FLOTSAM & JETSAM: Cutting the Constitution as well as the budget

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cutting the Constitution as well as the budget

Sam Smith

While many are aware of the government's steady infringement of civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by the Constitituion, there is far less consciousness of the same thing happening in national finance.
Over the years, dating back to the creation of the Federal Reserve, Congress has found ways of unloading some of its fiscal responsibilities without worrying too much about either the Constitution or the fact that one session of Congress can't bind future ones.

The media rarely raises the constitutionality issue and the politicians avoid even thinking about it. And so we have had an increasing number of actions and proposals for things like automatic triggers, bipartisan commissions with unconstitutional spending and budget cutting powers, and the de facto transfer of congressional budget authority to the executive branch.

When you read about these things, it all sounds like normal politics, but in fact what is happening is the steady erosion of congressional - and hence democratic - power.

The deficit ceiling is a good example. Few have stopped to think about the fact that the deficit ceiling is reached in part by the failure of Congress to make budgetary decisions - such as cutting funding or raising taxes. External factors - such as a depression or recession - obviously can affect this, too, but that doesn't eliminate congressional responsibility in the matter.

While the current legislative mayhem involves a considerable number of congressional budgetary decisions, it remains true that if the debt ceiling is reached, the executive branch will begin making enormous budget choices that the Constitution assigns to the Congress. For example, who will get their checks? Social Security recipients or members of the Armed Forces?

Clearly, the Republicans don't mind this at all. Whatever choice a Democratic administration has to make in such circumstances will lose it votes.

But we will all lose as well in another way. The Constitution's intent that our spending be determined in a democratic fashion will be further - and substantially - wrecked.