Tom Daschle on Polarization, the Supreme Court and House v. Burwell


Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and now founder and CEO of The Daschle Group, talked to RealClearHealth's Karl Eisenhower about the polarized climate in Congress and the nation, and what he recommends to find areas of consensus.

Also Watch: Daschle: It's Time to Move Beyond 'Cut & Shift' for Medicare

KARL EISENHOWER, RealClearHealth: Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, thank you for joining us today.

TOM DASCHLE: My pleasure, Karl.

EISENHOWER: You and former Sen. Trent Lott have released a book recently called Crisis Point. You were in the leadership on the Democratic side in the Senate. He was in the leadership on the Republican side. Both of you have a shared concern about the inability of the Senate to work collaboratively as it has in the past. What kind of recommendations do you have what sort of concerns did you raise in the book?

DASCHLE: Well, Karl, our sense is that we are as polarized as we have probably been in 150 years, and that a big part of the reason we've seen such dysfunction in Washington in recent years is because of that polarization. We think that there are a number of things that can be done, some easier, some more difficult. In the easier category -- more short-term -- there are things procedurally we can do in the Senate, especially, to enhance our ability to move legislation forward and to reach some collective conclusions about how we might achieve better consensus.

In the longer term, it's going to take electoral reform. We also argue that it's critical that we try to find ways to encourage citizen participation, to be a part of the process and not to divorce themselves just because people are frustrated today.

EISENHOWER: Is it possible that the level of citizen participation we now have through social media and talk radio is actually is part of what has impeded the ability to reach consensus?

DASCHLE: I think to a certain extent that's true. And I think to a large extent what we've seen is a just enormous amount of criticism of our governmental institutions, in part because the American people don't feel like they are as relevant as they once were, that [government institutions] are working for them as they once did. And so we've got to create a sense of relevance, a sense of ownership and investment -- a recognition that these institutions of government require meaningful citizen participation.

But you're absolutely right. Social media has created a whole different environment for the political landscape than we have seen through history.

EISENHOWER: One area where the disagreements within the Senate have come in sharp focus is we've recently had a Supreme Court seat open up, and there's a dispute about whether the Senate even has an obligation to hold hearings and consider a nominee put forth by the president.

DASCHLE: Well, that I think is just the latest symptom of the problem we face. I have to say, I don't even wonder what the position of the Senate majority leader would be if we were currently in the midst of a Republican administration. I wonder if Ronald Reagan were president [if] the majority leader would say: No, I think we ought to wait until we have an election. Or George Bush or anybody else on the Republican side.

Clearly this is a partisan fight. It has nothing to do with the institution itself. We've had 13 examples where in the last year [in office] presidents have offered a nominee and they've been voted on. Eleven have been successful. So this is not unprecedented. But it is, as I noted, I think a clear symptom of the polarization and dysfunction that exists today.

EISENHOWER: Turning to health care, but still focused on these institutional issues: One of the cases that has not yet reached the Supreme Court, but is expected to, is House v. Burwell, where there is a disagreement about the various roles of the executive and the legislative branches. As former leader within the institution of Congress, what are the issues there that you think are most important.

DASCHLE: The first question is whether the Supreme Court or any court should be ruling on this in the first place.

Obviously, it's almost an unprecedented set of circumstances where a court is going to rule on a dispute between Congress and the administration. They've religiously and devotedly stayed away from those questions in the past, and for good reason. That isn't their role. So, it'll be interesting to see just how far this goes, especially under the circumstances now with a Supreme Court vacancy.

But as you know, the basic question involved here between House and Burwell is the question of delegated authority: Does the Affordable Care Act provide the delegated authority to the administration to make its judgment about the administration of the Affordable Care Act. I believe it does.

The Congress made a very deliberate decision when they passed the law in 2010 to give the administration great flexibility. They did that for two reasons. One, because they weren't sure just how a lot of these circumstances could be addressed. And two, there were some very dicey politics involved in many of the decisions, and they really didn't want to have to get involved in those political questions.

So, for those reasons, this legislation delegates enormous responsibility and authority to the president and the secretary, and, of course, that's what they're sorting out now.

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