In today’s Washington Post, Ezra Klein shows just how fresh and exciting the world can be if, for you, history began around 2000.
Exuding that aura of patchouli and devil-may-care insouciance that is catnip to lefties and irresistible to truly stupid women, Klein writes on the subject of the imminent fight in the next Congress over the fate of Obamacare:
Much more dangerous is the Republican strategy to refuse to appropriate the funds the bill needs. But Republicans are going to have to think hard about that one: If they set the precedent that one side can erode legislation they don't like by refusing to fund it, the same is going to happen to their eventual accomplishments. Policy stability will disappear, as it will become normal for the opposition party to defund the other side's legislation when they take power. This wouldn't be the first time Congress has made a disastrous move toward gridlock and dysfunction, but it would be the one that scares the business community the most, as it would effectively end their ability to plan for the future.
Let’s put aside the obvious idiocy that the business community would be upset by a defunding of Obamacare and go to the core of the issue: that Congress refusing to fund programs that they don’t like is either dangerous or even new.
First and foremost, historically Congress has authorized programs it has never funded. Lobbyists know the pain of this daily. They struggle to have a project inserted in an authorization bill only to see it disappear from the appropriations. So the idea that projects and programs have to be funded just because there is an authorization for the programs is simply silly. Obamacare exists. We may, quite honestly, never have the votes or cojones to repeal it. But there is no requirement that Congress appropriate a single cent to implement it.
More recently, we’ve seen a Democratic Congress attempt to defund the war in Iraq. This war was legislatively authorized by the US Congress in 2002. This is a battle in which Klein explicitly endorsed efforts by the Dems to defund the war by forcing presidential vetoes of spending bills.
These types of controversies are a part and parcel of American political history. The SANE/Freeze movement sought to defund our nuclear weapons program. The Iran-Contra Affair was rooted in the Boland Amendment cutting funding for authorized intelligence and military operations in Central America. The Case-Church Amendment cut funding for authorized military operations in Southeast Asia.
Beyond the historical trivia there are two equally large points to be made. One philosophical and one practical.
Philosophically, democracies (or republics, if you will) do not function in an environment of “policy stability.” That is the province of monarchies and totalitarian regimes, though I can understand how Klein and a lot of other lefties could get confused on this issue considering the way they’ve toadied to Obama. But, like with the funding examples listed above, the left is really only interested in “policy stability” if their policies are in place. Otherwise, everything is up for grab. It is the sort of garden variety petty hypocrisy which really prevents any substantive dialog with the left.
More substantively the Constitution explicitly allows each Congress to fund or unfund according to its whims. Congress has the power of the purse and this is an important enumerated power that resides in the Legislative Branch of the federal government. I would hope that Klein is not advocating for the unitary executive with limitless powers and with domain over funding decisions that properly reside in Congress. Klein might want to take a moment to read Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution which states "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." The provision known as the Origination Clause, provides that Congress, the House in particular, not the Executive Branch, has the power of the purse. This is the power to tax and the power to spend. It is left to the prudential judgement of the House whether or not to fund any particular undertaking.
The issue of what to do about Obamacare will loom large in the next congress. Obamacare is a travesty that runs contrary to American tradition and it should be repealed. If we can’t muster the votes to repeal it -- and this will entail overriding a veto -- we can easily refuse to appropriate funds to implement it and we can prevent federal agencies from using staff to plan for it’s implementation.
Refusing to fund that program would be neither dangerous or even unusual.