Enough posturing: Congress should embrace veto override

Enough posturing: Congress should embrace veto override
© Stefani Reynolds - Greg Nash

While the debate continues over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, millions of Americans face the difficult task of trying to recover from the nation’s longest government shutdown. Unfortunately, two weeks from now, when the agreement to end the partial shutdown expires, there is no guarantee the protracted standoff between the President and Democrats will not be rekindled. Once again the pain of gridlock on the Potomac will grip the country.

No member of Congress, or those who voted for them, should stand by and allow the government employees who were furloughed, or the countless other Americans affected by the recent political squabbling in Washington, to endure another minute of economic uncertainty.

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It is unacceptable to continue using them as pawns in an ideological battle between politicians voicing differing and often inflexible opinions. We have also had enough of unelected conservative and liberal pundits who add to the turmoil with their own opinions, sets of facts, and sources of information that match their political leanings.

The bipartisan, bicameral committee charged with negotiating an agreement on border security as part of a new spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security may well draft something unacceptable to the White House. Congress, however, does not need President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE’s approval to avoid another shutdown.

Congress alone can settle the impasse by being willing to face the possibility of a presidential veto, do so bravely and confidently, and get on with the public’s business. They should not sit on their hands waiting for the White House to say it’s ok to vote. It’s their duty to vote.

A veto override may be the only way to move beyond the impasse we now face.

Constitutionally, Congress can do this immediately if both the Senate and House of Representatives approve a bill providing complete Fiscal Year 2019 funding for all government entities affected by the shutdown and then override the veto by repassing the bill with two-thirds of each chamber.

For too long, rightly or wrongly, Congress has been held in low esteem and been criticized for being broken. Reflecting on more than two centuries of legislative accomplishments by the nation’s legislators, it is clear Congress has repeatedly demonstrated a capacity to address the most pressing issues of the day. But that has only happened when its members have been willing to take into consideration all of the diverse views being offered and put America first — even above whoever sits in the oval office.

Amazingly when polarization gives way to compromise, the outcome — while not exactly what anyone wanted at the outset — was something all parties took pride in because it moved the nation forward.

Political posturing needs to give way to civil, respectful negotiations that renew our faith in our system of checks and balances.

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What would the Founding Fathers think of the current political drama before us? Like the 116th Congress, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 often had conflicting opinions. We might ask how the 116th Congress might deal with just a few of the more prominent issues the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 faced. On many of those issues, a resolution came only after a long and bitter debate, and after a series of imaginative compromises.

They developed a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government would become too powerful by including various limits and controls on the powers of each branch. Most important of these powers for the current debate is Congress’s power of the purse: It controls the money used to fund any executive actions.

Although Congress rarely exercises the veto override power, it is certainly not unprecedented. Of the 1,508 bills returned unsigned to Congress, 111 have been overridden. Since the Civil War, only Presidents William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson have not had their vetoes of legislation overridden by Congress.

A recurring promise of many successful candidates in our most recent midterm elections was a commitment to end the gridlock in Washington, to end the polarization on Capitol Hill, to once again bring the Nation together. If their rhetoric was sincere, heartfelt and real, then it is time for them to step up, be heard, and free us from being held hostage by political leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue who are unwilling to negotiate and find a workable compromise.

Compromise created our great nation, let’s use it now in the same spirit as the Framers, who are the example by which all politicians should be measured and political pundits should remember.

Stephen W. Stathis was a specialist in American history for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for nearly four decades. He is the author of Landmark Debates in Congress: From the Declaration of Independence to the War in Iraq, and Landmark Legislation: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties 1774-2012.