Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Republican Congressmen Forget That They Control the U.S. Budget and Deficit

I do not believe that the Republicans in Congress are thoroughly stupid men,
but they surely can play stupid men on TV, in public, and everywhere else.

Good God, will Republicans in Congress just not stop saying stupid things this December? I hate it when this blog becomes just another outlet for pointing out stupid things that Republicans say or do, but I just can't abide by this level of nonsense.

Mitch McConnell, now famous for being the first Senator ever to filibuster his own bill, has once again earned this blog's attention by apparently forgetting that Congress sets the U.S. federal budget (and thereby also sets the U.S. federal deficit and debt).

Now, I know (or hope, anyway) that McConnell isn't actually this dumb and is just playing politics, but it makes me question the man's intelligence when he says thing like:
“By demanding the power to raise the debt limit whenever he wants by as much as he wants, [President Obama] showed what he’s really after is assuming unprecedented power to spend taxpayer dollars without any limit,” McConnell argued on the Senate floor.
I'll let TPM explain the falseness and stupidity of this statement:
This sounds awfully sinister. But it’s a knowing misreading of the Constitution, which provides Congress and only Congress the power to spend money.
The debt limit is a nearly century old historical artifact. It’s a statute, not a Constitutional requirement. By contrast, the Constitution explicitly grants Congress, not the Executive Branch, the power to raise and spend money. When Congress orders the Executive Branch to spend more money than it collects in revenue, the Executive must finance the difference by borrowing — with debt.
But the Executive Branch can only spend as much money as Congress tells it to, even if there were no limits on the amount of debt it could issue. The country’s debt, in other words, has nothing to do with the debt limit, but with the tax and spending decisions Congress has made over the past two-plus centuries.
Refusing to raise the debt limit only cuts spending inasmuch as it forces the Executive Branch to renege on commitments to creditors, or to people and projects to whom Congress has pledged funds.
But Republicans are using the debt limit, and Obama’s request to remove it from the realm of partisan legislative politics, to characterize it as a de facto presidential power to spend money that doesn’t exist.
At a Capitol press availability on Wednesday, Reps. Jon Fleming (R-LA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced a non-binding resolution to express the sense of the House that “Congress should retain its authority vested in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution to ‘borrow money on the credit of the United States.’”
But the Obama plan wouldn’t give him the power to borrow or spend a single penny more than required by Congress and existing commitments to creditors.
A reporter pressed them on this point — too much deficit spending has required the Congress to raise the debt ceiling fairly regularly, but “that wouldn’t be the president’s fault. It would be the Congress’ fault.”
“That’s exactly right,” Lummis said. “It’s also a check on Congress.”
Conservatives certainly want it to serve that purpose, particularly as a tool to gut social programs they deplore. But that’s not what they’re telling the public, and what they’re telling the public is false.

When the Republicans rail against "Obama's spending," they seem to be conveniently forgetting that Congress decides how much to spend, not the President. I can explain the federal budget with a simple equation:

Spending - Revenue/Taxes/Etc. = Deficit (if spending is greater) or Surplus (if revenue is greater)

Congress has sole control over all parts of this equation - it sets both spending and revenue, and therefore sets the deficit/surplus as well.

The debt ceiling is a stupid artifact created at the beginning of the 20th century so that Congress could pass budgets with deficits and then pontificate against the deficit spending by voting against the debt ceiling.

If that sounds stupid, it's because it is - it's sort of akin to buying things with your credit card and then refusing to pay your credit card bill when it comes due, and blaming your bill on the credit card company for giving you the credit card in the first place.

Obama is pressuring Congress to repeal this stupidity once and for all; we'll hope he succeeds. If he doesn't, I hope he has the balls to take his case before the Supreme Court or otherwise run around the debt ceiling, because it's a stupid (and I would say patently unconstitutional) law.


  1. Things are done rather differently today than the turn of the century (20th, that is) in other ways. They didn't have the authorizing and appropriating committees, just appropriations acts. They didn't have fiscal years on everything. Some appropriations for WW I were for a particular purpose and available until expended.

    By making the whole authorizing/appropriating structure and various budget scoring and other rules, practices etc so complex that only anointed made members of the priesthood understand them Congress has really gotten away from coming up with program X that will cost Y and passing legislation that will do the program for so many years and then it gets reviewed and maybe re-upped. The current structure *(if you want to call it that) is mainly a way to avoid individual accountability/responsibility. This does not serve Congress well, let alone the country.

    1. Iron City: The federal budgeting process has definitely gotten far more complex in the past century, undoubtedly - that is indeed why the government has to employ budget experts to manage it, even if Congress sets the overall budget amounts. I don't think that's all bad, however - the same thing has happened in private enterprise, as companies have also gotten more complex.

      I think your other point is more valid - that Congress has largely abdicated its oversight and review responsibilities. And much of that is directly Congress's fault - most Congresspeople sit on numerous committees and don't understand any one or two policy areas deeply enough to really know what's going on. My solution to this would be to greatly increase the number of Congresspeople - by two or three times, actually, since the U.S. population has roughly tripled in the last century, but the number of Congressmen has stayed flat at 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate.

      Congress of course doesn't want to increase the number of Congresspeople, since it dilutes their own power, but it would improve the functioning of Congress (and alleviate the problem of gerrymandering, as an added bonus).

      -The Angry Bureaucrat

    2. Not being able to go back to "the good old days" of simplicity etc is, of course, a valid point ...and they weren't that good days anyway.

      Increasing size of Congress...House at least.. is interesting idea. More districts w/ fewer people in each. A more intimate relationship with constituents. Constituents would have a prayer of knowing the representative, not his/her marketing campaign. Each Representative with 1 or 2 committee assignments, not the impossible numbers they have today. It would help for the committees and their members (but no more committee staff please, we need people who are elected getting down and dirty with the executive branch agencies, not hired staff) to get much more intimate with the executive branch agencies and become part of the solutions instead of stone throwers for sound bites, as occurs currently.

    3. Iron City: Definitely - I can see that greatly expanding the number of Representatives in the House could bring a lot of benefits:

      1. If you cap the number of committee memberships at 2, Congresspeople might actually understand the policy topics they're responsible for legislating.
      2. As you say, they might actually have a chance of getting to know their constituents personally.
      3. Gerrymandering would largely disappear, since most districts would be too small to make gerrymandering a useful political strategy (the only reason the Republicans still control the House is because of ruthless gerrymandering).

      Of course, for that to happen, the current Congresspeople would have to vote to dilute their own power substantially ... so it's probably never going to happen.

      The longer I work in the U.S. federal government, the more I come to realize that almost everything that sucks about the U.S. or the U.S. government is directly Congress's fault. Sigh. F*@king Congress.

      -The Angry Bureaucrat