Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The House Deals

It looks like, for the time being, economic disaster has been averted. The House of Representatives has passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling (and cut a crapload of government spending) in order to avoid an unprecedented default. This is undoubtedly a good thing. With unemployment still very high (over 9%), the U.S. could not afford to plunge into another recession. Also, the fact that our national deficit will be significantly cut means that the federal government will begin to move towards greater fiscal responsibility (i.e. not spending a great deal more than it's taking in).

There are, of course, aspects of this bill that are not, or may not, be so great. How painful will these cuts be to public employees or those who need public assistance? Time will tell whether or not these cuts were "the right cuts." Is it fair that these cuts were not accompanied, or offset, by any additional tax revenue from large corporations or the wealthy? This is a question of ethical and economic philosophy, but I would certainly say, "No."

But those who, like me, are unhappy with the "cuts only" approach to deficit reduction should realize that it is undoubtedly the right of the House to pass such a bill and insist on its terms. It is the House's right because the House is the most democratically representative institution in the U.S. government, and that is where legislation ought to begin. In my wild, radical fantasies of reforming this government--the House would be one of the few things left standing. I think the Senate needs to go. (Why have a chamber of Congress in which Wyoming and California are equally represented, despite the fact that California's population is 40 times greater than Wyoming's?!?) I also think that the U.S. should not have a president--give limited executive authority to the Speaker of the House (in other words, make him or her equivalent to a "prime minister.")  Such reforms (though they exist only in my head) might make the government in Washington function. The party in power would be able to set the agenda and get things passed, without always worrying about filibusters or vetoes. When the agenda turns out to be bad policy, the people can vote them out--but at least when they're in, they can get things done.

This is why I cannot understand how liberals or progressives can attack Obama for not being "tough enough" during this debate, or for letting the House Republicans set the agenda. It was the Republicans' agenda to set. Americans voted them into office last fall, and, for better or worse (I agree it's not for better), they have the right and power not to pass tax reform and to insist on spending cuts. For those who, like me, think that's bad policy, the thing to do is not to blame Obama, but to do what you can to make sure Democrats take back the House next year (not to mention keep the presidency). Urging Obama to circumvent the House's authority by taking potentially unconstitutional, unilateral action is asking him to be too much like George W. Bush, who, like so many recent presidents, dangerously pushed for expansive, undemocratic executive power.

This is not to say that the Republicans were justified in hijacking the budget debate by threatening to not raise the debt ceiling unless they got their way. That was irresponsible and reckless, and that is exactly why we should make sure their control of the House ends next year. But it is not a good enough reason to prompt the executive branch to overtake the constitutional power of the most democratically representative branch of government.


Anonymous said...

I blogged about the same thing today. Yours is much more substantial and informative. (no apostrophe for yours because it's already possessive right?)
I never thought of the Idea of getting rid of the Senate. I guess it's intended function is to mitigate the vagaries of the public at large and give equal standing to all states (in contrast to the house of rep's proportional representation) Maybe with today's immediate access to information your idea could work. If we got rid of the Senate, would you increase the length of the House rep's terms in office?

Mike Bernotas (forgive spelling)

Brophy said...

Yes, "yours" is possessive without an apostrophe -- it never has one.
Yes, in this magical alternate America where I am given the power to restructure the federal government, I would give longer terms (4 years?) to members of the House after abolishing the Senate and Presidency. Think about how much government spending could be saved by getting rid of them!
Equal standing for states doesn't make sense to me because that basically translates to unequal standing for the people in those states (since state populations vary so widely).

Anonymous said...

Good point Professor. You have me interested in your idea now. Here's a great op-ed I found on the subject.

Mike Bernotas