The Constitution and Obama’s threat to shut down the government
Democrats and their propagandists in the mainstream media are hard at work trying to portray the Republicans in the House as responsible for any shutdown of the federal government. For example, in the New York Times Gail Collins declares that “all hope for averting disaster lies with Speaker John Boehner,” as though Barack Obama and Harry Reid had nothing to do with the issue. Erick Erickson summarizes what is at stake in his Redstate post. There he describes how fearful the House GOP leadership is of being blamed for any shutdown, showing the effectiveness of the Democrat propaganda offensive. We need a counter-narrative and fast, both to inform the general public of what is at stake and to buck up the courage of the House Republicans. The Constitution provides that counter-narrative.
To begin, let’s just go back to basic procedure under the Constitution. The Congress appropriates funds to run the government, and any tax measure must be initiated in the House. This is the power of the purse which the House of Representatives inherited from the British House of Commons. This power was fundamental to establishing parliamentary primacy over the monarchy, and consequently gave birth to modern representative government. The President is then charged with spending the funds as dictated by Congress. The government only shuts down if the President vetoes the congressional appropriation bills. It is this presidential veto which effectuates the government shutdown, not Congress. THE PRESIDENT SHUTS DOWN THE GOVERMENT, NOT CONGRESS.
Now currently there is a complication in that the President may not have an appropriation bill to veto because the Democrat-controlled Senate may not act. However, in that case, the Democrats are still the ones responsible for the shutdown because the House has appropriated funds for the government to operate. The decision to close down the government now still lies with the Democrats, either in the Senate or the White House.
Technically the Constitution does allow the President to veto appropriation bills. However, by threatening in advance to veto the House’s appropriations bill because it does not fund everything he wants, President Obama is essentially trying to coerce the House into giving him more money. Again, it is presidential action which is threatening the crisis.
The Constitution sees the executive and legislature as co-equal branches. However, beginning with Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, the Presidency has gained ascendency over the Congress. It is Congress, and particularly the House of Representatives, which the Framers saw as being the branch of the government which should be “first among equals,” particularly in fiscal matters. The original scheme was that Congress decided what money to raise and what to spend it on, and the President merely administered the expenditures authorized by Congress.
The coming budget crisis is about more than the fiscal survival of our Nation, as important as that is. It is about whether an ever more powerful President can misuse the threat of a veto to coerce more money out of the people and their House, or whether it is in fact Congress which decides the Nation’s spending as the Framers contemplated.
It can be very difficult for adults to stand their ground when children throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. However, it is time for the adults in the House of Representatives to call Barack Obama and Harry Reid’s shutdown threats what they are — a tantrum thrown by over-indulged children who have finally been told that they can’t have all the goodies they have become accustomed to because the family can’t afford them any more. At stake is more than the House’s paltry $60 billion in spending cuts. This battle could determine whether we can ever re-set the constitutional balance to restore the people’s House to its rightful place of primacy over the Presidency on matters of the public purse.
For further discussion on restoring the original constitutional order, see http://www.timelyrenewed.com