Say what you will about the Senate, but it is the Republican-controlled House of Representatives that, by and large, receives the lion’s share of Americans’ disgust. It is there where Tea Party types and others on the far-right fringe have too often bogged down legislation or discussion, particularly if it deals with President Obama and his policies.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, owns arguably the least attractive job in Washington — trying to corral a balkanized group of lawmakers in order to (a.) act professionally and (b.) pass legislation. Herding cats with a flyswatter would be an easier task.
We say all this to illustrate the thoughts of Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who has served in the House for nearly 60 years. On Monday, the 87-year-old Dingell told Michigan voters that he would retire at the end of his current term and would not seek re-election. He will retire as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
Here’s the rub, however. Dingell isn’t retiring due to his health. Instead, it’s because he finds “serving in the House to be obnoxious,” according to the Detroit News, and that “it’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”
Dingell’s views speak volumes. You can’t remove partisanship from politics, but the acrimony of which the Michigan representative speaks has thoroughly stained Washington since the election of Barack Obama’s first election in 2008. Obama’s historic ascension to the White House, the president’s signature legislation — the Affordable Care Act — and the subsequent rise and fall of Tea Party radicals have coagulated into a political disarray. Rare is it that anything worthwhile gets through Washington without posturing or delay.
Dingell has had enough. We understand.
Author Joseph Ellis, who has written extensively on the founding of the U.S. government and its Constitution, wrote this weekend in the Los Angeles Times that the Senate’s problem is the filibuster. But in the House, he said, “the source of gridlock is the unwritten code that gives the speaker the authority to block a vote on any bill that does not have the majority support of his or her party.”
Ellis contends there’s only one solution. “The current Congress is dysfunctional ... largely because it has adopted procedures that systematically deny the rights of the majority in ways that violate the original intentions of the founders. The proper place to adjudicate this issue is neither the House nor the Senate but the Supreme Court, which is the ultimate arbiter of what the Constitution says and what the founders intended.”
Call Congress what it is: A mess. There’s a little bit of John Dingell in many of us.