Yesterday (Friday) the House passed an emergency supplemental to provide some additional funding to address various problems — mostly associated with the surge of children — at our Southern border.
The Senate had failed to advance related legislation and left town Thursday. With no second chamber to take up the House action the bill cannot become an Act of Congress. The current “emergency” is left to the Executive to handle as best it can.
I suppose the House action does establish a floor for negotiations with the Senate in mid-September, when the emergency will, probably, be even more acute. Otherwise, the drama on Capitol Hill was about as substantive as most performance art. Maybe the House should reconvene at the Hirshhorn.
But passage of the legislative package allows some House members the illusion-to-spread — self-delusion to indulge? — that the House was able to be responsible when others are not.
Once upon a time I gave considerable attention to the constitution of late republican Rome, from about 140 BC to Augustus. The Framers of the US Constitution were significantly influenced by the “mixed” government of the Roman Republic. But even at the beginning of this period much of the republic’s legislative process had become empty ritual. Only the Senate remained a source of real moral authority, political power, and legislative substance.
Over the century-plus before the Caesars, the Roman Senate largely abrogated its authentic power, becoming another venue for political theater. Power emerged and was practiced elsewhere.
The reasons are complicated. Not all have analogies for our situation. But the principal symptomology — whatever the underlying pathology — was a failure to legislate: the inability to find sufficient consensus within the Senate to act in a reasonable, timely and effective manner.
In the late republic, the absence of legislative effectiveness produced Executives compelled to act (not always wisely) even when they would have preferred not to act. And, in any case, the Executive acted without the benefit of legislative wisdom, reason or, at the very least, the give-and-take of experience and independent judgment in search of agreement.
We are not quite there. But we are close enough to make me uncomfortable.