According to The Herald, our nation is in crisis and Republicans are to blame. Republicans reflect the blame for our government shutdown back on Democrats, citing their refusal to consider spending cuts or Obamacare modifications. But I know who is really responsible for the impasse: our founding fathers, especially James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.”
Are we enmeshed in a gigantic crisis on the brink of disaster, all at the hands of the Tea Party? Nope. Is our government “dysfunctional”? Yes, a little, exactly as our founding fathers intended.
The framers of our Constitution deliberately created three branches of government and assigned exclusive powers to each, creating a system of checks and balances. It was understood from the start these entities would frequently butt heads. Political conflict is something these men had first- hand experience with, and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Constitutional Congress was filled with contentious issues, and most were settled by compromises. Those advocating a strong central government were forced to make concessions to those promoting a loose confederation of largely independent states. The document that resulted from all this wrangling provided a framework for the U.S. to become the richest and most powerful nation on earth.
A number of pundits have suggested Congress should bend to the president’s will because Barack Obama won re-election and thus has some sort of popular mandate. But each of these representatives was also elected. As a lawyer and constitutional expert, Mr. Obama knows that Congress is a co-equal branch of government. Thus when he fumes, “We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn’t work that way,” he is just demagoguing.
The House’s refusal to pass his spending bill is not extortion; it is our system of checks and balances at work. So long as the Republicans seem to be getting the lion’s share of heat in the media, Obama may choose not to negotiate. If the shutdown drags on long enough, however, he will compromise, just as our founding fathers intended.
The way Democrats and the media are howling, one gets the impression our current situation is unprecedented and fraught with peril. In reality, we have survived 17 government shutdowns over the last 40 years, and during 15 of them, the Democrats controlled the House. I suspect that when Democrats were the ones blocking spending bills, they found a term for their tactic more favorable than “extortion.”
While Ronald Reagan was in office, Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill shut down the government eight times. The economy and stock market boomed. Bill Clinton twice rejected budgets, resulting in shutdowns. Again the economy blossomed. Shutdowns do not cause economic collapse.
What about credit limit brinksmanship and the looming threat of government default? We’ve been down this road many times before. Sure, Standard & Poors downgraded U.S. debt during one of these showdowns, causing pundits to warn of impending collapse in the bond markets. On news of the downgrade, however, these markets actually rallied, showing investors trust the U.S. government more than the rating agency. They remember that S&P, through incompetence or collusion, played a central role in the subprime crisis, by giving junk mortgages A+ ratings.
Almost certainly, the debt ceiling will be raised at the last possible moment, but if it is not, there will be no default because we still have money to pay our bondholders. Each day the Treasury takes in almost $7 billion. Interest on the externally held portion of the national debt is about $0.6 billion a day. Without an increase in our credit limit, we will not be able to go any deeper in debt, but we can easily pay interest on our existing bonds.
The most disturbing aspect of this situation is Mr. Obama’s initial refusal to negotiate with Congress, demonstrating imperiousness unbecoming an American president. The founding fathers did not create a monarchy. They gave us three coequal branches of government, knowing full well this would lead to conflict, but eventually compromise.
The Herald’s opinion editor claims that Republican demands for concessions “isn’t a negotiation – it’s still just extortion. For a real negotiation to occur, Democrats need a list of demands of their own.” I have seen the list, and it is one word – everything. They want no spending cuts and full implementation of Obamacare – the political equivalent of “they want their cake and eat it too.” Eventually concessions will be offered and this impasse will be resolved.
As for the “democracy” Mr. Obama refers to, we don’t have one and never did. The founding fathers created a “republic,” and did so intentionally, knowing that pure democracy leads to “tyranny of the majority.” The checks and balances inherent in our system are designed to force consideration of the views of minority groups, including those the president and media find objectionable.
The word “democracy” does not appear in the original Constitution and the word “vote” only appears in connection with the duties of our representatives. Amendments in 1870 and 1965 prohibit discrimination in voting, but the Supreme Court has acknowledged that “the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote.”
Changes over the years have made our system more democratic than it originally was. Senators used to be chosen by state legislatures; the 17th Amendment (1913) provided for direct election. The latitude once given members of the Electoral College is gradually being reined in.
Ironically, the House of Representatives, blamed by Obama for our current standoff, is the most democratic institution in Washington. Congressmen must run for election every two years, and if voters don’t like what’s going on, they have the means to stop it. But every two years, most of these representatives are re-elected, and when they get to the Capitol, the process starts anew. That’s how our system of government has worked for over two centuries, and it’s the worst system in the world, except for all the others.