“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Debt Limit Deal- Government American Style

I wrote in this recent post,

"Actually, they do. And we know for a fact that voters in at least 87 House districts, the ones which elected freshmen GOP members, and a handful of states which elected Senators like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and other Tea Party-inclined GOP freshmen Senators, don't care about bi-partisanship which allows the free-spending liberal Democrats to continue their usual Washington ways.

What I believe we are seeing is not a new emphasis on bi-partisanship, but a fleeting moment of collaboration to do the minimum necessary to operate the federal government, until the 2012 elections sweep Democrats from their control of the Senate and, probably, the Oval Office.

But I agree with Charles Krauthammer, who contended recently on Fox News that Americans need a serious, knock-down, drag-out debate about the nation's direction at least once every generation.

That's what is occurring now. The recent debt limit debates and so-called (faux) crisis is merely the opening shot in that battle.

If you can objectively observe the trends of the past four years, it's pretty clear that the election of an inexperienced, spendthrift Senator from Illinois to the presidency, along with majorities in both houses of Congress, was the breaking point.

Now momentum has moved back the other way."

David Rivkin, Jr., and Lee Casey, attorneys who served in the Department of Justice during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, wrote an editorial in Tuesday's edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled A Debt Deal The Founders Could Love. In it, they expanded on a similar point, eschewing this sudden love of bi-partisan compromise by Democrats,

"The debt-ceiling crisis has prompted predictable media laments about how partisan and dysfunctional our political system has become. But if the process leading to the current deal was a "spectacle" and a "three-ring circus," as Obama adviser David Plouffe put it, the show's impresarios are none other than James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Our messy political system is working exactly the way our Founders intended it to.

To the extent House members were the most intransigent during the process—a matter of opinion, in any case—they were meant to be. The House of Representatives is the "popular branch," as described in The Federalist Papers, and was intended to "have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people." Many people, especially those who elected tea party candidates last November, passionately believe that the federal government has gone off the rails. They think that Washington has been spending like a drunken sailor since President Obama took office, and that this profligacy must end.

By contrast, the Framers conceived the Senate as a body of graybeards (or, at the very least, as modestly mature individuals who have reached the age of 30). It was meant to represent the interests of the states and to serve as a check on "the impulse of sudden and violent passions," or the danger of "factious leaders" offering "intemperate and pernicious resolutions" that might in time characterize the lower house. If the Senate has been less willing than the House to call an immediate halt to federal borrowing and to seek a more gradual return to fiscal responsibility, this too is exactly what it is supposed to do.

The result was a compromise, as it has nearly always been throughout our history. This will be a disappointment to many who voted for real and immediate fiscal restraint, but that too is to be expected. The Framers believed in gradual change. They prized stability and predictability. Most would have agreed with Talleyrand's injunction—"above all, not too much zeal"—and themselves watched as Talleyrand learned this lesson the hard way. An early and enthusiastic participant in the French Revolution, France's future foreign minister was forced to take refuge in the United States after his countrymen started cutting off heads.

Accordingly, the Framers rejected a parliamentary system of government, where power is concentrated in the legislature and very often in one house of the legislature. There truly are winners and losers in such political systems, and governmental policy can indeed be transformed immediately after a new government takes office.

By contrast, our Constitution diffuses power both vertically among the federal government and states and horizontally among the three branches of the federal government—and then again within Congress itself. Change, even good and necessary change, is always difficult. It must be based on consensus.

Yes, reaching consensus on any issue that matters is messy. Shouting and intransigence are commonplace in such battles and have been since the very beginning. Indeed, the Washington circus began well before the capital city was completed, and the Founding generation was second to none in its use of political invective. For example, Thomas Jefferson and his surrogates suggested President Washington had gone senile and claimed that John Adams was a closet monarchist. After he became president, Jefferson himself was excoriated because of an alleged sexual relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings.

Rarely in our system do the participants, whether in the House, Senate or White House, achieve all or even most of their goals in a single political battle. Sunday night, a debt-ceiling deal was reached that will raise the federal debt ceiling and permit continued borrowing to fund federal government operations through 2012 rather than just for another six months. The hard questions—taxes and spending cuts—have largely been postponed.

But the key point has been made. Few now suggest that we can continue on our current spending binge. That is the beginning of a consensus, and a good start towards genuine change. Postponing the difficult questions also means that the electorate can have its say in the 2012 elections, and represents significant political risks for all parties.

The Framers would be pleased at the "spectacle." "
Rivkin and Casey have done a wonderful job, in my opinion, of debunking, with historical examples, this commonly-, but wrongly-held notion that there was more political civility in our Republic's olden times. One often hears these appeals for bi-partisanship, compromise and civility when a party or leader knows they possess a very weak position, either in terms of votes or ideology.
In this most recent case, the debt limit battle, the Democrats were weak on both counts. Thus, the appeal for compromise in order to attempt to hide their weakness on spending and rather naked desire to simply be given the license to embark on a few trillion dollars more in American indebtedness.
While it's true that the ultimate amount of spending cuts were minuscule, and the debt ceiling was raised by an amount ($2.4T) calculated by Wonderboy to allow him to get through the next election before seeking to raise it again, the tide has turned, and Tea Party-inspired legislators who voted for the anemic bill made their point.
And it's not finished. Michele Bachmann voted no and, I am sure, will use that vote to bludgeon any fellow candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, should they voice support of the bill, as passed.
It would have done no good for the US to have gone through the trouble of allocating incoming tax receipts to pay debt interest and some necessary expenses, while shutting down parts of the federal government. But the near-run partial shutdown proved a point.
It substantially eroded Wonderboy's remaining low levels of power and standing with voters. I suspect, given the excessive rhetoric of Democratic Senators and the VP, calling Tea Party-backed legislators "terrorists" won't have endeared that party to voters, come 2012. Not to mention Harry Reid's continuing insistence that he wants to raise taxes so he can hand Wonderboy more money to waste.
Even if the GOP can't field a candidate who defeats Wonderboy next year, the Senate is likely to shift to GOP control, making the First Rookie's second term, if there is one, essentially pointless.
But, as Rivkin and Casey imply, America gets the government it wants and deserves. It tried Democratic hegemony for two years, and found it unacceptable. As I wrote in the earlier post, were the entire Senate up for re-election last November, chances are the Republicans would control that chamber now, too.
Come 2012, though, sufficient numbers of independents could be so wary of continued Democratic control of any federal branch of government that even a weak GOP presidential candidate will be washed into office along with majorities in both houses of Congress. To begin the work of cutting back federal government size, reach and spending.
Yes, it sure is messy when government change occurs 33 Senate seats, 435 House seats at a time, every two years, and the Oval Office only once each four years. It makes for halting, erratic government during the big power shifts.
But I sense a trifecta coming for the GOP in 2012 now that the Democrats showed their true colors during the debt ceiling battle, i.e., raise taxes, borrow more, spend more.
I believe most voting Americans no longer want that type of federal government. And when they get what they want next year, it won't look so messy anymore.

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