The U.S. Constitution is the biggest casualty in the debt-ceiling deal signed into law this week. The 535 elected members of Congress ceded the important decisions to 12 budget bosses as yet unnamed, and caved into the president’s demand for automatic debt-ceiling increases.
These are the latest erosions of representative government. Fifteen months ago, when the Obama health law was enacted, Congress also ceded important decisions about Medicare to a 15-member board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. If members of Congress don’t want to make difficult calls, they ought to move aside for newer blood, rather than presiding over the slow decline of government by the people.
The budget bosses: All sides in this week’s deal agreed to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for slightly more than $2 trillion in spending “cuts” over the next decade — in essence a 5 percent trim of what otherwise would likely be spent.
Half these trims were vaguely identified. But the other half of the budgeting job will be done by the 12 budget bosses drawn equally from the two parties. They can identify cuts, propose tax hikes, or a combination. Congress must vote up or down on their plan with no amendments.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky explained on Wednesday that the 12 budget bosses will “tackle some of the very difficult problems that we have been unwilling or unable to deal with.” Why elect Congress?
If Congress’s rejects what the budget bosses put forward, the penalties are severe, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, largely from defense. “If that happens," wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a letter to the troops after the deal was signed, “that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation.” That dire alternative could mean that what the 12 budget bosses say, goes.
The framers of the Constitution insisted that any new tax originates in the House of Representatives, because its members represent smaller districts rather than an entire state and are elected every two years.
The House would be closest to the people and safeguard their liberty. Even the 100 members of the U.S. Senate were denied the power to propose a tax. Yet the 12 budget bosses can propose a tax — a perversion of the Constitution.
Automatic debt-ceiling hikes: Generally presidents ask Congress for a debt-ceiling hike once or twice a year, but President Obama wanted to avoid another debt controversy before the 2012 election. Republican negotiators relented.
The deal, raises the debt ceiling by $400 billion now, and then automatically increases it another $500 billion later this year, and $1.5 trillion again in 2012. Who is President Barack Obama to demand more borrowing latitude than his 43 predecessors?
The new arrangement abdicates congressional control over federal borrowing. Congress can introduce a measure to block the automatic increase, but would need a two-third’s majority in each house to override the president’s veto.
Article 1, Section 8 states that “the Congress shall have the power . . . to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” Every president has had to ask Congress’ permission to borrow, until 1917, requesting it for each debt issue, and since then asking for debt ceiling hikes. Frequently presidents have been told to make do with less or forced to make other concessions to secure Congress’ consent.
Congress has raised the debt ceiling 78 times in the last half century, sometimes after a struggle. That’s what the framers intended. Congress was entrusted to shield the people from excessive government demands. The automatic increases signed into law on Tuesday weaken that safeguard.
The president claimed the nation's economy is too fragile to handle another debt debate soon. Nonsense. Washington’s spending and borrowing mania is the most important issue facing voters.
Automatic debt-ceiling hikes are a shameless sleight of hand to provide cover for the president. The result is that “we the people” and future generations will be more vulnerable to the exorbitant demands of government.
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