American Government: Now a Spectator Sport

 
 

Here we are,
back at that place we keep getting to that we don’t like, which is the one
where the Republicans use the purse strings to control the political agenda (or
at least they try). They have made sure that Americans have heard almost
nothing good about the Affordable Health Care Act and that has been easy for
them since it does not even start to show its true colors until January of
2014.

Controlling
Kings and Queens by pulling the strings on the purse was always common,
whenever the power of the purse and the actual power did not reside in the same
person. But America is not ruled by a King or a Queen; it is supposed to be
ruled by the people. In the case of America, the President has the power to
execute the laws passed by the people as represented by the Congress. But
Congress has power over the purse strings. This power is usually wielded
lightly, but theoretically can be used to force less spending or more spending
as the people or circumstances direct. But traditionally, it has not been used
the way Republicans have been using it since Obama was elected.
 

The continuing
resolution
is not generally used as a bargaining chip because if Congress
does not continue to fund the government then the government shuts down and this
is not at all desirable. After that Congress is required to look at our debt ceiling and decide whether or not
it needs to be raised, which it generally does. Waiting until the actual
deadline for raising the debt ceiling arrives before insisting on budget
rewrites is not considered good politics as really good budget cutting does not
usually happen in times of stress. Budget cutting needs to be done in a considered
fashion and there are committees designed to do just that. We expect our
government to use brain power and negotiation, not threats and insults.

In 2013 we
are facing the unthinkable; we are facing a forced showdown which is shockingly
un-American because it flaunts the Constitutional process in order to try to
erase a law that is an actual law of our nation, a law which was supported by
the Supreme Court (without enthusiasm, but still supported). I do not believe
that the America people want to go back to the health care system we had before
the ACA, which did not cover legions of Americans and left Americans at the
mercy of private, for-profit insurance companies. The argument is being twisted
by Republicans to say that Democrats are to blame if the government shuts down
because they won’t give up Obamacare (as they call the ACA). This is obviously semantics
and does not change who is actually trying to defund the ACA and willing to
shut down the government to do it.

What I am not
sure about is whether the media should be spending so much time discussing this
disgraceful behavior and making it somewhat legitimate and very exciting. Of
course, the media is not about steering political policy; it is about ratings.
This kind of suspense is intoxicating. Will the government shut down? Who will
blink (how old are we)? Will Obama abandon the ACA? (please don’t Obama) What
will happen if America shuts down?

This is not a
spectator sport. We are not in the Roman Coliseum watching the slaves or the
Christians fight tigers for their freedom, although this is about as close as
we get to that outside sports arenas. This is our nation. Are the Tea Partiers
the only people who have strong feelings about what America wants? If this is
true then we will deserve what we get, but I don’t think we will like it much.
Maybe the media should find some way to stop turning the Republican “nutburgers”
into the tigers who will vanquish the slave (oops, that would make them racists)
make that the “weak” President who seems to be all on his own without the will
of the people behind him, even though he was elected by a majority of the
popular vote. Does the President have to get re-elected every day? That’s
ridiculous and no way to run a country.

 Perhaps the media could find a new way to
present the upcoming battles over the purse strings, to at least present these
rogue legislators in an even more negative light than we have so far heard.
Perhaps the people, who don’t agree with Obama in every way, but who do not like
the way Republicans are subverting their power over the purse strings could
find some way to let their displeasure be heard. Maybe I am wrong and the
public does not want the ACA and does not mind if America destroys its credit
so that the minority party can have its way. I, however, am disgusted by the
behavior of these people who are trying to pull off what amounts to a political
coup. Let’s go back to structured government that abides by tried and tested
rules and which does not lead America to the brink of disaster over and over
again.

Done Celebrating

I am done celebrating because, as all admit, it was only one
victory in a long list of issues that must be decided. I am done celebrating
because the pundits tell us that Presidents can’t accomplish much in their
first term because they have to keep an eye on getting reelected and they can’t
do much in their second term because everyone knows they are on their way out.
I find this a very depressing attitude and it is one of the reasons that I
advocate amending the Constitution so we only have a Presidential election
every eight years. Although this would probably kill Wolf Blitzer on CNN, who
seems to live only for the hoopla of a perpetual election cycle, we should
still give it serious consideration. Wolf is already trying to engage in
speculation about who will run in 2016 with every interviewee he can corner.
This kind of fast forward election express makes actually governing look dull
and we need to get more excited about day-to-day governance and watching a
President create his legacy to the American people.

I am done celebrating because we did not get rid of the ubiquitous
Grover Norquist. He has given the Republicans dispensation for what looks like
a tax increase but is actually not. He does this on the basis of a
technicality. Since nothing happened by midnight on December 31st
Grover tells us that we had already reverted to the taxes as they were before
the Bush tax cuts so the taxes went up by default. He tells us that what the
Republicans ended up doing was lowering taxes for most Americans and leaving
them the same for those above the $400,000/$450,000 levels because the timing of the
vote had already caused those higher tax limits to kick in without a vote. So
based on this technicality the pledge is still in force, Grover Norquist lives
to fight another day on behalf of a teeny-tiny federal government and no
Republicans will suffer for their vote on the teeny-tiny revenue plan with all
the attached special bequests to groups with strong lobbies in Washington.
Whew, isn’t dispensation fine!

In return for a victory which was hardly a stunning loss to
Republicans, the GOP has vowed revenge. They insist that they will block Obama
at every turn and that they would rather ruin the American economy than raise
the debt ceiling again. Raising the debt ceiling was always a given, but now
that the GOP feels that they own the House, they continue to use the debt
ceiling as a dangerous bargaining chip. This behavior should outrage Americans
far more than the Tea Partiers are outraged about the missing cuts in the
recently passed tax bill. We have a new Congress, can we hope for a new era of
cooperation? To go from a very large government to a very small government cold
turkey is not realistic or desirable. Even if we do get bullied into downsizing
government it will have to happen in stages. There are excellent reasons to
compromise and take baby steps. There are no excellent reasons to use the debt
ceiling as a bargaining chip. In fact it is one of those positions which I
would consider treasonous because it puts private interests above the best
interests of America.