Bring Back ‘Regular Order’ – WSJ


Sen. Joe Manchin arrives for a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting in Washington, Nov. 18.


Tom Williams/Zuma Press


Joe Manchin’s

opposition to the Build Back Better bill this week and

John McCain’s

thumbs down to the repeal of ObamaCare four years ago together are an urgent appeal for Congress and the White House to find bipartisan solutions to America’s problems.

The words Sens. McCain and Manchin used to explain their courageous views should inspire members of Congress and the president to follow their example. That would break Washington’s gridlock and might ease the destructive division among the American people.

“I’ve stated time and again,” McCain declared after his vote, “that one of the major failures of ObamaCare was that it was rammed through the Congress by Democrats on a strict party-line basis. . . . We need to deliver a bill that will finally deliver affordable healthcare for the American people.”

This week, Mr. Manchin said very similar words: “I cannot move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” which is “not targeting things we should be doing, making sure that people who truly need it are getting it. . . . We have things we can do in a bipartisan way—the way the Senate is supposed to work. . . . Just go through the committees. Let’s work it.”

McCain closed his argument against repealing ObamaCare: “Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We have been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” In urging his colleagues to “return to regular order,” he used a term from the Senate dictionary that is unknown to most Americans but imperative for our elected lawmakers to revive.

“Regular order” refers to the rules and precedents of the Senate that have let members accomplish great things for our country. “Regular order” requires that a legislative proposal be referred to the appropriate committee, where it is given a public hearing, then discussed, debated, and amended by members of both parties on the committee. If it has the support of a majority in committee, it is sent to the full Senate, where it is debated again and opened for amendments by members of both parties, after which a final yea-or-nay vote is called. That, as Mr. Manchin said, is “the way the Senate is supposed to work.”

“Regular order” is a sensible process that is open to public view and invites bipartisan collaboration in the national interest.

But “regular order” is more than Senate rules and precedents. To work, it requires an attitude toward public service that we haven’t seen much of in Washington in recent years from either party. It begins with a personal decision by elected leaders that their primary purpose is to get things done for their country and constituents, and that getting things done matters more to them than pleasing their party, their campaign contributors, or the increasingly partisan media. “Regular order” requires a willingness to reach common ground—to meet with colleagues of both parties with humility, trust, civility and an open mind, and then to talk, negotiate, and compromise to get the votes necessary to enact good laws.

American history is full of examples of “regular order” working—from the Constitutional Convention, where the Founders resolved differences to enable our new country to survive, to the great bipartisan agreements of more recent times—President Johnson and

Sen. Everett Dirksen

on civil-rights laws, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill on Social Security reform, and President Clinton and Speaker

Newt Gingrich

on balancing the federal budget. This shows how much progress “regular order” can enable if the president and bipartisan congressional majorities put it into practice, as President Biden and Congress recently did in enacting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Reform Bill.

Joe Manchin and John McCain appealed to their colleagues to do better for America and showed how it can be done.

Mr. Lieberman is national co-chairman of the bipartisan political-action committee No Labels. He was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000 and a U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989-2013.

Journal Editorial Report: Democrats will kick their trillion-dollar bill into next year. Images: Getty Images/Bloomberg Composite: Mark Kelly

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