Mitch McConnell could stand to learn from James Madison

Donald Trump issued a statement, December 12, criticizing Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for caving in to Democrat demands for upping the national debt ceiling.  Here is the text of Mr. Trump's statement, in his typically direct, and blunt, language:

Mitch McConnell is giving the Democrats victory on everything. What is wrong with this Broken Old Crow? He's hurting the Republican Senators and the Republican Party. When will they vote him out of Leadership? He didn't have the guts to play the Debt Ceiling card, which would have given the Republicans a complete victory on virtually everything. The Dems were ready to fold! Watch, they will use the Debt Ceiling against us at their first opportunity, and they won't fold. It will not be pretty. GET RID OF MITCH!

I would here call attention to Madison's wise observation in Federalist Paper No. 58, on the power of the purse that the Constitution bestows on the House of Representatives.  The illustration is, I believe, valid in that Senator McConnell's role on the debt ceiling is comparable to the constitutional role of the House on the federal budget.

The following is from Federalist No. 58 (emphasis added):

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government.  They, in a word, hold the purse.

Madison went on to point out:

This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

With the majority of the House in the hands of the radical Democrats, House Republicans are hampered in their power to hold federal spending within rational limits.  I submit that in this connection, Mr. McConnell could have leveraged his power, concerning the debt ceiling, into effective power over the purse.  It is difficult to view McConnell's disregard of his de facto "power over the purse" — by way of holding the line on the debt ceiling — as anything other than giving "victory," as Mr. Trump said, to the radical Democrats.

Should Republicans win a House majority next November, the GOP House leadership would be wise to provide each Republican — indeed all House members — a copy of the Federalist Papers, not as a historical document, but as working guide for their legislative responsibilities. In this connection, I would call attention to Madison's sage comments in Federalist Paper No. 62 on the utility of preventing legislation from becoming so voluminous as to be incomprehensible.  Madison pointed out:

It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood. ... Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Madison went on to suggest that there could be a narrow purpose in drafting voluminous laws: to suit the self-serving aims of the drafters and backers of such legislation, which provides an "unreasonable advantage ... to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uninformed mass of the people."  Madison thus comes across as the conservative populist that I believe him to be.

He continued in Federalist No. 62 (emphasis in original):

Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many. 

Is this populist language or what?  Madison, in this passage, is prophetic, foreseeing, in 1788, the thousand-page legislation of today that members of Congress cannot possibly digest — legislation that has the practical effect of serving only the sponsors and the lobbyists, serving not the toiling "many," but "the moneyed few."

Indeed, The Federalist Papers should be employed as a working guide for the 118th Congress and all congresses thereafter, in part to stiffen the spines of Republicans on the vital subject of federal spending and encourage the Republican leadership in House and Senate (Rand Paul replacing Mr. McConnell as Senate leader?) to put an end to legislation consisting of hundreds of pages or more — pages, delivered at the last moment, whose directives are known only to the crafty few.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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