By Congressman Robert S. Walker
Opening day of a congressional session is normally celebratory. Not this year. Opening day proved to be such an embarrassment that it may color the entire upcoming Congress.
What we witnessed was a small mob that using the narrowness of the Republican majority as a blackmail target. There can be no business conducted in the U.S. House of Representatives until a Speaker is elected. So, the little mob concocted their own set of priorities and tried to force them on the whole Republican Conference by refusing to vote for Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy had been chosen by the Conference as their Speaker candidate by a 188-31 vote.
The House is going to be difficult to manage with such a small majority under the best of circumstances. Some of what the mob proposed would make the House virtually ungovernable. Their proposal to allow one Member of Congress to make a motion to force the Speaker to vacate his post could lead to chaos in these trying times. Moreover, many of the items they proposed appeared to be focused on goodies for themselves such as prime committee positions.
It is clear the mob knows that many of the items in their agenda could not survive votes in the Conference. So, they took a hostage, Kevin McCarthy, and tried to make him accede to their demands without votes, thereby abandoning the essence of democracy.
The result of the maneuvering has been multiple votes for the Speakership with no finality. When there is no Speaker, no business can be conducted. The country is witness to turmoil rather than action.
The plan put forward by McCarthy was to accomplish real legislative successes on the first day of the GOP control of the House. One of his proposals, endorsed by the Republican Conference, was to cancel the 87,000 new IRS tax collectors authorized by the previous Congress.
The reality is that a lot can be accomplished on opening day. In 1995, after forty years of Democrat control of the House, Republican got our first chance to do our agenda. We had campaigned on a proposed set of national reforms which we called the Contract with America. On that opening day, we passed a substantial portion of the Contract which called for major congressional reforms. We went late into the night, and I remember it well because I presided over the Committee of the Whole for most of that day and night.
What we achieved in 1995 was a clear impression of action and achievement. What opening day 2023 has produced is a picture of inaction and no achievement. The country witnessed a small mob thwart democracy. The opposition Democrats are reveling in the spectacle, but a nation in need of seeing a Congress working toward their priorities, saw only an embarrassment.
Congressman Robert S. Walker served in the US Congress from 1977 to 1997. He is a member of the Board of Directors of The Susquehanna Valley Center.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Susquehanna Valley Center.
Nothing contained here should be considered as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation.