11 Oct 2013 The People’s House – The House of Representatives
The real tragedy facing America is not the latest debt ceiling debate, or government shutdown, or for that matter, whether the Fed decides to ‘taper’ or not. Rather, it is the lack of engagement by far too many Americans to understand things as basic as how our government works, how ill-suited our welfare system is for lifting people from poverty, and how unchecked growth in government entitlements will eventually swamp our economy. Given today’s headlines, let’s focus on the first one.
When our government was formed, the House of Representatives was as close to today’s instant polling as the founding fathers could come. The House is the largest branch of government by number – 435 men and women, fixed by law, proportionally representing the population of our 50 states. These numbers compare to 50 people in the Senate and one, of course, in the executive office.
Representatives are elected every two years compared to four for presidents and six for senators. Facing election every two years makes members of the House much closer to the will and mood of the people, hence, ‘The People’s House.’
Senators were originally elected by state legislators with staggered six year terms until the 17th amendment in 1913 which changed that. The original idea was to insulate Senators, to the extent possible by length of term and appointment, from politics and poling, enabling them to reach decisions that might be near-term unpopular, but better for the country in the long run.
In their wisdom, the founders put the purse strings in the hands of the many, those closest to the people, from whence the money comes, rather than in the hands of the few, to avoid corruption and ‘taxation without representation.’ By the powers grated to it by our constitution, all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives. As Professor Thomas Sowell puts it, “Congressmen have the right to decide whether or not they want to spend money on a particular government activity.”
As per its responsibilities, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted all the money necessary to keep the government running; all of it except for ObamaCare. Enough Republicans, who were elected by enough Americans sufficiently do not like ObamaCare that they resist it under extreme duress from a relentless media and continue to vote against funding it. It is their constitutional right, and duty most objective observers would argue to vote their opinion as duly elected leaders of their constituents.
But ObamaCare is the “law of the land” the press and the President keep reminding us. In fact, it became the “law of the land” in the wee hours of the night when Democrats were in control of all three houses of government, again duly elected. Professor Sowell addresses the issue well when he says, “the whole point of having a division of powers within the federal government is that each branch can decide independently what it wants to do or not do, regardless of what the other branches do, when exercising the powers specifically granted to that branch by the Constitution.”
The Senate, exercising its rights under the constitution, has chosen not to vote to authorize the House’s bill to keep the government running, because it did not include money for ObamaCare. Both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continue to call for a “clean” bill from the House of Representatives – i.e. one that suits their requirements 100%. There is no recognition of division of power in their demands nor is there any recognition of the Americans for whom this minority of Republicans bravely stand.
The blame for shutting down the government does not rest with the Republicans, they have voted the money to keep the government running and they indicated a willingness to debate and negotiate on Obamacare. The blame for the impasse rests squarely at the feet of those who have refused to this point to negotiate, President Obama and Senator Henry Reid. The press is also to blame for taking sides and using to its advantage the ignorance of the public in the workings of government.
There is another side to the debt ceiling issue, unheard over the crying wolves. Again, it is because those with the microphones would rather scare than educate. Our country does not necessarily default on its debt if the debt ceiling is not raised. The US takes in roughly $250 billion a month in tax revenue while it pays roughly $20 billion per month in interest. There is enough money to avoid debt default.
Of course there’s the rest of the government’s obligations like Social Security, Medicare, social and defense programs which must be paid. If the extreme were to happen, if the Congress didn’t raise the debt ceiling, “all you’re saying is we’re going to balance our budget,” said Kentucky Republican Paul Rand, “I think if you propose it that way, the bulk of the American public would say, ’My goodness that sounds like a pretty reasonable idea.’”
But very few go from addiction to ‘clean’ living in one fell swoop. No it’s unreasonable to expect our big spending government and ‘entitled’ voting population to achieve a balanced budget in one congressional standoff. So the impasse will eventually be resolved through negotiation and life will return to the sublime wrestling in Washington. But unless political education among American voters improves, the skirmish being fought today in the halls of Congress by a brave few will be remembered more as the Charge of the Light Brigade than that of David over Goliath.