American leadership has grown extremely old. It is unprecedented. It offers challenges and it gives a distinct advantage to the folks who have been doing the same thing for thirty plus years.
But they govern thanks to their historical and institutional knowledge, which yields for them unprecedented power as well, power that is not healthy for America. Change is needed.
Individuals who hold the top positions in the federal government should not see this line of argument as a personal attack. It stands regardless of the political party or individual. And I’ve worked alongside many of them twenty-five plus years ago when I served in Congress.
We have an octogenarian Democrat leadership in Congress and with a member of the Supreme Court who was nominated by Democrat President Bill Clinton.
At the end of this term, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be 82 years old, the oldest ever to hold that role; the Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will be 83 years old; the third top Democrat in the House of Representatives Jim Clyburn, the Majority Whip, will be 82 years old. At the end of this term the Republican Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell will be 80 years old. President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate Patrick Leahy is 81 years old (he has announced his retirement – and will be replaced by 88-year-old Senator Diane Feinstein). Also, the President of the United States Joe Biden at the end of November next year will be 80 years old, older than any other president in history. Lastly, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer is 84 years old – the seventh oldest person to ever serve on the Supreme Court. The years of government service for all of them would eclipse 30 years. I can say without any reservation that this has never happened all at once, ever.
They all know their jobs extremely well. But those who sit in Congress also know how to use the legislative process to their benefit, giving them extraordinary powers. It is simply not a fair fight.
They can run circles around the other members of their caucus and the Democrats can easily and adroitly handle the press to their advantage. After all, have any of them recently talked about the pending demise of Social Security by 2034 or Medicare by 2024 as attested by the Congressional Budget Office? All of this does not bode well for America. It is too few having far too much control and power.
How do they do it? Simple. They run Congress in a constant crisis mode. They control the calendar, schedule, and agenda. They have not allowed Congress to operate in the manner our forefathers had designed.
Our forefathers intended for all members of the House of Representatives and senators to have an equal voice in the process of deliberation and voting as they equally represent their respective congressional districts and states.
This would be accomplished through “Regular Order” when bills go to the committees. There are hearings and the regular markup of legislation. Bills are then passed from subcommittee to full committee through the Rules Committee and onto the House and Senate floor for full and open debate. We do not have this today.
There has not been Regular Order in Congress and the passage of the federal government’s spending programs in more than 25 years. It has become the new normal. This forces an emergency Continuing Resolution year after year with the perpetual threat of a federal government shutdown.
We have dealt with the crisis of raising the debt ceiling nearly every year in recent memory. This allows the octogenarian leadership to tell their rank and file members to vote party line or else the world will come to an end. This cannot be constructive.
The American public is not getting the best from its elected officials because too much is controlled by the leadership.
The collateral damage that comes with top-down crisis management is that we create a very polarized Congress and thus, a polarized nation.
Polarization is the number one enemy of a democratic society. We cannot say that you are “good” if you are on one team and “bad” or “evil” if you are on the other side. It breeds dissent and anger, which can boil over into even worse situations.
So, the leadership should free its members of Congress to do something they have not been allowed to do in about three decades – their jobs as dictated by practices in governance that served our nation so well for so long.
Otherwise, the course we are following will only get worse.
Gary Franks served three terms as U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th District. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years and New England’s first Black member of the House.