Harkin: Congress Just Can’t Do It, Obama Should Take The Ball

Finally, someone has the answer to solving the debt crisis that has hit the Federal Government! And amazing as it may seem, earlier this week the junior senator from Iowa came up with the idea, a truly out-of-the-box solution. Forget Congress, the President can go ahead and raise the debt ceiling with an Executive Order.

And, according to Tom Harkin, it’s okay because the Constitution doesn’t prohibit the President from taking this action!

With just a week to figure out what to do, this is Harkin’s answer: punt.

What he said was that the President could sign an executive order raising the debt ceiling. He said you’d rather have Congress do it, but there’s nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the President from issuing such an order.

There’s a couple of things wrong with this idea.

The Constitution

The Constitution is not a list of “don’t”s provided to guide the government. It’s mostly a list of “do”s. How anyone can say that a particular action is okay for the President, Congress or the Courts based on the lack of constraining language about the particular action is heinous. If this were true, there is all manner of behaviour that would be okay for the government that would be ludicrous, and not worth the time to articulate examples. The Constitution is strictly intended to define the authority that the people grant or delegate to the leadership that represents them, which includes Congress, the President, the Courts, and all of the departments that operate within each of their pervues. This point was so important to the early leaders of our country, that they included Amendment 10 in the bill of rights, that states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”  But Congress, not the several states and not the President and not the Judiciary, is responsible for spending and borrowing money (Article 1, Section 8, paragraphs 1 and 2).  Although some say that Congress could delegate the authority (which seems questionable), Congress is still responsible for making sure this crisis is dealt with. Period.

Executive Orders

Although the concept of an Executive Order is not found in the Constitution, Presidents have been doing it since 1789. Although they make perfect sense when the President is simply providing instructions to members of the Executive Branch of the government, or providing direction as part of fulfilling some legislative direction, it makes no sense to think that the President has the authority to issue such directives so as to circumvent the responsitilibies and authority of Congress. Frankly this seems like it would be an illegal directive.

Sorry, Tom.  Bad idea.

Setting Priorities

Either Congress or the President can deal with this crisis, at least in the short term, by establishing some key priorities that would prevent this from becoming a massive financial default. Steve King proposed this earlier this month and others have followed suit.  Tax revenues continue to come into the Federal Government, so it’s not like all of a sudden there’s no money, it’s just not enough to pay for all of the cool things we like to pay for. The President should have the discretion to not pay for some things if there are limited funds available… which means he could just pay military payrolls, the interest on the debt, and social security checks. There is enough revenue coming in to do this. Other parts of the government can be prioritized based on how essential they truly are (and one should wonder why the non-essentials are part of government in the first place). Congressional payrolls can be stopped, executive payrolls can be stopped, judicial payrolls can be stopped. The Park Service can be largely shut down, the Department of Education can go on vacations, along with a number of government services that just don’t need to be running.

Shutting down Congress for a few months might bring some joy and vitality back to the nation. Just sayin’.

This Is The Time

We are at a crossroads right now that we may not encounter for a long time. Neither party holds a decisive advantage against the other, and many Republicans don’t believe they are as re-electable without take a principled stand on this issue, regardless of what they’d really like to do. Some, like Michelle Bachmann, have clearly stated that they are not going to vote to increase the Debt Limit. The advantage that conservatives hold in Congress right now is that the impending stopping point for spending is very real, and at this point a lack of action, while undesirable, is less devastating than the actions proscribed by the President and Senate Democrats. This is not the time for Republicans to waiver or even compromise on this key concept: we must not spend more than we have to spend, and borrowed money is not money that we have to spend.

Further, raising taxes on any segment of the population is untenable. We find Democrats harping that the “super-rich” and corporations needs to take on more responsibility. The fact is, that taxing Corporations will only tax their customers… prices will rise, demand will fall off a bit, less money will be available for the taxes and members of most classes, especially the so-called middle-class (whom Democrats are trying to protect) will be most hurt by this. The “super-rich” could be taxed much more efficiently and appropriately if we could just move to something like the Fair Tax.

Congress now hold the keys to make this happen, they just need the intestinal fortitude to see it through. It is a risky endeavor, but holding firm on the debt limit, on spending, on taxes, is the right thing to do now. Many conservatives are frustrated with the extent of compromise that John Boehner has been willing to perform… it seems like once every other week he grows his spine back, like he did at the end of last week, only to be followed by reports that he’s open to raising the debt ceiling anyhow, or for a limited time, or willing to raise taxes a little bit… it’s heartbreaking to hear some of this, and it looks like that’s where he is settling now. If we end up with an increase in the debt ceiling OR taxes, I believe he’s going to be facing some stiff opposition in 2012, both locally and with the potential for yet another wave of more conservative Republicans showing up in as new representatives. The problem, without a doubt, is that any attempt to shave off pieces of government spending equates to lost votes for these representatives, and that’s all they seem capable of thinking about. It’s very disappointing.

Boehner’s new bill still raises the debt ceiling (about $900 Billion), and only cuts spending by 10% per year, the selling point being that it exceeds the amount of the ceiling raise over the next 10 years.  I’m really tired of these 10 year sales pitches… we’re in triage folks, not long-term treatment!  This 10 year plan is just going to be undone within a year or less, so what’s the point? It’s worthless.  This is a bad plan. I’m guessing it will pass the House, fail in the Senate, and then Senator Reid’s bill will likely pass the Senate, and then the House and get signed.  It’s probably not a whole lot worse than Boehner’s bill, and it should set us up for a stronger Republican victory in 2012, but it’s still disappointing to watch Republicans cave at such a critical juncture.

One Last Thing

Senator Harkin is not just a partisan hack, but a major obfuscator and, frankly, a bit of a prevaricator in my opinion. His comments this past week included a patently false history of our deficit problems. It’s worth noting that while Harkin blamed Republicans for the majority of the run-up over the past 8 years, it is clear that such blame belongs mostly on Democrates. Which is beside the point right now as we have a Republican House that has a new mission since taking over from the Democrats which is to fix the Washington spending problem. We are a few years away, but the next time the Senator’s seat is up for reelection, Iowa Republicans need to make a serious run at it.

Photo © rabbit75_fot – Fotolia.com

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