Would Albert Einstein Trust This Congress?
One observation that can be made about the scrambling going on to resolve the crisis-de-jour (our national debt ceiling) is that each emerging proposal relies heavily on Congress keeping its word in the future. Each resolution adopts the form "we are going to enable ongoing debt accrual for now but we promise to do XYZ in the future to mitigate that debt." Given that we are betting our financial future on their promises it seems prudent to stop for a second to consider if Congress is, indeed, worthy of our trust.
Albert Einstein once said "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters."
With that in mind, let's evaluate Congress on a few 'small matters' as a foreshadowing of things to come. On January 5th, 2011 the House passed H. Res. 5 on a vote of 240-191. H. Res. 5 adopted the rules by which the 112th Congress is to abide. These rules comprise the core doctrines to which they obligated themselves in performing their legislative duties. Surely, this document is as good as any in specifying a set of evaluation criteria for their actions. If they aren't true to their own rules today, how could anyone reasonably believe they will abide by their promises in the future?
Let's, then, apply their own evaluation criteria to a single House bill recently proposed to address raising the debt-ceiling: The Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011 (H.Res. 2560).
Critereon 1: Limitation on Long-Term Spending.
This rule prohibits the consideration of any measure which increases mandatory spending above $5B for any 10 year window within a 40 year period.
Even at a historically low interest rate of only 2% this rule would prohibit the House from considering any bill that increases the national debt by more than $250B over 10 years. H.Res. 2560 proposed raising the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion ($2.4 trillion).
In accordance with its own rules, H.Res. 2560 should never have seen the light of day, but they broke their rules and considered it anyway.
Critereon 2: The Cut-Go Rule- Part A
This rule states that any legislation increasing mandatory spending over one, five, or ten years must cut spending by an equal or greater amount elsewhere. Any reasonable person would accept as truth that allowing the debt to increase by $2.4 trillion would force the US into additional mandatory spending to pay the interest on that debt.
Offsetting spending cuts were promised, but H.Res. 2560 delivers none.
Critereon 3: Three-Day Availability for Unreported Bill
House rules require that a bill must be available to Members for three calendar days before it is considered in the House (voted on). H.Res. 2560 was approved by the Rules Committee at 7:58PM July 18th. It was voted on and passed by the House at 2:38PM July 19th. Total elapsed time available: 18 hours and 40 minutes.
Flouting the Rules
The methods used by the House to flout its own rules should help in predicting its future behavior. First, to navigate around the obvious truth that increased payments on the debt require mandatory future payments (as does Social Security, Medicare, etc.) they simply exempted interest payments from the definition of 'direct spending' within the bill. With a few keystrokes they redefined the true meaning of 'spending'. Very Clintonesque. As for the rule requiring time to evaluate the bill before voting on it (think ObamaCare)? The Rules Committee 'waived all points of order' against consideration of the bill. In English, they decided to intentionally disregard their own rules.
Is there any doubt that any future bills introduced by Mr. Boehner, Mr. Reid or anyone else will suffer similar fates?
The fact that this Congress is so careless in maintaining fidelity to its own standards speaks volumes. I believe Albert Einstein would not trust this crew to keep their future spending cut promises. Do you?