Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Congressional Doomsday Machine

Laws like the Budget Act which require Congress to annually pass a budget have worked in the past because anti-government extremists had never gained plurality control of one branch of government before.  But such laws inherently created a doomsday machine, in which inability to agree on new items could close down previously authorized government programs...for an indefinite period.

The Constitution say nothing about a "budget."  It does say Congress should make accounts...but those accounts are for declarative reasons, to show where the people's money is being spent.  It says nothing about re-authorizing the spending for individual or groups of government programs on an annual basis.  That reauthorization is a creature of the Budget Act.  It used to be mildly abused on a frequent basis...a few days of shudown here, a few days there.  The first major abuse was under the Gingrich speakership, which featured a 28 day government shutdown.  And here we are again, with no definite ending in sight.

But as everyone points out, the bigger doomsday machine is the debt ceiling, another creature of congressional law.  It had been used as a negotiating ticking clock, or bomb, but never to the point where there was any inkling it might hit ground.  Until the first debt ceiling crisis in 2011, when it nearly did so.

I continue to say both these laws are unconstitutional.  Their mere existence led to hardball anti-democratic negotiation styles, which was always part of the game.  And they always inherently created an anti-government doomsday machine, which is now appearing right in front of us.

Democracy ought to be as transparent as possible.  And one form of transparency is to not build democracy on riders to laws, stuck in after midnight before the vote.  Laws or packages of laws (such as the Affordable Care Act, which needs to include both new taxes, new regulations, and new spending) ought to be freely debated as to what singular combined effect they are intended to have.  Essentially one new set of laws for each new act of Congress--that is the most transparent way of doing things.  (And so, rarely done...)

Even at best, Budgets and Debt ceilings create a way to reduce the transparency even more, more opportunities to hide or force things without a clear majoritarian vote.  And also permit anti-majoritianism and anti-democracy in various ways, some of which we are seeing right now.

Obama has been at his best in the current crisis, and the Republicans are being exposed as the traitors they are.  But how will this seeps into the right-wingophere remains uncertain.  And that exposes other anti-democratic biases, some even inherent in the Constitution--but mostly not mandated by it, how a comparatively small slice of American opinion can come to dominate, through concentration and monopolization of media, the corruption of campaign financing, unlimited corporate speech, district jerrymandering, and so on.

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