February 25, 2013
The sequestration of decency, common sense and the Constitution
Sam Smith - It used to be fairly simple to do.
The Constitution explains it: “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.”
This isn’t just some technical point. It came out of earlier struggles for people power in England where it became the law that all money bills be written by the lower house.
The Senate then got to have its say, everyone went into conference and came up with a final bill, both houses approved it and sent it along to the president who could either sign or veto it, in the latter case sending it back to the Hill.
This system worked pretty well for the first two centuries. Then in 1974 Congress came up with the idea of continuing budget resolutions. Notes the Congressional Research Service, “Congress initially was required to cover only the upcoming fiscal year in the budget resolution, but over the years Congress has expanded this time frame. Currently, the budget resolution must include at least five fiscal years. “
One problem with this is that you have one Congress telling another one or two what they have to do, which not only tugs at the latter’s constitutional rights, it pretends that times don’t change.
The other problem was noted by the Congressional Research Service in 2012: “During the past 37 years, when Congress has completed action on a budget resolution, Congress adopted the budget resolution by the target date only six times, most recently in 2003 with the FY2004 budget resolution. Budget resolutions have been adopted, on average, almost 37 days after the target date.”
Now add to this the debt ceiling, a strange bipolar system under which Congress, which passes the budget and revenue bills, then announces what the limit on its own actions will be. This is like making an appointment and then driving at a speed that will make you unable to get there in time. The budget and revenue bills should have already decided the amount of debt you’re going to have. Which is why, perhaps, no other country other than Denmark (with a much higher limit), has such a bizarre law.
There have been other changes. The president, without the aid of any constitutional amendment has become increasingly powerful, weakening the tripartite principles on which the republic was founded. The national media, which found it far easier and more fun to cover the White House, never questioned this and to this day sees little wrong with, say, Barack Obama announcing that if Congress doesn’t do his will, he’ll just write his own laws, aka executive orders. Or that Obama has partially repealed the 4th and 5th Amendments. Or that appropriation bills are meant to start in the House of Representatives and not with a political threat by Jay Carney.
Nor did the media toadies notice that there is no provision in the Constitution for turning the budget over to a conservative southern investment banker and a ex-senator with intelligence deficit disorder. Just come up with a simple name like Simpson-Bowles and that’s enough for them. Same way when they invented the “Super Committee.” Who needs a constitution when you have a brand like that?
In fact, the media didn’t even get that excited when the Supreme Court decided that, say, a toilet paper company owned by the Koch brothers had the same political rights as a US citizen.
This is the context in which the idea of sequestration arose. With the aid of a new generation of Washington MBAs and lawyers, budgets and laws were no longer to be respected and observed, but merely manipulated for political or personal effect.
Obama’s disrespect for the Constitution is a prime example of the new legal culture. Too many lawyers these days don’t feel they are meant to uphold laws; rather they are meant to twist them so they work better for their clients or themselves.
Through such means, we have entered a time of rules without reality or responsibility.
The result is a culture of impunity as in Latin American dictatorships. Not an ideological tyranny like Nazism but an autocracy that changes the rules day by day to suit itself.
That’s where sequestration came from, a bipartisan effort to get through 2011 and dump the load on a future Congress. In fact, they even twisted the meaning of the term, which used to signify a retreat into seclusion. The only thing being sequestered now is decency, common sense and the Constitution.
Impressive as the word sounds, the act itself is selfish, irresponsible and damaging. It is the product of self-serving bipartisan egos run amuck.