THE BLOG
02/20/2014 01:18 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2014

Congressional Self-Inflicted Wounds

In our representative democracy, we elect members of Congress and Senators and send them to Washington, D.C. We expect them to deliberate on the important issues of the day and then cast their votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate. That is the fundamental essence of the democratic process. But what we see too often these days is that partisan leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties deprive our elected officials of the right to vote. Our current dysfunctional government is caused by leadership imposed agendas which block a bipartisan majority of Republican and Democratic Representatives and Senators from joining together to put their country before their parties.

The Senate has a Democratic majority. Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid refuses to allow a floor vote on fast track free trade legislation because he does not support it. A majority of Republican senators plus a minority of Democratic senators added together would create a bipartisan majority of the entire Senate to pass this legislation. But this bipartisan majority is not allowed to vote because Senator Reid said No. Under current Senate procedure. Senator Reid -- not a bipartisan majority -- has the last word. And Senators are deprived of the right to vote.

The House of Representatives has Republican majority. The Speaker of the House John Boehner usually follows what is called the "Hastert Rule" in deciding which bills to call for a floor vote in the House. (Former Speaker Dennis Hastert now disclaims this rule which was started by former Speaker Newt Gingrich.) The so-called Hastert Rule is that the Speaker will not call a bill to a floor vote unless a majority of the Speaker's party favors the bill. This now means that unless a majority of Republican members of the House favor a bill, there is no vote of all members . A minority of Republican members plus a majority of Democratic members added together would create a bi partisan majority of the entire House to pass legislation on immigration. That is what happened on February 11 when Speaker Boehner did not follow the "Hastert rule" and allowed a floor vote on the debt ceiling legislation.

Current systems of voting in the Senate and House are not required by law or the Constitution. They are rules and policies which senators and representatives have imposed upon themselves to set their own agendas. Most public opinion polls indicate that although most American like their own members of Congress and Senators, their opinions of Congress as an institution are below used car salesmen. These rules and policies discourage bi partisanship and regularly force our elected officials to put party before country. Setting the agenda should permit the men and women we send to Washington to vote their consciences, not their parties. Congress knows how to protect the right to vote by passing the Voting Rights Act. Now to free themselves from self inflicted restrictions, Congress needs a Voting Rights Act o protect the right to vote of its own members and Senators.