A missed opportunity | Ott Observations

Kevin McCarthy was voted out of the U.S. House Speaker position. This is the top leadership position in the House of Representatives, chosen by a majority of the representatives.

Prior to January of this year, McCarthy was the minority leader, as his Republican party held fewer seats in the House than the Democrats. 

The 2022 election changed that balance, resulting in a slight Republican majority. The political party makeup of the House is currently 221 Republicans, 212 Democrats and two vacant seats.

Usually when the balance changes after an election, it is a slam dunk for the minority leader to become the House Speaker. That did not happen this past January. It took 15 votes before McCarthy acquired a majority of the votes.

Why? Because the minority party typically votes en masse against the other party’s leadership nomination. With a slim majority, it took all Republicans to support McCarthy. A handful did not, taking advantage of the numbers situation. 

They shut down the functioning of this legislative branch of government until their extreme demands were met … demands that a vast majority of the House did not support.

To become the House Speaker, McCarthy made promises he couldn’t possibly keep. Never once did he appeal to Democrats for just a little support to outnumber the radicals in the Republican Party. 

That is until recently, when he worked with Democrats on funding to keep the government from shutting down – something most people agree should never happen. 

For this one effort to work with the other party, he lost his Speaker position.

There is irony in this “straw that broke the camel’s back” consequence because working with Democrats was an action of responsible governance that McCarthy should have taken from the start. 

He knew the Republican majority was slim and would be dysfunctional because of the handful of radicals. He also knew that the balance between Republicans and Democrats reflected the will of the voters to find middle ground in passing legislation that addressed the nation’s problems and did so in a fiscally responsible way.

McCarthy missed a tremendous opportunity to reverse the polarization in our government toward working together to pass needed and effective legislation. He also could’ve achieved his seeming drive to be known as a great leader.

How could he have done this? By meeting with Democrats from the beginning, looking for common objectives and agreeing to compromise to create legislation most people could support. This would’ve isolated as irrelevant the handful of wackos in his own party. And he could’ve had the minority support he needed just by demonstrating he could be trusted as someone Democrats could work with.

Our Founding Fathers created a republic from scratch based on the principle of freedom, yet still allowed slavery to exist. McCarthy faced must less significant conflict, struggled to keep the country solvent, didn’t pass any legislation and couldn’t even keep his job.

The same opportunity faces the next House Speaker, whoever that may be. Nothing has changed. There are still a handful of Republicans who would shut our country down before they would compromise their radical ideas. 

There is still a strong majority of Republicans and Democrats willing to find ways to put their political differences aside to govern, which is what we elected them to do.

We still don’t know who the next Speaker will be. Regardless, look at how a majority is built. It will give us all a good indication of how effective the House will be until we vote again in the fall of 2024.

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Bill Ott

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