-Originally published at The Hill-
It’s been a week since Rep. Justin Amash declared his independence from the Republican Party, and his criticisms of how partisanship is destroying what should be a deliberative process in the House of Representatives appear to have struck a nerve with some of his colleagues.
In this publication [The Hill], Rep. Paul Mitchell, a fellow member of Congress from Michigan, wrote: “Rep. Amash’s attribution of the issue to simply allegiance to a political party is a shallow description of the problem.” This claim is a misinterpretation of the broader critique Amash is making, but let’s delve further into Mitchell’s argument.
“I believe Rep. Amash is one of a number of members of Congress — both Republican and Democrat — that subscribe to the motto, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’” he continues. “Effectively legislating requires compromise, and as we have seen recently there are vocal minorities on both sides of the aisle in Congress that decry and vote against legislation with broad bipartisan support if they do not get 100 percent of what they demand.”
This completely backwards argument, which ignores everything Amash has said about how the currently closed process denies legislators the ability to deliberate and, ultimately, compromise, was also made by Brendan Buck, a top aide to former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and cited by CNN’s Jake Tapper during Amash’s recent interview with him. Buck claimed that Amash and the Freedom Caucus “ … insisted on loyalty to their own tribe above all else and drove this toxic notion that compromise is treason.”
Mitchell, Buck and other establishment figures critiquing Amash’s position in this way are, apparently without awareness, making Amash’s point for him as they attempt to butcher a strawman version of his argument. While Amash is no longer a member of the Freedom Caucus, and it’s not clear that the group is as committed to process issues as they once were, their critiques of both Republican Speakers John Boehner (Ohio) and Ryan weren’t ideological, they were about how the House is ruled with an iron fist by leadership.
Further, Amash himself has always worked across the aisle, and at his most legislatively effective, he’s had both renegade Democrats and Republicans on his side fighting for more privacy, less war, and sustainable spending. Time and again, party leaders and their allies on both sides have voted his amendments down, refused to bring his bills to the floor, and even stripped his and other members’ unanimously passed amendments out of bills during committee markup.
The people saying “my way or the highway” aren’t legislators like Amash who want the opportunity to do the job they were elected by their constituents to do. The ones engaged in that behavior are the party leaders who hand rank-and-file members a sheet that tells them which way to vote, demand they toe the party line if they want prominent committee positions or to become leaders themselves, and deny members the ability to amend or debate legislation by shutting down the House process as Speakers Ryan and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have done at unprecedented levels.
If legislators like Rep. Mitchell are serious about seeking compromise, which is a worthy goal in what’s designed to be a deliberative legislative body, they ought to embrace Amash’s adage that in the House, outcomes should be discovered, not dictated. But Mitchell and those echoing his argument miss the point entirely, continuing to ironically insist that the essence of compromise is doing whatever the Speaker of the House or minority leader tell members to.
This is a false and dangerous premise, and embodies the kind of binary thinking that renders Congress—the branch of government our Founders intended to be closest to the people and therefore the most powerful—a mere puppet of partisan leaders who look to the executive branch for an agenda instead of allowing all members of Congress to set it themselves on behalf of their constituents.
As Amash wrote four years ago when former Speaker Boehner retired, “Significant outcomes are predetermined by a few leaders and their close allies, often with the backing of special interests that help write the bills. House rules, adopted by the entire body on the first day of each Congress, are regularly waived to bypass procedural hurdles. Votes for passage of legislation are corralled through fear and intimidation.”
This problem has only gotten worse since, under both Republican and Democratic Speakers, and it’s long past time for members of Congress like Rep. Mitchell to admit this rather than obfuscate and act as though seeking a deliberative process is the root problem. Allow legislators to do their jobs as Amash has called for, and you’ll get more across-the-aisle compromise than Congress has seen in decades.