Why Congress Must Wrestle the Budgetary Process Back from the White House
Religion & Liberty Online

Why Congress Must Wrestle the Budgetary Process Back from the White House

Today is day nine of the government shutdown and currently there is little optimism in Washington that an agreement will be reached to end the stalemate. While many are focusing on the unpopularity of ObamaCare, or as the White House claims, Republicans are using the budget to hold funding for the new health care law hostage; however there is an even more important factor that requires our attention: Lawmakers need to get control of our budget.

In The Washington Post, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is calling for bipartisan negotiations. Republican Congressman and former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan called for a grand bipartisan bargain in The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

In his op-ed, Cantor quotes James Madison on divided power in Federalist No. 48. In Federalist No. 58 Madison offers these thoughts,

The House of Representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of Government. They, in a word, hold the purse; that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the People gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the Government. 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.

Powerline has more thoughts on the shutdown and Federalist No. 58. Much has been made of the Republicans stubborn unwillingness to pass a status quo funding resolution. Even a larger grand bargain with the White House that touches entitlement reform, the funding structure that actually needs reform to change the federal debt trajectory, seems very unlikely. Without reforms to our entitlement structure, little can be done to put the country on a path to fiscal solvency. See Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform for a more comprehensive foundation for rectifying the spending and debt crisis.

The debt and budget mess was created by both political parties with decades upon decades of shortsighted leadership. It’s essential for Washington to move away from baseline budgeting, where our government uses current spending levels as the “baseline” for all future funding. It’s bankrupting us and empowering a federal bureaucracy totally disconnected and turning against the American people. See Mollie Hemingway’s excellent article, “The Shutdown Government: Powerful, Punitive And Petty” for more on that. Maybe it’s imperative that lawmakers make a habit at looking at funding individual departments separately and over shorter periods so there is greater accountability to the people. The old way of spending and budgeting is clearly not working and just exacerbates the runaway intergenerational theft. Past grand bargains have proven to do little to change any of the fundamental problems.

President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying “status quo, that is Latin for the mess we’re in.” The House of Representatives, elected every two years, are closer to the will of the people. They are called “The People’s House” for a reason. If they can’t get control of our runaway spending, they must be replaced. They ultimately bear the greatest measure of blame for this spending and debt crisis. The Speaker and a majority of the U.S. House may be beginning to understand that conceding to more debt and out of control spending to fight some theoretical budget battle in the future has become a losing proposition as well as a morally bankrupt one. Leadership requires moral courage, and when it doesn’t it, it says something much deeper about the broken nature of the republic as well as the people.

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Ray Nothstine

Ray Nothstine is editor at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.