Thomas Friedman is worried about American democracy. He writes that by not giving President Obama everything we wants in a funding resolution, the House of Representatives is showing “contempt for the democratic process” and is thumbing its nose at our hollowed tradition of “majority rule.”
Like much of what he writes, Thomas Friedman’s logic here is rather murky. Which majority is having its will thwarted by some ideological fringe minority? Is it the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives? A clear majority of the American people has consistently, over several years, confirmed by numerous polls, opposed Obamacare, which is at the heart of the funding disagreement. Are these the majorities of which Friedman writes? No, in his mind, and in the mind of the Democratic leadership, the House of Representatives, as long as it has a Republican majority, is an illegitimate organization. And the majority of the American people who oppose Obamacare just don’t understand it and so their opposition is irrelevant.
According to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, no one in the legislative branch has any business trying to change anything regarding Obamacare because “it is the law.” Obamacare would not pass today. It would not have passed two years ago. It only became law because Obama’s election in 2008 ushered in short-lived Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate including a “super-majority” in the Senate, which allowed the Democrats to ram the legislation through even though no one was given a chance to read it, let alone understand it (in Nancy Pelosi’s famous words, Congress had to pass it in order to see what was in it). Even then, it only made it through Congress due to political gamesmanship. As a direct result of public opposition to this legislation, Democrats promptly lost the House and nearly lost the Senate. Yet Harry Reid says this piece of legislation is so sacrosanct that Republicans are “insane” to try to change it?
Though the President claims he should not have to agree to any alterations to Obamacare demanded by the House of Representatives, he has felt free to make changes on his own, without input from Congress. (Indeed, he has felt free to usurp Congressional authority to change other legislation, as well, such as immigration laws.) On Obamacare, he has made such alterations as delaying the employer mandate for a year and has made other changes, without Congressional input, benefiting unions, and changing how various aspects of the law will be administered and enforced. The Republicans in the House have essentially said, fine, we’ll approve all the funding you want in the continuing resolution, but all those breaks you’ve given to various groups need to be extended to all Americans (achieved by delaying for one year, just as Obama has done for the employer mandate, the “individual mandate” for ordinary Americans to buy Obama-approved health insurance). In response, the President and the Democratic leadership have gone ballistic. They rave about Republican “irresponsibility” and pound their chests, indignant that Obama should have to negotiate anything with the Congress. He’s the President, by gosh! He just won an election! Well, guess what? Every member of the House won elections the very same day Obama did. Yes, Congress has to deal with reality of Obama in the White House, but Obama has to deal with the reality of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law that governs the operations of our American democracy that Thomas Friedman says he cherishes. It provides for separation of powers that the Obama administration consistently ignores. Mr. Friedman and Harry Reid have no problem with this unconstitutional expansion of executive powers (at least when a Democrat resides in the White House). It also provides the Congress of the United States the power to fund, or not to fund, various activities, whether or not previous Congresses have approved such activities. Mr. Friedman and the Democratic leadership do object to this (at least when Republicans control the House). To them, laws passed by Democrat majorities are inviolable and can only be changed by Democrats, even when Democrats are no longer in the majority.
What really endangers American democracy is when the President of the United States, the leadership of his political party, and the mainstream media argue that the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution to Congress are somehow illegitimate, and that the President shouldn’t be “held hostage” by a legislative branch unwilling to give him everything he wants. That’s exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they divided power among three distinct branches of government. Oddly, Democrats seemed to understand this in the past when Republican presidents had to deal with Democratic majorities in the House and/or the Senate, and I’m sure they will understand it again, as soon as a Republican wins back the White House.