The Government Abyss: How Low Can You Go?
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I think I may be starting an argument, but the United States Congress is not the worst legislative body at work in our country today.
Now don’t get me wrong, the performance of Congress over the past month dealing with the nation’s debt ceiling is likely the most pathetic performance on an issue of any legislative body in this state. Shame on them – on all of them – and my President, too.
Although I think blame for the brinkmanship can clearly be affixed to the Republican Party held hostage by an extreme group of Tea Party extremists, the President and the Democrats caved, and participated in the damaging process with results that not only did not benefit the people they represent, it did harm to the nation.
The President did not lead. The Democrats did little and the Republicans did damage.
A lengthy Standard and Poor’s statement accompanying the downgrade of long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA,’ asserted: “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.”
Yes, my friends “raise revenue” is a euphemism for “tax increase” and in Democratic terms “a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans and Corporations.”
But it is apparent that the Dems in Congress don’t have the collective courage to lay on the table and demand passage of a tax increase of a specific percentage, based on gross income, so that 95 percent of Americans can understand that they wouldn’t pay more.
For instance, you would not be subject to such a tax unless you were earning (my assumption) $250,000 per year, and then it would cost (assumption again) 10 percent of the gross or $25,000. And the tax increase would go up from there for people who earn more. I don’t know their formula but the Dems and the President failed to make their tax increase case to the people. And they failed to let the Republicans know that it was a non-negotiable part of their package.
“We control one House – the Senate – and we have the President” they could have said, “and insist that for every dollar cut in spending, we increase revenue by a dollar by taxing millionaires and billionaires and the wealthiest of corporations.”
I am saddened, disappointed and totally unimpressed how my government and my representative performed for the county on the debt ceiling legislation. And a “no” vote does not score points in my judgment. The Dems who “broke” with their leadership and the President, in my opinion, were really “yes” votes if they were needed to pass the legislation. While the “no” vote does reflect a bit of principle expressing their dissatisfaction with the legislation and the fact that the wealthiest Americans are not contributing to the solution, I view it as an equal amount of pandering, because if needed they would have voted “yes.” And finally, if done with leadership’s knowledge and approval, you can’t move your caucus.
The Tea Party didn’t ask John Boehner for permission to draw their line – as a matter of fact, they took control. Progressive Democrats, learn a lesson.
Mr. President, you too have lessons to learn. Taking options off the negotiating table based on your knowledge of constitutional law is no way to win a street fight. The Progressive Democrats are in a brawl with the Tea Party Republicans and the right wing knows how to fight. And our side just doesn’t.
The results: pathetic.
With all that said and with Congress having the lowest approval rating in memory, I have no problem placing them a rung up from the most abysmal legislative body in the nation: The New York State Legislature.
Hovering just above that black hole leading to the abyss is the New York State Legislature, which has been slightly improved by the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In the months to come, as they decide whether redistricting will be done independently or as part of the same ‘ol political self-serving process that has marked their years in the abyss, we shall be able to determine if there is any hope for the State and its legislature.
As far as Congress is concerned, they may learn a lesson from their debt ceiling fiasco and the price we and they have paid.
Or perhaps, we New Yorkers will continue to compete with the people of the nation in a game of “how low can you go?”
Clinton Suggested Obama Resist Threats of Default
By HENRY STERN
Journalism is habitually critical of government officials and bureaucracy. Most people, when polled objectively, tell us that they hold public officials in modest regard. Traditionally, legislators rank substantially lower in public esteem than executives. Notwithstanding those sentiments, however, voters usually re-elect their local representatives, unless the public mood shifts substantially, as it did in 2010.
The popularity of the President, a governor or a mayor will vary during his term according to the course of events and the way that elected officials respond to the challenges of the day. Gov. Cuomo rose after his first six months as a result of his success in dealing with the legislature. President Obama, on the other hand, lost public esteem in the wake of the dispute over the national debt ceiling, even though he acted responsibly on that difficult issue.
The President’s decline in voter support came because, in yielding on many points in order to avert default, which he believed would be a national disaster, he was widely perceived as weaker and less effective than Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell, the Republican Congressional leaders who threatened him, compelling the Democrats to accept substantial budget cuts which, if implemented, would significantly sabotage national programs, many of which are mandated by law.
In an interview two weeks ago, former President Clinton said that he would invoke the Constitutional option “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me” in order to prevent a default should Congress and the President fail to achieve agreement.
“‘I think the Constitution is clear and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,’ he said.
Lifting the debt ceiling ‘is necessary to pay for appropriations already made,’ he added, ‘so you can’t say, ‘Well, we won the last election and we didn’t vote for some of that stuff, so we’re going to throw the whole country’s credit into arrears.’”
The Constitution and the 14th Amendment authorize the public debt and provide that its validity shall not be questioned. We quote the relevant passages:
Amendment 14, Section 4: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”
It clearly states that the United States must pay its debts. The pattern of imposing a ceiling on the national debt began with a law passed in 1917, after the Second Liberty Bond act. Since then, the ceiling has been raised on numerous occasions, in recent years with increasing frequency. Most of these increases were approved without controversy, since they simply applied to existing obligations.
The authority of the Congress to add to the national debt is specified in the Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States: Article I, Section 8:
“The Congress shall have the power: ...
“2. To borrow Money on the credit of the United States; ...”
It is certainly arguable whether the blanket Constitutional authority trumps the frequently amended debt ceiling statute.
If it desired to reduce the national debt, Congress could, for example, repeal Medicare, but it cannot simply refuse to pay the bills that come in pursuant to legitimate appropriations. Congress can refuse to build aircraft carriers, but it must pay for what has already been built. Similarly, it can terminate employees to reduce headcount, but it cannot fail to pay people for services properly ordered and performed.
Of course, we know from Bush v. Gore (2000) that the law of the land is what five justices of the Supreme Court say it is, and in the current political configuration of the justices, the narrow conservative minority may be influenced by who is on which side in the controversy. Then again, they may not, or take a different view.
A decision by President Obama to follow his predecessor’s advice would, most likely, have provoked what could be called a constitutional crisis, since its outcome would affect the powers of different branches of our tripartite government. That would be unfortunate and unsettling, both to the United States and to world markets. That being said, the markets seem to have been doing pretty badly anyway.
The alternative, however, submitting to the will of the House of Representatives, gives the national legislature the power to reverse public policy and overturn previous commitments to the American people, not by passing legislation to that effect, which is their right, but simply by declining to raise the debt limit, a maneuver that requires no more than 41 Senators or 218 representatives.
That would result in a major shift in the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. If it were done by legislation, it would face challenge before the judiciary, which would ultimately decide the issue, subject to a Constitutional amendment. To attempt to accomplish such a seismic shift in the American system of checks and balances, simply by one branch being more willing to risk economic disaster than the other, is unacceptable in a mature democracy. It requires leadership, however, to reject such an irresponsible course.