A Constitutional Crisis

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Major disputes, be they family disputes, disputes at work, political fights, or conflicts between nations often operate at several levels.  The classic example of this is World War I, seemingly started by the assassination of an obscure archduke by a Serbian terrorist, but in reality the causes ran much deeper to the point that the assassination of archduke Ferdinand of Austria was little more than a pretext.

It is becoming increasingly clear that such is the case with the current government shutdown. Going into the shutdown the apparent cause, the dispute over the funding of ObamaCare, seemed pretty straightforward. But even before the actual shutdown began it was becoming clear that there was something deeper at work.

If nothing else, this was clear because, while Republicans did pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) that defunded ObamaCare, once it failed to pass the Senate they quickly abandoned that demand.  Instead they sent up a stream of bills, each bill asking for less than the previous one.  Eventually they got to a bill simply asked that individuals be given the same exemption that the President had already granted to corporations, and that Congress follow the provisions of the bill.  When even this was rejected, the final bill simply asked that they do what the House and Senate has historically done when they could not reach an agreement, they go to conference to work out their differences, but this too was rejected by the Democrats in the Senate

Thus while ObamaCare is the pretext, there is something else going on here, something much deeper. It can be seen in Senate Majority Leader Reid’s response to a question when he rhetorically asked “What right do they have to pick and choose what part of government is going to be funded?”  This is the crux of the matter.

What makes it somewhat surreal is that Obama continues to say things such as, “But we’re not going to accomplish those things if one party to this conversation says that the only way that they come to the table is if they get 100 percent of what they want and if they don’t, they threaten to burn down the house,” yet then he refused to come to the table and negotiate and instead demands that he get 100% of what he wants, a clean CR! All the while the Republicans have sent up a series of increasingly weaker proposals and are now asking to go to conference.

So whatever your view on ObamaCare, it is clear that Obama and Reid are refusing to compromise, while the Republicans are so willing to compromise that they have effectively been negotiating with themselves.

But the real looming crisis is not the current shutdown, or even the looming debt ceiling, it is the Constitutional crisis which is emerging, and which is embodied in Obama’s hard line refusal to negotiate and can be seen in Reid’s question.

What right do Republican have?  While it is true that President Obama did win re-election, and that the Democrats held on to the Senate, it is also true that the Republican in the house won their elections and held on to the House. So Democrats hold the Presidency and the Senate, and Republicans hold the House.  We have divided government.

In addition Article 1 Section 7 of the Constitution says that all revenue bills must start in the House.  Thus while they do not have 100% say in spending, they have the Constitutional edge, and cannot be dictated to by the Senate and President.

Given the divided nature of Government, the demands of Obama and Reid that their wishes be followed, without any negotiation is not only unprecedented, it is extremely dangerous.

Obama is President, not dictator.  The house is not his servant, but a co-equal branch of Government, and one that according to the Constitution holds the purse.  And yet the President is refusing to even negotiate and is trying to dictate that the House follow his demands. This is much bigger than Obamacare; this strikes at the very core of our government based on checks and balances.

What is even more troubling is Obama’s actions in the shutdown, which seem based on inflicting as much pain on the American people as possible in order to put pressure on the Republicans to cave to his demands.  During any shutdown the president has complete authority to determine what is and is not “essential” so if kids with cancer are blocked from Clinical Trails, it is only because the President has deemed this to be non-essential.

While it is reasonable to say, for example, that the Smithsonian is not essential and therefore the people who work there will not come to work to open the museums up, how is it in any way reasonable to say that we are going have people go to work so as to block access to open air locations such as the WWII memorial, that we are going to pay people to put up barricades and pay people to keep people away?   This is just being mean spirited and vindictive; trying to inflict needless pain on WWII vets in order to score a few political points out of their suffering.

Where this gets really troubling is the upcoming debt ceiling.  The history of negotiation and compromise when increasing the debt limit is clear and well established. But as with the CR, Obama is just demanding an increase without any compromise or negotiation.  He is demanding that the House just rubber-stamp his wishes without any say in the matter.

Despite all the dire predictions, a failure to raise the debt ceiling does not automatically mean that the government defaults.  It just means that the government cannot borrow any more money.   It would still have all the money it normally gets from taxes, which, while not enough to cover all government spending, is more than enough to keep us from defaulting and in fact to keep funding the majority of government.   It would, in effect, just be another type of partial government shutdown.

But just as the President gets to define what is essential and non-essential in a shutdown, he also gets to decide which bills to pay if we cannot borrow more money.  The Republicans have repeatedly attempted to pass a law that would mandate the federal government not default on its debt as that would have dire consequences, but the Democrats have repeated blocked all such efforts.  In short if the debt limit is not increased, Obama could choose to have the country default, in hopes of blaming it on the Republicans. Given his current actions and rhetoric, he might actually do this.

Thus we are rapidly approaching a Constitutional crisis.  The best and constitutional way to settle this is to have both sides sit down and work out a compromise.  But Obama and Reid are blocking this, explicitly refusing to negotiate, much less compromise.  Instead they are demanding that the House abandon its Constitutional role and simply rubber stamp their demands.

Neither option the President is offering is a good one.  It effectively comes down to either trashing the Constitution, or trashing the economy, take your pick.

Oct 4th, 2013

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