After eight long years to prepare, and with both chambers of Congress voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act as recently as January 2016, the complete failure of the Senate to pass any legislation to address the widening collapse of healthcare markets under Obamacare is entirely unacceptable.
In such circumstances, parents would ground their children and teachers would cancel recess. Employers would scratch vacations, and commanders would revoke leave.
The Constitution says in Article II, Section 3 that "[The President] may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them...."
In order to curtail the further implosion of millions of Americans' healthcare and stem the impending crisis that threatens to envelop our economy, President Trump should call a special session of the Senate—effectively canceling their recess.
The House of Representatives has voted 66 times to amend or repeal Obamacare over the last six years, once again in May with the American Health Care Act. Having done their job, they should be put on notice to return as soon as they are needed to deal with the Senate's legislation.
Republicans consistently campaigned to repeal and replace Obamacare, and candidate Trump promised last November "to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace" it. Now is the time.
The president's power to call Congress into session is associated most prominently with national emergencies. Lincoln famously brought them back on July 4, 1861 in the midst of the Civil War, just as James Madison did during the War of 1812, Woodrow Wilson to declare World War I, and FDR on the cusp of World War II.
But presidents have used this power for a wide variety of reasons, both foreign and domestic. On twenty-seven extraordinary occasions, presidents have convened both houses of Congress to address matters concerning war, economic crisis, and domestic policy legislation. Presidents have called the Senate alone into session on forty-six additional occasions.
The Twentieth Amendment changed Congress' work calendar, decreasing the need for special sessions, but the executive power remains at the president's sole discretion. President George W. Bush used it to call the House of Representatives out of its summer recess in 2005 to pass an emergency spending bill after Hurricane Katrina.
Harry Truman, facing an approval rating of only 36 percent and an uncooperative legislature, convened a special session of Congress in the summer of 1948 to pass general domestic policy bills. When obstinate Republicans refused to advance his agenda, Truman ran against a "Do Nothing Congress" and won a historic upset victory.
In this case, President Trump would not be acting against partisan opposition but institutional division and stalemate within a constitutional system based on the separation of powers. Vested with the Constitution's legislative power, the exclusive authority of Congress is to legislate—and they're not doing it.
President Trump should exert this unquestioned constitutional power, in the name of the American people, to underscore the gravity of the moment and encourage a lackluster Senate to do its job.
Dr. Matthew Spalding is Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs for Hillsdale College in Washington, DC, where he is the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Chair in Constitutional Studies.
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