RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., September 30, 2013 – With our Nation spiraling toward a Government shutdown and possible credit default that supposedly will catapult the world into economic chaos, we seem to be more concerned about the “feud” between Kanye West and Jimmy Kimmel than we are about the politically appalling behavior of our elected representatives. Our priorities appear to be misplaced. Then again, perhaps that explains how many of our elected officials became our elected officials. Not enough people are paying attention.
Our elected officials only know how to delay rather than to decide. The current budget “crisis” is an example. It’s a game in which we are all being played as pawns.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “crisis” as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.” What the definition doesn’t address is the root cause of the instability, what drove the decision to a crucial time, and whether it could have easily been anticipated and avoided.
The budget “crisis” is completely manufactured. Our elected officials have simply ignored the importance of operating within the limits of a budget; something that any responsible person would consider unconscionable. In the business world, such behavior would be deemed grossly negligent. In the management of one’s personal affairs, it would be regarded as reckless. In the world of politics, it is apparently viewed as a standard operating procedure.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution states that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” Congress and the President evidently believe that the phrase “from time to time” should be interpreted to mean “when we believe we can derive some political benefit from it.”
Then, there’s the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which requires the President to submit a budget to Congress each year no later than the first Monday in February. No prior President ever missed a submittal date two years in a row; President Obama has managed to miss it four out of five years. However, it really hasn’t mattered since the budgets the President submitted in 2011 and 2012 were rejected by the Democratically controlled Senate by votes of 97-0 and 99-0, respectively.
Who said the Parties couldn’t find something upon which they could agree?
Finally, this year, the Senate approved the President’s late submittal by a vote of 50-49. Surely, there are those who will claim the margin of victory represents a veritable “mandate of the People.”
In the interim, the Senate has exhibited its own version of leadership by example. From April 29, 2009, until May 25th of this year, it hadn’t found it necessary to pass a formal budget proposal even though the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 calls for an annual adoption of a concurrent resolution on the budget no later than April 15th. While the rest of us are expected to meet certain obligations on that same day, our elected officials were unable to fulfill their duties for more than four years.
So, how has our country managed to “keep its doors open?”
Congress has resolved each fabricated “crisis” by adopting a Continuing Resolution (“CR”). A CR is a type of appropriations legislation that allows Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law by the end of the Congressional fiscal year, which ends at midnight on September 30.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, Congress has only passed a timely budget six times in the last 39 years. Essentially, the abuse of CRs allows the Parties to play political games rather than behave in a conscientious manner.
Has the political self-flagellation ever gone too far? Yes.
Our Federal Government has been shut down on 17 occasions. However, this one might be different.
- Prior to the longest (and most recent) Government shutdown during the Clinton Administration, important appropriations bills had already been passed that allowed Departments like Defense and Agriculture to continue operating without inconvenience. Our current Congress hasn’t had the same level of foresight.
- Our Government has spent somewhere in the vicinity of $11 trillion dollars since it last passed a formal budget. It may have lost touch with the concept of fiscal responsibility.
- According to the Federal Reserve (as of August 2, 2013), our public debt as a percent of GDP is approximately 101.6 percent. In layman’s terms: our Government has figured out a way to spend more than the market value of all the goods and services produced within the United States (i.e., it spends more than our economy can produce).
- At the same time, the Federal Reserve has been purchasing about $85 billion a month in treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, which cushions the reserves of the banking system but does little to stimulate the economy.
- On the upside: The Fed’s action inflates the appearance of Wall Street’s recovery and has helped the rich get richer (as the President acknowledged when he recently concurred with a University of California, Berkley study that found that 95% of income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1% of the earning population).
- On the downside: At some point, the Fed’s action will drive a different type of inflation that will have a negative impact on the economy.
While some of the elements mentioned above are actually part of the debt “crisis” as opposed to the budget “crisis,” they represent related evidence of our leadership’s lack of a fiscal plan. Additionally, the debt “crisis” will undoubtedly replace the budget “crisis” in importance within the next few weeks.
We have sequestration because the President and Congress couldn’t resolve the last debt “crisis” in 2011 and their Super Committee fumbled the punt. The Super Committee and the concept of sequestration occurred because Congress was going on vacation and the President had a campaign fundraiser scheduled on his birthday (read: The debt ceiling war: Cut, Cap, Balance vs. Cut, Tax, Spend – July 20, 2011, and Debt ceiling negotiations: Pelosi, Boehner, Obama & Reid Liar’s Poker – July 12, 2011, for a satirical rendering of Act One of this play).
Then, we had the fiscal cliff “crisis” that was also orchestrated for its political value (read: Replace the fiscal cliff with a political one – December 20, 2012). When will we learn?
Hollywood recently announced a sequel to the movie Dumb and Dumber. In effect, it’s already playing in Washington, D.C.
The current budget crisis has little to do with the budget. It is driven by the Republican Party’s unwillingness to see any benefit in the Affordable Care Act and the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to admit to the existence of any of the ACA’s glaring deficiencies. It is further exacerbated by the false characterizations they have made of each other over the years that have become so engrained that even they now believe them.
The Republicans would rather waste time fruitlessly trying to repeal the ACA (42 times) than spend time trying to identify its weaknesses and improve it. The Democrats would rather bury their heads in the sand and pretend it’s a credibly drafted law. The Republicans would prefer to act as if the Democrats were the only profligate spenders in Washington, D.C., while the Democrats continue to promote the fantasy that Republicans hate poor people and just want to deny them healthcare.
Much as with Kanye and Kimmel, the battle in Congress is more about publicity than it is about substance. It’s about positioning for an advantage in the 2014 mid-term election. Sadly, it seems to be beyond either Party’s desire or ability to drop the shameless name-calling and accusations. Their entire existence is now built upon the exercise of demonizing each other rather than distinguishing themselves on the basis of merit.
Yet, the fault is ours. We elected these people. It will be interesting to see if we ever awaken from the political stupor into which we’ve fallen.
The President and Congress will receive a 75 percent subsidy of their insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act. You won’t. The subsidy wasn’t part of the legislation that we have been told ad infinitum is “constitutional.” Instead, it’s a special exception that was granted by Executive Edict (oops, that should have read “Executive Order”).
If the Government shuts down, only “essential” workers will remain on the job. The President and members of Congress are considered to be “essential.” While other “essential” workers will have to perform their roles without pay, there are special rules that apply to the President and Congress that require them to be paid. To emphasize how essential they are, the President chose to play golf on Sunday while the Senate chose to take a vacation day. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick.
By the time you read this article, it is possible that the budget “crisis” will have been averted or the Government will have been shut down. In either regard, you may rest assured that both Parties will spend far more energy on fixing the blame than they have spent trying to fix the problem.
If you find this behavior to be a “crisis” of insolence, what would you recommend doing to change it?
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.