If there is one issue that gets awkwardly danced around by Republicans due to the fact that it is considered a political minefield, it’s legislative obstruction. You hear it all the time from liberals: Republican = Party of No, the Naysayers, the Do Nothing Congress - the list of uninteresting names goes on and on.
No one likes an obstructionist and there’s a rightfully harsh stigma attached to the name. When accused of obstructionism Republicans will deny it to their grave. However, it must be said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with blocking legislation on principle.
Obstruction in Congress is discussed in two ways, only one of which is actually correct.
In 2011 Jon Stewart asked Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on The Daily Show if it was OK for members to vote against legislation they didn’t like if they knew it would pass by majority vote. Pelosi said yes. Her defense was simple – people should vote what they believe. Fair enough. But she also said that if that “no” vote would block passage of the legislation in question, members shouldn’t do it.
“I say to my members you can vote any way you want but we’re not going to obstruct,” Pelosi said.
“So it’s OK to do it for political reasons, but never for principle,” Stewart responded.
“No because you have to vote for what you believe,” Pelosi said.
“As long as it doesn’t actually obstruct anything…” Stewart quipped back, face-palming himself in amazement at Pelosi’s hypocritical reasoning.
Basically, her philosophy is that it’s okay to vote your conscience as long as the legislation I want passed gets passed, but if your vote prevents that, then you’re making my life difficult. Therefore, you are an obstructionist.
Pelosi is wrong. Members of Congress who vote against bills on principle, even when joined by enough of their colleagues to block passage are not obstructionists. They merely defeated the bill.
Republicans were perfectly in their right as legislators to vote no on the Stimulus, the Affordable Care Act, Cap and Trade, the DREAM Act, and everything else they voted against. They acted on principle, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If the president vetoes a bill, it is not obstruction. And if the Supreme Court invokes the Constitution to strike down an existing law, that’s not obstruction either. That’s Separation of Powers and Checks & Balances - the cornerstones of our legislative process.
Despite many Democrats’ attempts to use “Republican obstructionism” as a scapegoat for their own failures as a legislative body, obstruction is not the same as defeat. Obstruction is blocking passage of a bill through continuous debate, or by attaching unpopular amendments to ensure its failure whether in committee or on the floor.
Politicians are supposed to represent the interests and opinions of their constituents. If the people in overwhelming numbers have an axe to grind with a piece of legislation, their representatives have a principled obligation to stand up and say no to it. But sometimes, voting no simply is not enough when passage appears inevitable. When circumstances become dire, and the people remain unwavering in their opposition to the legislature, our politicians will do what they must. Because they have to be able to look their constituents in the eye and tell them truthfully that they stood fast and fought against the repugnant measure tooth and nail.
Obstruction in legislature may not be expressly written in the Constitution but our Founders made the tools available for the minority in Congress to prevent the single greatest threat democracy poses to liberty – tyranny of the omnipotent majority. Given the political realities we face today, sometimes blocking legislation is not merely acceptable, but the most prudent course of action members can take to represent their constituents. It also shows that our legislators have backbones and the courage to vote against something they believe will be detrimental to welfare of the nation.