Balance of powers an essential component of democracy

Guest Column by: Kay Bailey Hutchison

Chautauquans, it is with great pleasure that I write to you this morning as your Chautauquan Daily guest columnist. I am already enjoying my time here, with my two children, and I am looking forward to the discussion today. Even though this wonderful place is for relaxing and getting away, the programs offered by Chautauqua Institution are thought-provoking and I am hopeful that our visit will give you some insight as to what you can expect from Washington, D.C., now and in the near future.

Washington, D.C., is the center of the world’s greatest democracy, the United States of America. The nation’s capital is home to a legacy of two and a half centuries of that democracy; monuments to great heroes like Washington and Lincoln, to the dead of our country’s wars and to the National Gallery and the Smithsonian, the amazing institutions that encapsulate our culture and history. Why, then, does the mention of “Washington” rile the public? Why do candidates run against Washington? Of course, it isn’t the magnificent city, but what is happening in our government that is easily recognized as Washington. The public polls show the general population isn’t satisfied with President Obama, or Congress. Some even say Congress has the same appeal to the public as a root canal.

What has brought us here? What can be done to re-establish some stability in the policymaking seat of the government? What changes will restore confidence in our elected leaders?

We can begin with the U.S. Congress. The divisions in Congress are strongly along party lines — and sometimes further unpredictable because of intraparty divisions, as we saw recently in the Trade Promotion Authority bill. In 2014, under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, there were a total of 15 roll call votes in the U.S. Senate. Under new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the number of roll call votes in the first five months of 2015, has surpassed the 2014 number by over 200 votes. So, we are seeing a tiny window of “regular order” in the Senate that has led to some movement of legislation.

What exactly is “regular order” in Washington? Regular order is not just Congress debating issues and voting, but also having trustful, working, productive relationships between the two branches of elected officials. A fiercely divided Congress, whether by party or within parties, creates significant issues, the most devastating being inaction. When there is gridlock in Congress, the president has the opportunity to wield unilateral power. Under Majority Leader Reid, we saw that gridlock allowed for the president to advance his agenda, without proper congressional oversight.

Our Founding Fathers put a system of checks and balances in the Constitution to prevent any one of the three branches from becoming too powerful and bypassing the others. This was displayed in 2012 when President Obama circumvented the Senate, through improper use of the Constitution’s Recess Appointments Clause, and appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board. His actions were later found unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court.

As tension between the president and Congress are strained, it is time that our leaders begin to work together to govern this great nation and restore our standing as a world leader. Over the coming months, there will be numerous opportunities for collaboration, debate and legislation on issues such as national security, health care, immigration, entitlement and tax reform and regulatory oversight — to name a few.

On the eve of celebrating the birth of America, we can be thankful for the founders who declared independence for our country, fought to keep it and wrote a constitution to govern it. The structure has endured for 238 years because the framework was clear, but allowed for flexibility to address progress and modernization. The balance of powers is an essential component for maintaining our democracy; if one branch becomes too powerful, or its power is unchecked, the proverbial three-legged stool would begin to tip over.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is senior council at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. She previously served 20 years as a United States senator, representing Texas