The Briefing Room Exclusive
Censure is a centuries-old legislative tactic that allows the members of a chamber to rebuke a fellow member of goverment. This is why the Republican House of Representatives should pursue it against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
by J. Myrle Fuller
October 16, 2013
As the showdown that has resulted in this partial government shutdown appears to be winding to a close, it is clear that the Democratic Party, first among them Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, feels greatly empowered by his blatant disregard for the opinions of the House of Representatives. Even in the face of a government shutdown, even to the point of potentially exacerbating that shutdown by running up against the debt ceiling (and threatening default on the existing public debt), Reid blocked any bill that would even touch the so-called Affordable Care Act, still to this day better known as Obamacare, despite massive popular opposition to the law. Of course, because he heads the Senate, he is content on playing the part of the grumpy old troll that lives under the bridge; any law that does not meet his demands will not pass, even though it is the House that is constitutionally required to initiate any budget bill. For this reason, impeaching Reid is not an option, because he controls the chamber that will judge him and was elected by it, one of the most blatant conflicts of interest and unfortunate loopholes in the U.S. Constitution.
There is one option for the House of Representatives to save some face from this debacle. The House can issue a resolution of censure against Reid.
First, an explanation of censure: censure is a longstanding tradition in all sorts of governments that allows the members of a body to publicly rebuke and shame someone, usually for gross misconduct. In the United States, censure has been a historically rare concept. Traditionally, censure resolutions have been used against members of the chamber itself, in which case the resolution actually holds some weight: the chamber can strip one of its own members of committee assignments. Charles Rangel, for instance, was the most target of censure in 2010 for his much publicized tax scandal. However, censure is not limited to one's own chamber. At least three U.S. Presidents have been censured either by the House or the Senate. In this case, the measure is largely symbolic, but it is nonetheless potent. The Whig Party-led Senate, for instance, censured President Andrew Jackson in 1834 over his defunding of the Bank of the United States; the Democrats were so incensed at the notion that they used it as a rallying cry in subsequent elections and eventually rescinded the censure when they took over the Senate in the 1836 elections. For an ostensibly meaningless resolution, that is an extreme measure. A congressional censure could also be used in campaigns for Republican senate candidates, noting that their Democratic opposition has voted for, or will support, a majority leader who was censured by Congress.
Certainly Senator Reid's blatant refusal to negotiate with the House, coupled with his consistent characterization of members of the chamber as an extreme fringe, are grounds for censure, especially considering that Democrats were quick to officially reprimand Joe Wilson for his "you lie!" outburst during a Presidential speech, back when Democrats still held the House. If that is grounds for a reprimand, how much greater is a sustained, and unrepentant, campaign against a whole class of not just duly elected representatives, but common citizens? Reid and other Democrats have repeatedly slandered the Tea Party as a cabal of extreme fringe elements, deserving of shame and disregard, even though the nebulous organization (if it can even be called that) is composed of common American people. Certainly no Republican leader has spoken such ill of the Occupy movement or any other left-wing organization. It would be one thing if these statements were simply statements and Reid made a good faith effort to iron out differences with the opposing chamber; instead, he has consistently and repeatedly blocked any effort to resolve the perfectly legitimate grievances of the Affordable Care Act, forty times as a stand-alone bill, and numerous others tied to resolutions designed to force him to address it. This continues even as the bill's harsh negative effects continue to come to light and popular support for the Act, never popular in the first place, continues to fall. Yet Reid, much like the aforementioned Grumpy Old Troll, continues to protect his territory for no reason other than sheer political spite. There should be no place for such petulancy, especially on such important issues, in the Congress of the United States.
In the end, the Republican Party won't come out looking quite as bad as many may think. They now have a track record to which they can point that, when it came down to cutting a deal, they were willing to work with the opposition to get the government working, yet at the same time, they stood up for an important bill and fought it as long as they could before the threat of long-term damage ruled it out. It was conservatives, along with key Republicans, who stood up to the unneccessary closures of the national parks during the shutdown. The Democrats now have a record of stonewalling, "Barrycades," and refusal to negotiate. The negative effects of Obamacare will continue to come to light, especially once the enrollment deadlines begin to approach and the severely dysfunctional health care exchanges fail as they have been failing. Anti-incumbent sentiment contiues to rise in this country, and if Democrats are seen as the ones pulling the strings, they will be the ones bearing its wrath. The Republicans can stake themselves a clear position here with a motion of censure against Reid, that they will not attempt to cause a government collapse, but obstruction for the sake of obstruction cannot, and will not, be tolerated.