Publius Speaks

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Republicans Are Disconnected

The Republicans in Congress seem to me to be disconnected, not only from what is needed in our nation, but from what they need to be doing as elected representatives of the people.

First of all, they are in a budget-cutting mode and mood.  But nowhere do we have a definition of a problem that will be solved by such budget-cutting.  Nor do we have any strong data that backs up the budget-cutting propounded by the Republicans in Congress.  For instance, what data exists to prove that budget-cutting is more effective than say government reform and raising the taxes of the rich?  Oh yes, we hear over and over that we are spending too much and that our children and grandchildren will be stuck with the bill.  That is not the definition of a problem; that is a statement based on political rhetoric; nothing more.  The problem we face is multi-faceted: not simply that we are spending too much; rather, the basic problem is that Congress is spending taxpayers’ money in poorly-conceived ways, and raising revenue in poorly-constructed methods that do not advance the welfare of our commonweal.  That is the fault of our elected leaders, but let us be careful to examine which leaders.

Let us not forget that it is the constitutional responsibility of the Congress to  “provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States…to borrow money on the credit of the United States… to regulate Commerce…” It is Congress’s duty to sponsor bills for raising revenue (which must originate in the House of Representatives);  ...all money drawn from the Treasury must be appropriated by the Congress… and Congress has the responsibility “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” 

In stark contrast, we note in Article II of the Constitution that the Executive -- the President -- is much more limited in his responsibility, especially concerning the power of the purse.  He can recommend measures to the Congress “for their consideration” as “he shall judge necessary and expedient…”, but it is Congress that ultimately legislates what it wishes of such recommendations: the President proposes; Congress disposes.  So, although the President can propose plans, and legislation, and budgets, and ideas, it is Congress that has the responsibility for the purse and for all legislation.  Yes, the President has great power that is recognized throughout the world, but that power has evolved because of his role as Commander-in-Chief, because of his responsibility for foreign relations in the area of treaty making and diplomacy, and perhaps because of the need, in this modern and complicated world, to be able to act decisively whenever the nation is confronted with outside forces (of many kinds) that could negatively impact our welfare and our very existence. 

In spite of this recognized “imperial” power, the Executive does not have the power to make laws or to appropriate funds.  It is not the constitutional duty of the President to raise revenues, nor to give a regular accounting of the receipts and expenditures of public money (except as the Congress may legislate for him to do); nor to draw money from the Treasury except as authorized by the Congress; nor to borrow money on the credit of the United States; nor to coin money or regulate its value.  It is not the President’s constitutional duty to pay the debts, nor to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.  All of that is part of the constitutional duty of the Congress! 

My point?  Congress is not living up to its responsibility to legislate, to appropriate, to borrow, to raise revenue and to control, oversee, and report on its actions.  Yes, that’s right: the Congress is required by the Constitution to make “a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money (which) shall be published from time to time.”  Are you getting your report on ALL receipts and expenditures of ALL public money?  I’m not.  As a matter of fact sometimes it is almost impossible to obtain such information (for instance on “member items” or “earmarks”) and often requires an FOIA to get such information from the Congress or from a federal department or agency. 

Why isn’t the Congress living up to this responsibility?  Because Congress doesn’t want you to know how poorly they are doing their job!   They do not want you to know how poorly they spend your money.  They do not want you to know where they spend the most and on what they spend the least.  They do not want you to know that they are not living up to their constitutional responsibility to oversee all spending.  Which means, my friends, that it is the Congress that is responsible for the fiscal mess we find ourselves in.  It means that the responsibility for the deficit does not fall to the Executive, but to the Congress which has a constitutional mandate to oversee all public expenditures.

So, are we being bamboozled?  You bet.  The Congress, as it is wont to do, has tried to blame the budget deficits and the national debt on the President.  They say that his “stimulus package” was a failure; that “Obamacare” will run up the deficit and the debt; that his budgets will add trillions to the national debt.  Wait a minute….are the Republicans in Congress trying to tell us that the President has the power of the purse and not them?  Are they trying to shift blame to the Executive who constitutionally has to carry out the legislative mandates given him by the Congress?  Are they telling us that it is the President who legislates and that the Congress is just a puppet?  NONSENSE!

Whether Republican or Democrat, the Congress is to blame for all of our deficits and debts.  They have the power to legislate our way out of this, but if they fail to act, or act timidly (more accurately: in a political manner) then they cannot shift the blame.  It is the fault of Congress that we are in the fiscal mess that we are in, and no amount of rhetoric can change that fact.  They make the laws; they appropriate the money; they approve draws on the Treasury; they oversee the Executive branch’s execution of the laws they enact; they have the power of the purse.  The rhetoric that comes out of the mouths of Boehner and Cantor, and Ryan; of Sen. McConnell and his cohorts is nothing but misleading, overblown, false: it is meant to make baboons of (“to bamboozle”) the public.

It is my contention that the Republican Congress, and the Republican minority in the Senate, are abusing the legislative process, and therefore acting against their constitutional mandates.  They are disconnected from their main task: to provide for the general welfare of the people of the United States.  Congress is now led by people who think it acceptable to block legislation, to say no to anything that would give the President a legislative “win,”  to bring government operations to a halt if it serves their ends; all of this being contrary to their duty to “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the…powers…vested by this Constitution…”  Instead of resolving problems with innovative legislation, this Congress is content to repeal existing legislation that addresses national problems like health care, rapacious Wall Street activities and environmental cleanup.   At its worst, the Congress has obstructed the creation of jobs that would address a crumbling infrastructure, even while claiming that their number one priority is to put people back to work.  The disconnect between reality and rhetoric is overwhelmingly obvious.  You are definitely being bamboozled!

More next time on other disconnects exhibited by the Tea Party-controlled-Republicans in the Congress, and why we must elect Representatives and Senators dedicated to a new era of problem-solving that will redound to the health and welfare of this nation.