Congress has proven once again that it’s a special interest world – the rest of us are just living in it.
Earlier this week, the Senate voted against tighter restrictions on guns and gun owners, effectively ending the push that began in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shooting.
But the real story here isn’t the vote – it’s the NRA. You see, the NRA spends millions of dollars lobbying and giving contributions to members of the U.S. Senate. The Senate vote on gun control just proves how effective the NRA’s strategy really is.
And I want to talk about this strategy because it provides an excellent view into how Capitol Hill really works. Folks are always telling me they don’t understand why this or that happened on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s time to shed some light on it.
Now, as a matter of disclosure, I want to let you know that I’m a lifelong member of the NRA. I agree with the NRA’s position against restricting the ownership of firearms by law-abiding citizens.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I want to talk about process…
The White House is in Shock
Right now, the U.S. Senate is controlled by the Democrats. Yet since the Democrats “defected” to the NRA, the Senate just totally jammed their exalted leader.
Barack Obama’s scheme to add additional rules, restrictions, regulations, and limitations to gun ownership lost big. In a progression of votes on amendments, the truth became clear: No one, Democrats included, wants to mess with the Second Amendment.
Even Sen. Harry Reid, Obama’s supposed point man in the Senate, didn’t seem like he wanted to deliver.
Thus, the central proposal to expand background checks was voted down 54-46. Remember – in the Senate, such bills don’t just need a majority. They require 60 votes to get past a virtually guaranteed filibuster.
The White House had even set in motion an intensive, coast-to-coast lobbying campaign that featured gut-wrenching pleas from families of the Newtown school shooting victims.
But it didn’t help. And Obama administration officials were visibly angry after his agenda got shellacked. The anger level was so high that even Obama spoke out. “All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” he said of the vote, adding that the effort “is not over.”
But in reality, it’s likely all over.
The Power of the NRA
In a democracy, a president always gets his chance.
But one third of the Senate and the entire House have to face the voters in 18 months, and these members know that the NRA can sway elections. No amount of tears from the Newtown families is likely to trump electoral politics in Washington.
So how does the NRA have such massive influence on national politics? They’ve only got about five million members, compared to a country of over 300 million.
First, it’s important to note that the NRA political machine is truly bipartisan. The NRA will support anyone – liberal, conservative, whatever – as long as that congressman is good on one thing: guns.
It’s this laser focus that gives the NRA such strength.
Secondly, everyone in Washington understands that elections are won at the margin. And the NRA specializes in being the margin of victory.
It specializes in securing the votes that put a candidate over the top, and not just in the general election. The NRA also plays in primaries. And members of Congress hate primaries.
Because of a dirty secret called gerrymandering – the bizarre construction of political regions intended to benefit the political elite – most congressional districts are heavily dominated by just one party.
This means that most incumbents will win… as long as they don’t lose in their party’s primary. And if you’re down on guns, the NRA will actively recruit a candidate to take you out in the primary election. For this reason, Congressmen fear primary challenges.
Keep Your Friends Close…
The NRA is wonderful to its friends and brutal to its enemies. It’s the domestic policy equivalent of Teddy Roosevelt’s edict to speak softly and carry a big stick. Everyone knows the NRA carries a big stick.
But if you’re on its side, campaign funds flow, and the NRA will take special care to help you when you need it.
So if you’ve ever wondered why an incumbent president can’t push his agenda through a U.S. Senate that’s controlled by his own party, now you know.
In three years, Barack Obama will be history; but the NRA will still haunt you if you cross them. Once again, a special interest carries the day on Capitol Hill.
This article originally appeared on CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: HunT Trader (Creative Commons)