Boehner, Obama and the Fiscal Cliff

Boehner holds all the cards, but he doesn't know it. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, December 30, 2012 ― Here we are, two days before a self-imposed and very artificial deadline, and there is no resolution to the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The Progressive establishment is trying very hard to create a sense of crisis and impending doom. Yet Boehner and the American people might actually win.

The crisis is nothing more than political theater – nothing more than smoke and mirrors, with President Obama playing the role of The Wizard of Oz.

It is very easy to get caught up in the details of the policy choices, to get emotionally invested in how it will impact you and your family personally. It is easy because that’s exactly what the Progressive establishment wants you to do. That’s what the buzz is all about.

By focusing on the details, you lose the forest for the trees. In fact, you are encouraged to lose the trees for the needles.

Take a mental step back, take a red pill, and review the landscape. The Constitution gives the power of the purse to the House of Representatives. Budgets and revenue bills must originate there. In the final analysis, it is Congress generally, and the House specifically, that is responsible for the federal government’s spending.

Who has been in charge of the House for most of the last century? Democrats: a party which has gradually expelled all but its Progressive wing and whose Progressive wing has moved steadily leftward. They have never balanced a budget. Ever. They keep proposing more and more ways to spend the people’s money.

Richard Nixon nearly balanced the federal budget when he was president. He accomplished this little-remembered feat by using a form of sequestration: Congress passed the budget, but he refused to spend the money. For this act of political courage, Congress rewarded him by passing a law that forbade the use of presidential sequestration.

The law was constitutionally sound. With either sequestration or a line item veto, Congress could be irresponsible and let the president hold them accountable. Without them, the responsibility is clearly where it should be – squarely on the shoulders of Congress.

Since then Congress itself balanced the budget when Newt Gingrich and the Republican House made and followed through on the Contract with America. Today the revisionist media try to give Clinton the credit for balancing the budget, but the fact is that, suffering an electoral defeat in 1994 and looking for reelection in 1996, Clinton was forced to go along with the Republican House.

Today there is a similar situation to 1994, where the Republicans hold the House, and the Democrats hold the Senate and presidency. The big difference, though, is that Obama isn’t looking for reelection and seems unwilling to negotiate at all.

Therein lies all the smoke and mirrors: In reality, he has nothing to negotiate with except the threat of his veto. The way the budget process works constitutionally is that the House passes a budget, the Senate agrees or amends, and the president either vetoes or accepts it.

All the negotiation should be taking place after the House passes its budget, not before. Furthermore, the House is under no obligation to pass one omnibus budget bill. They could – and in the past have – passed multiple bills to fund the government, department by department.

What happened this year, as every year in the past three budget years, is that the House has done its constitutional duty and passed a budget, but the Senate has refused to do its duty. The result has been massive deficits caused by continuing resolutions: funding the federal government by extending the stimulus-bloated budget passed by the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress.

How do we get off this overspending merry-go-round?

One way would have been to elect a new senate majority and a new president in November. That didn’t happen. Perhaps the electorate didn’t believe changing the parties would have changed the spending policies. Romney talked a good line, but would he have delivered?

A second way would be to hit the debt ceiling again. This last happened in August 2011 and conventional wisdom says that the Republicans lost the game of brinksmanship, leading us to the sequestration compromise that kicked the can down the road to today.

In good Alinsky style, the entire Progressive establishment put the focus on the House and Speaker Boehner to compromise. Within the House – which is after all his sphere of influence and control – he did just that. He went even farther than the people’s representatives could support.

The House has done its job. The focus is slowly moving to the Senate, where it should be at this point in the process. Reid must act or he must be finally seen as the obstructionist he is.

Although Obama is viewed as sitting in the catbird seat, in reality he is a bystander. He has no cards but the threat of his veto. He has threatened to use the bully pulpit to pin the blame for either lack of agreement or increased taxes on the Republicans. But no matter how much he bullies the Republicans, if they stand firm on a fiscally responsible budget, he loses.

Would he really veto a budget that avoids the “fiscal cliff”? If he does, could he really pin the blame for higher taxes on the Republicans? If higher taxes go into effect, who would really suffer most? The answer to the last question is lower income Americans and Blue states generally. How does he explain that away?

If Boehner and the House can hang tough, possibly the American people can win. The curtain will be pulled back and the Wizard of Oz exposed. Every president becomes a lame duck at some point in his second term: if Obama loses this fight, he becomes that lame duck even before his second inauguration.


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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.

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