The upcoming midterm elections make me think of a divided government. In normal times, the prospect of newly shared power in Washington might make me look forward to the downturn resulting from one party’s hyperactive agenda. The Democrats who are in power are indeed pushing a tax and regulatory agenda that has become a serious risk to American prosperity and freedom.
But these are not normal times. Today, I don’t know how much confidence I have in a divided government. If it works, Republicans need to bring better ideas to the table and both parties need to be more open to bipartisanship.
Here are some of my concerns. Some GOP candidates are either barely fit or totally unfit for office. Democrats may not be better, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Increasingly, many Republicans are abandoning serious thinking about politics and governance and instead focusing on the lives of Democrats.
I also fear that the main result of a divided government is simply the continuation of hyperpartisan investigations by the other party. After years of Republican trials in the House of Democrats, I’m not looking forward to Republican investigations into Hunter Biden or President Joe Biden’s handling of the border crisis. This program is not healthy.
Allow me to suggest an alternative, albeit imperfect, path.
From my small government perspective, a divided government usually has a small upside, but moving away from today’s toxic political environment will require politicians on both sides of the aisle to learn, once again , to work together to meet our national challenges.
Based on past bipartisan efforts, I fear Congress is only working together to pass a counterproductive extended child tax credit or federal paid vacation program. But I hope they find a practical way to deal with the crisis at the border instead. This mess is bipartisan, and it won’t be solved without Republicans and Democrats working together. The inability to deal with a real humanitarian crisis reflects on each of them.
Moreover, most Americans want to restore order at the border while generally welcoming immigrants. Immigrants are a proven positive force in the US economy. The country has plenty of space and 10.1 million job openings that native Americans seem uninterested in filling. It seems to me that there is a lot of potential for a productive compromise.
Another area where a bipartisan effort would be fruitful is the legalization of marijuana. Although cannabis is legal for medical or recreational use in many states, it is still classified as a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level. Biden took the first step last week by asking the Department of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to consider changing the federal government’s approach.
The GOP should get on board. Americans are pro-legalization. The war on drugs has torn families apart and hurt low-income African Americans especially. Republicans may remember that one of the most famous conservatives of the last century, William F. Buckley, supported the decriminalization of marijuana.
Finally, to achieve the bipartisan goal of renewing our infrastructure, Republicans should proceed with a second reform of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). This law obliges federal agencies to take into account the environmental impacts of their main actions. The results have been an unnecessarily high barrier to the construction of infrastructure projects, including environmentally friendly projects. To its credit, the administration of former President Donald Trump pushed for some reforms to this law, but these were recklessly reversed by the Biden administration.
Researchers on both sides of the aisle have produced plenty of data showing that NEPA’s huge economic costs far outweigh its environmental improvements. While voters may not know how terrible NEPA is, they want well-maintained roads and bridges. This outcome will not happen in a timely manner without serious NEPA reform.
Like Eli Dourado eloquently writing, “To become a nation that builds, we have to break down regulatory hurdles… If we want to build infrastructure in addition to housing, we have to address environmental review as well as zoning. We have to protect the environment, but we don’t we don’t need to do it indirectly with laws that only work through paperwork and court cases.” Republicans should lead this effort. Even if it comes up against a presidential veto, they will have started educating the public on this issue.
In this topsy-turvy world where I have mixed feelings about a divided government, a bipartisan compromise that solves problems rather than strengthening government would calm tensions and address some of our most pressing challenges.
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