In the battle over the federal spending limit that is now merging into a battle over the federal borrowing limit, Democrats are characterizing John Boehner and House Republicans in such pejorative terms as “hostage takers,” “extortionists” and “anarchists.” The media, for its part, is letting such vilifications stand with next to no challenge.
But at the core, what the Republicans are demanding is what they should have been loudly demanding long ago: namely, a functioning budget process centered on fiscal responsibility. A process in which priorities are set and expenditures are brought into line with income.
What we have now is no such thing. In Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution it says, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” If the government “shutdown” has accomplished nothing else, it has at least fully revealed that the ‘Appropriation Clause’ of the Constitution is today, 226 years after it was written, all but stripped of any meaning.
Here in the “shutdown” that somehow is only able to curtail 17 percent of federal spending, we are forced to recognize that the vast majority of government spending operates almost totally on autopilot – beyond any ‘Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.’ No matter who controls the Senate, who controls the House or who sits in the Oval Office, the federal money spigot just runs.
Fairness demands pointing out that this problem did not begin on January 20, 2009 when Barack Obama took the oath of office. “Mandated” spending, federal entitlements and money furnaces that pose as essential government agencies have proliferated on the watches of both political parties.
But an equal application of fairness also demands acknowledgement that the rate at which money is spent, and the rate at which entitlement payments have grown and the rate at which the bureaucracy expands has accelerated almost exponentially since Obama took office.
Little as one might like it, one might nevertheless forgive the president for standing firm on Obamacare, his signature legislative achievement. But there can be no forgiving his intransigence with respect to the rest of the federal budget. For him to insist that Republicans simply approve the continuation of unsustainable spending is not reasonable.
Every month the Federal Reserve prints $85 billion to purchase Treasury bonds (i.e. loan money to the government) so that the federal government will be able to cover the checks it writes. Expanding the debt by inflating the currency can only go on for so long. And there’s no way to know how long is too long until it’s too late. That the government of the United States would ever operate in such a grossly irresponsible way was at one time, within living memory, unthinkable.
Say what you will about Republicans and John Boehner, they have at last advanced beyond lip service and have established a policy beachhead upon which they are taking incoming fire.
Charges of extortion and hostage-taking notwithstanding, for Boehner and the Republicans to simply now fold their cards and vote to restore spending authorization while raising the country’s borrowing limit – without getting anything in return – would constitute an unforgivable surrender. Such is both a political reality and a policy imperative – both of which every president for the past 60 years prior to this one would readily recognize. That this president refuses only raises pressure on Boehner.
On maintaining the country’s financial health, it is the president’s job to lead. If he will not, it falls to John Boehner and his somewhat fractious House Republicans to find ways to wire around him.
That he and they are at long last trying is to their credit.