the magnificent John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse on the South Boston waterfront.  While you’re at it, take a walk across the nearby Evelyn Moakley Bridge, the federally subsidized span that Moakley had named for his wife. 

Joe Moakley, the late, beloved congressman from South Boston, served as chairman of the Rules Committee for years (1989-95) when the Democrats held sway in the House.  He put a young Jim McGovern on his congressional staff and tutored him in the art of politics.  Jimmy was a quick learner.

When McGovern ran for Congress himself, at age 37, from a Worcester-based district, Moakley was an unofficial campaign advisor.  He welcomed his protégé to the Congressional club by telling him, “Don’t do something stupid, like run for Senate.”  Moakley knew the advantages of remaining patiently on the ladder of the lower branch -- and the (largely hidden) value of those advantages.

The aforementioned government website notes that Ways and Means is the oldest committee of the United States Congress, and is the chief tax-writing committee in the House. 

Taxes equal money.  Money equals power. 

Every item of revenue in the U.S. government must originate in House Ways and Means.

At http://wysandmeans.house.gov/about/history/htm, it also says that the roster of committee members “who’ve gone on to serve in higher office is impressive. Eight Presidents and eight Vice Presidents have served on Ways and Means, as have 21 Speakers of the House of Representatives, and four Justices of the Supreme Court.”  

If you object to House pooh-bahs acting like royalty, if you don't like their indulging their egos by doing things like naming bridges after their wives, I get it.

But if you object to your home-state congressmen skillfully beating congressmen from other states at The Capitol games, if you get squeamish when our pooh-bahs deliver the goods to Massachusetts, as Tip O’Neill did the federal funds for the Big Dig, I don’t get it.

It may not be pretty.  Not much in politics (or human nature) is. 

Practiced within the bounds of law, politics is infinitely preferable to the other ways power is seized and used in this world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This piece made me think hard about our political system both nationally and locally and what I like and hate about the system.
Your ending phrase sums it all up quite well, for all its flaws our system is part of who and what we are and what we have made it to be.

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