Feigning Powerlessness to Retain Power

There once was a time that elected leaders wanted to be seen as powerful to gain the confidence of their constituents.  But many House Republicans, who now have in their hands total power to end runaway government once and for all, are feigning powerlessness. 

These House Republicans claim to be just one-third of the legislative process, unable to achieve anything useful without compromise and a bipartisan consensus.  They grouse that the Democrats in the Senate and President Obama are forcing them to settle for what they can get in exchange for an inevitable and necessary increase in the debt limit.  They claim to need even greater electoral victories in 2012 before they can stop the spending.

The truth is that House Republicans already hold all the cards.  The debt ceiling is already fixed in law, and will remain fixed unless they capitulate.  Rather than just saying no to an increase in the debt limit which would end deficit spending, the GOP has developed "Cut, Cap, and Balance" which it sells as a principled proposal.  Yet, with CC&B, the House Republicans propose to end the deficit spending by the curious method of increasing the national debt by $2.4 trillion (almost 17 percent) to $16.7 trillion.

In increasing the debt ceiling, the House Republicans leaders are doing what comes naturally.  The House leadership historically has not wanted to stop spending -- with entitlements like Medicare Part D they have used our own money to buy our votes just like the Democrats.  The motivation behind CC&B is not about cutting current spending, capping future spending, or balancing the budget -- it's about what it's always been about -- the politics of reelection.

It could be that the House Republicans are acting out of fear that in holding fast to principle they would not be seen as being "responsible" in the eyes of the media and Wall Street.  They could be afraid that Wall Street and the administration could use their refusal to increase the debt ceiling to provoke an international financial crisis that would be blamed on them.  They could fear that the American people will turn them out for doing what they said they would do.  The common denominator of these motivations is fear, which always leads to bad decisions.  If we grant to the establishment the role of arbiter of what is right and responsible, we have given up the fight.  House Republicans forget the truism that "we are always more free to do that which is right than we think we are." 

When the vote was taken in the House on Tuesday night, only nine Republicans saw through what the leadership was doing.  The rest of the House Republicans followed what they thought talk radio, a large swath of the conservative movement, and some misguided Tea Partiers wanted.  What makes "Cut, Cap, and Balance" into true political art is that the House Republican leadership is using it to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory while selling this effort to their constituents as an act of courage.  Thus far, only www.DownsizeDC.org is leading the charge against it, and only www.WorldNetDaily.org is reporting on its flaws.

Let's examine the alternative.  What would happen if the House Republicans avoided the temptation to rush in to solve this problem, and just followed the Hippocratic Oath's admonition to first do no harm?

In February 2010, Congress capped the national debt at $14.294 trillion.  The level of this debt is a publically reported number, not easily subject to manipulation.  When this limit is hit, our nation's spending is necessarily limited by our revenue -- and deficit spending automatically stops. 

The federal government would stop inflicting more fiscal damage on successive generations.  The nation's sovereignty would be enhanced as we are weaned from reliance on foreign lenders.  We just might be forced to end unconstitutional military operations, such as that in Libya.  We might finally increase the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to adjust to increased life expectancy.  The Department of Education, the Legal Services Corporation, ATF, and the FTC could top the list for abolition or at least a huge haircut. 

If our goal is to stop the cancer of debt and to have a country that lives within its means -- we could declare victory.  After 78 years, the New Deal/Great Society spending spree finally would be over.  Further, that hard cap on the nation's debt could never be changed unless the president, the Senate, and the House Republicans all agree.  

The website of the CC&B charade states the goal is for "[s]ubstantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter."  But with a hard debt ceiling in place, we don't need the "cut" component of CC&B.  Since cuts are generally based on projected, not current, spending levels, "cuts" are usually an illusion anyway.

With a hard debt ceiling in place, we don't need a "cap."  The same CC&B website demands "[e]nforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget."  But when Congress writes the laws -- who is going to do the enforcing?  Why just seek to get "on the path" toward a balanced budget, when we have already achieved it?

Lastly, we don't need to go through the lengthy and risky process of passing a balanced budget amendment.  In fact, the debt ceiling is much more effective than such an amendment.  A balanced budget amendment unreasonably assumes the Commerce Department would never politicize the GDP calculation, and the Congressional Budget Office will be immune from congressional influence.

All we now need is for House Republicans to do nothing, but inaction carries with it political risk.  House Republicans could be accused of forcing deep spending cuts and tough choices, but isn't that what House Republicans said they were willing to do during the last election? 

House Republicans are certainly afraid that they could be accused of causing a default on the debt.  But with almost $200 billion in monthly revenue, there is no shortage of money to pay the necessary $39 billion monthly tab to the creditors of the United States.  Any accusation of precipitating a "default" on the national debt is absurd -- unless President Obama and his friends at Goldman Sachs want such a crisis for their own purposes.                                                 

It is a certainty that deep spending cuts would alienate the recipients of government largess, but if that price is too high to pay, we are all doomed anyway.  Must we always wait until after the next election?  Let's eat the peas now, defund great swaths of the federal bureaucracy for an entire fiscal year -- before the spenders could regain power.  Who knows -- the fired bureaucrats might even get honest jobs, and learn to like it. 

The House Republicans need to assume the political risk for the sake of the country.  Inaction would require political courage, but would it be easier if we wait until the burden of nation's debt is allowed to shoot up by another $2.4 trillion?  If not now, when? 

Bill Olson held three positions during the Reagan administration and his law firm focuses on constitutional law and defending against government excess.  Email wjo@mindspring.com, visit www.lawandfreedom.com, or www.Twitter.com/OlsonLaw.