A NOT UNREASONABLE SUGGESTION
How, if the United States purports to be a democratic society, ruled by a president and representatives of the people, can Congress ignore the will of the people who voted it into office?
The simple answer is, It’s easy.
The more complex answer resides, today, and who knows for how many years before, in one word: money.
The basic historic idea of Congress is brilliant. In the House of Representatives, members are elected for a two year term in order that they return to their constituencies often to consult with the people they are supposed to represent.
This means that every House member must run for re-election at the conclusion of each two year cycle.
Senators, granted by the founders a more august status, are elected for six year terms. The Constitution also is specific in how the Senate must undergo a tri-partite election schedule. One third of its members are up for re-election every two years. This means that two-thirds of the Senate can serve without fear of recall or having to face the voters for four straight years. That Senators may wish to linger longer in their positions gives rise to a six year campaign for funds and backers.
In the House, members were initially advised to serve for short sessions (politics was not a year round game in the eighteenth century) and then to return to their districts to live and work and to discover for themselves what legislation recently passed by them did to the people of their districts.
In a representative government such as ours is supposed to be, House members, as well as Senators, are Agents of the people. In theory, this means that what they debate, decide, pass is supposed to be the will of the people.
In the Senate’s role, however, the will of the people may be tempered a bit by the broader and deeper experiences of these august gentlemen, whose portfolio includes looking to the future of the nation.
The House’s role has come to be almost exclusively economic, having the right given by the Constitution to raise taxes, among other things. Which is to say, no economic policy for the country at large is likely to exist without House approval.
On the other hand, Senators, being five years older minimally than their counterparts in the House, are enabled to advise and consent, reject or agree, with what the House decides.
If both bodies pass similar legislation, a process of reconciliation is recommended before a final bill is passed to the President for his signature or veto.
Which explanation brings us to the edge of where we are today, which seems to be total gridlock. Neither house of Congress is willing to cede to the other agreement on legislation of any kind. This means reconciliation is impossible.
Now, when a national voice is heard clearly about a particular path the nation feels it should take, when ninety-two per cent of the voters in the country say they want expanded background checks on purchasers of guns, how can Congress simply ignore this directive?
Whether or not one is devoted to the powers outlined in the Second Amendment that allow citizens to have firearms, the nation is speaking with virtually one voice.
We read, in this troubled time after the Newtown incident, that Senate committees are voting almost daily to restrict some of the Second Amendment assumptions that have blossomed like weeds over the years.
But we also read that these ideas, these ideally sensible changes to the laws respecting firearms that will not essentially change a citizen’s right to self-arm, won’t be brought to the Senate floor until next month.
Further we read that each draft that reaches the Senate floor will be voted for or against on strict party lines. Not one Republican vote has been volunteered by any Republican Senator — apart from Iowa’s outgoing Senator Charles Grassley in committee — to help make the country safer for children, safer for a passing citizen.
What this means is that it will be impossible for any meaningful reform regarding the use of firearms to pass. The Republicans hold firm and the Senate is stopped in its tracks.
Of course, we all want to know how sentient human beings, seeing and experiencing the slaughter of children and adults weekly throughout the country, can ignore what is also one of the primary duties of the US Congress – the security and safety of its citizens.
The answer to this question is as simple as the other answers were earlier. Fear.
Whether or not the National Rifle Association has the power to make and unmake legislators is debatable, but it has convinced Congress that it has that power and that if individuals wish to remain in Congress – with their perks and privileges – they had best toe the line laid in the sand by the NRA.
The NRA is not an agent for any of us. Unelected, unappointed, completely free from oversight by any Congressional committee in either house, it says and does what it wants with impunity.
This could be changed in the Senate itself insofar as two-thirds of the Senate’s members are not subject to immediate re-election battles and therefore have four years in which to listen to their consciences and actually do the business of the people who elected them.
Further, they then have four years in which to arm themselves against retaliation by the NRA, against being “primaried” by more rabid NRA advocates.
We don’t understand why two-thirds of the Senate doesn’t get this simple remedy.
Of course, in order for legislation to pass on a national basis, rather than on a house-by-house basis, whatever mitigating laws the Senate might pass once they do understand all this must later be approved by the House.
But ideally, once the House understood that Republican Senators had spoken clearly for safety and security of their constituents, might not some of the more tractable denizens of the lower house be swayed by the bravery and resolve of their colleagues in the upper house?
The answer to that question resides in the reasons House members ran for their positions in the first place.
If they ran in order to decimate the federal system and return life-saving decisions to each state, as the current Tea Party seems to have done, we’re in trouble.
If they ran to get on the federal bandwagon with Congress’s own healthcare plans, pensions, perks and pork, we’re also in trouble.
But if some of them, a few of them, ran because they believed in government that could be honed into a more effective federal system, then possibilities exist in the house too to brave the NRA.
And should any of them have been elected without the assistance and bankroll of the NRA at all, they can become what they were intended to be: representatives of the people.
What seems almost other-worldly is that the House itself has suffered losses to gun violence. Families of house members have suffered as well.
And while no one wishes ill for any legislator, one might think that these experiences would play some small role in how they view gun control in the first place.
The country will never free itself of mental disease or sociopaths whose lives and thoughts are so foreign to most of us. Any more than the country will free itself from use of firearms that is so strictly personal and vindictive and violent as to be incomprehensible to most of us.
But the country can make it more difficult for these disturbed people to have the opportunity to harm US citizens as often and as broadly as they do.
But we have to make some efforts here.
And as our agents in the nation’s capital, House members and Senators alike have an obligation to us all to try to fashion a safer, saner, more reasonable society in which we can all live.