Three Legislative Acts Ripe for Bipartisan Passage

“[W]e can surely find ways to work together on issues where there’s broad agreement among the American people.”  — President Barack Obama, post-midterms news conference (11/5/2014)

A lot of the news these days is filled with talk about Obamacare (Grubercare?), immigration/amnesty, net neutrality, and climate change. But, I don’t feel like wading into those messes. There’s no way any of them will be “resolved” by the end of the year, so I’m not even going to suggest it. Instead, I wanted to focus on three other areas of public interest that I think can be productively addressed during the Lame Duck Session by passing bipartisan bills.

Of course, President Obama would still need to sign them into law. Neither Party has enough votes in the Senate to override his veto on their own, but they could if they worked together. If Obama was “smart” — pragmatically, strategically –, though, he would get behind them. Well, imho, that is. Not that I want to see him (or any Democrats) get credit for doing anything actually good for the republic, thereby distracting from the mountain of negatives he/they have done. But, on the other hand, the benefits of passing the below bills would, I think, outweigh the downside of the Left getting some positive press. (Heck, the MSM praises them no matter what, anyway.)

So, here are my suggestions:

Keystone XL pipeline expansion1) Approve Keystone XL Pipeline

Now, this one has gotten a lot of press over the past week or so, since it figures into the runoff election coming to Louisiana early next month. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) really needs a push to help keep her seat against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), so she’s revived her promotion of the pipeline. Landrieu isn’t the only Democrat who realizes what a boon this would be for her state and every state involved and the nation as a whole. (Or, at least, they realize their constituents are for it.) In fact, in the ninth & latest vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill (252 to 161) approving the federal government to proceed with Keystone expansion plans. Now, Landrieu has convince Harry Reid to have an up-or-down vote in the Senate this week on the Hoeven-Landrieu bill, which would green-light the Keystone project. There are at least 11 Dem supporters in the Senate, so it just may go through.

As Christine Rousselle of Townhall.com reminded us a few days ago,

“The Keystone XL pipeline is widely approved by members of both parties, as well as the general public. The Senate has already voted in several non-binding measures to approve the pipeline, but President Obama has final say about the project’s approval.”

The White House has implied continued reluctance on the part of the President, primarily tied to environmental concerns. But, multiple studies/reviews have determined that the pipeline poses minimal environmental risk to soil, water, wildlife, etc., and negligible climate impact. So, Mr. President, what’s the problem?

2) Fix Dodd-Frank

We are all familiar with the “too big to fail” doctrine. This is the idea that certain banks and other firms are too big and important to the economy to let fall into bankruptcy, so they are bailed out (with taxpayer money) by the government. This encourages risky behavior and gives government officials authority to choose who to help, thereby typically saving the least efficient and most troubled firms. (Does that make sense?) In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act was the primary piece of regulatory legislation that was supposed to end this practice. Unfortunately, the extensive Dodd-Frank regulation appears to have made matters worse.

In a recent piece for The Heritage Foundation, Norbert Michel explains why and offers a few suggestions to Congress (as summarized by the NCPA):

  • Repeal Dodd-Frank entirely. The law “expanded the federal safety net for financial firms,” says Michel, only making future crises — and subsequent bailouts — more likely.
  • Use bankruptcy law for large institutional failures, not Title II, and allow them to wind down their affairs like any other company through the typical bankruptcy process.
  • Don’t allow the Fed to make emergency loans to private firms.
  • Permanently shut down Fannie and Freddie.
  • Eliminate the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which Michel calls “wholly incompatible with the functioning of a dynamic private capital market.”

If wholesale repeal of the act is deemed impossible, Paul Kupiec suggests three steps to at least improve it:

  • Raise the threshold for oversight.
  • Eliminate the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to designate nonbank firms as “systemically important financial institutions” (SIFIs), which leads to greater supervision from the Federal Reserve.
  • Reform the “living will” requirement.

For a fuller explanation, see Kupiec’s article at the Wall Street Journal, “Three Easy Fixes to Dodd-Frank”.  (Or, if you don’t have access, check out the NCPA summary here.) I’d like to think we could get bipartisan congressional buy-in for some or all of these changes, and it would be a feather in the cap of all involved. Chances would be stronger once the new Congress is sworn in, of course, but doing it this Nov./Dec. would give another win to the outgoing legislators. I wonder what the President would think….

3) Repeal/Neuter ‘Common Core’

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It was supposed to ensure consistent standards across the states and prepare students for college or, at least, basic employment. It had bipartisan support both in Washington, D.C., and among the public, though much of the push seemed to be from the Left (e.g., President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Forty-four states plus the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core standards & materials.

As time has passed, though, its “shortcomings” in content, structure, and administration have become glaringly obvious to more and more people. Criticism of the initiative, in part or as a whole, have come from politicians, policy analysts and think-tanks, teachers’ unions and educators, civil rights groups, etc., as well as thousands of parents, and it crosses party lines. Several states have since voted to repeal or replace Common Core, while others are moving to at least review and possibly revise. (Keep the good and throw out the bad, right? Are states actually smart enough to do that?!) Even the phrase “Common Core” has become divisive in some places.

protestors against Common Core“[I]t’s not surprising that we find, as people get more aware of the details and as implementation begins, that there are problems that arise and that give people a chance to think about whether they are as supportive as they were when this first started.”  — Michael Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University

“[S]upport will continue to drop as people no longer see the standards or standardized tests as helping children. They, like many teachers, see them instead as setting up public education for failure.”  — Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

OK, so this one may not seem like a matter for the U.S. Congress and the President to address. Indeed, most of the decisions regarding adoption, repeal, or replacement of Common Core standards are in the hands of state board members, legislators, and governors. However, I see at least one way Congress could discourage participation. (There may be others.) Participation is incentivized by the Race to the Top contest, in which states vie for financial funding from the federal government (via the ED Recovery Act), based on how many children each state has and the degree to which the states adopt the common standards. If the U.S. Congress were to change the rules and/or defund these awards/grants, the states would have to decide whether sticking with the controversial Common Core program was still worth it.

Perhaps they should start over with a “clean slate”, come up with an agreed upon minimum set of standards, so that they have some common ground and can do comparisons, and leave the rest up to the individual states to decide for themselves? (Of course, I also think that educational institutions of all levels should not be reliant on — and, therefore, beholden to — the federal government.)

“The failed promises of No Child Left Behind account for Americans’ skepticism about the federal government’s role in public education, and Common Core is viewed through that lens.”  — Bill Bushaw, chief executive officer of polling firm PDK International

I honestly think the above three measures could be win-wins for both parties, including the President, even if somewhat reluctantly approved by some. It would show the American public that our leaders in Washington can actually come together, set aside ideological bickering, and pass bipartisan solutions for the benefit of the nation, her citizens, and their children. I think it rather unlikely this will happen, but a boy can dream….

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