President Obama has said that he and Democrats in Congress are all for spending cuts that “protect the middle class”. What Obama and congressional Democrats have not been mentioning are specific programs, within the federal budget, that they wish to be funded, and at what level, for each of those programs. That’s because, as of now, there is no federal budget; only a “continuing resolution” that has enabled the federal government to remain in business through today.
In years before the days of the administration of President Barack Obama, members of Congress, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, worked together to produce a budget that defined limits for spending and taxes for an entire fiscal year. Historically, both the President and Congress laid out their spending priorities, along with any recommendations for changes to U.S. tax policy, in written budgets that could be scrutinized for anything that might be considered wasteful or unnecessary. The U.S. Congress worked as a single body, that produced a budget to submit for the president’s approval, or veto. If the budget was vetoed, it was returned to Congress for members to either revise, or for a vote to attempt to override the President’s veto. If Congress was unable to override the President’s veto, then the budget proposal would need to be modified to make it more acceptable to the President; without the process breaking down entirely.
We expect for all members of Congress to work together to produce a budget, by the required date, so that operations of the federal government continue without interruption. We trust that our elected representatives will be able to work with each other on budget matters, without excuses and finger-pointing from either Democrats or Republicans. That is because this is what they promised to do prior to their individual election victories, as well as when they were sworn into office. The obligation placed upon all members of Congress, not only to their constituents, but to the country as a whole, is a serious one that does not simply go away because members don’t want to speak about their obligations, or the necessity to be accountable for their individual actions.
Every election cycle, we hear politicians say that they are running to help make Washington better; that by going through the rigors of a political election for a seat in Congress, their election to office will signal that “change” has arrived in Congress that will help move our country “forward”. While we just completed only one half of the legislative changes necessary to resolve the “fiscal cliff”, Democrats are still refusing to tell us what their plan for a budget would look like. Isn’t knowing the details of what we are paying for, as taxpayers, just as important as knowing what the total bill for this “better government” actually is? An average American family must live within their means for their budget; why is our government any different? Our U.S. Constitution requires that there be an established budget for each fiscal year that defines the revenue collections and government expenses for that entire year. The constitution does not provide for an exclusion to these requirements for any political party or Congress.
Senate Democrats, since President Obama’s election to the Oval Office, simply stopped participating in the process which has been used by Congress to create the federal budget. Now that we are into our fourth fiscal year without a federal budget agreed to by the Senate, we have exceeded more than $5 trillion in additional debt since President Obama took office, and much of this increase in spending can be directly attributed to the Senate Democrats simply refusing to participate in the annual budget process.
The Democrats in the Senate don’t get the constitutional luxury to simply ignore the required budget processes. Spending recommendations made by the Senate must use the committee process, established by the rules which they have already agreed to abide by. Unlike in other parts of the federal government, under the law, Congress simply does not have the legal right to avoid creating a budget for the government. It is obligated to create that budget, each and every year.
Senate Democrats are not speaking of several things right now. They are not speaking about spending cuts, establishing an actual budget for the remainder of the 2013, the debt ceiling (except in the context of not having to offer any spending reductions in exchange for a $2 trillion increase in the ceiling), or the upcoming sequester. When Senate Democrats should be out in front of the issue, their focus is to stall and delay any conversation about reducing federal spending of any real consequence. For all their talk about “wanting” to cut spending, they are not willing to have a discussion about the types of spending reductions that they want to see in the budget process. If Democrats are not willing to talk about cutting spending, then they, and their constituents, do not have to deal with “shared sacrifice” with the rest of America who just had their taxes increased by no less than 2%; and for some, it’s a lot more than that.
I think this signals a shift in thinking by Democrats. Essentially, this stance, which is to not ever speak of reducing federal spending for any program, or group of employees at the federal level, means that the public position of Democrats, that they are for shared sacrifice, is false advertising. Saying you are for shared sacrifice means that you must be willing to accept having to sacrifice things that you like. Republicans in the top 2% of income earners did not like seeing their taxes raised; they have sacrificed for the greater good, and now Democrats are required to respond in kind. Otherwise, the “fiscal cliff deal” reached between Republicans and Democrats is nothing but a big tax grab.
As each day passes, it is looking more and more like the “fiscal cliff deal” was simply a ploy to raise taxes. President Obama has said that he is not willing to negotiate over a $2 trillion dollar increase in the debt ceiling; that Congress must grant that increase, or risk being blamed for another shutdown of the federal government, as well as for a potential downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
The President is making an extremely bad tactical error. The President believes that the needs of the few, in this case, the 47% of U.S. residents who pay nothing in federal income taxes, outweigh the needs of the many, or the 53% of residents who do, in fact, pay federal income taxes. Most of those, who will pay income taxes for the 2012 tax year, are citizens who have been paying them for most of their working life.
Why should the priorities of those who don’t contribute to the U.S. Treasury, in the form of income taxes, have greater priority than the taxpayers? Spock, a character on the television program, “Star Trek”, would mention an often-repeated saying of the Vulcan (Spock’s race) people from time to time:
The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one. – Ancient Vulcan saying
The Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee appeared to be using that logic, when he recently made comments about the Senate’s unwillingness to pass a budget, and tied that lack of cooperation by Senate Democrats to the debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, saying that Congress should refuse to act on President Obama’s desire for an increase in the debt limit until the Senate passes a plan that details what the spending priorities are for Democrats in the Senate. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) office had this to say about President Obama’s demand for an increase in the debt limit without proposing cuts in federal spending: “If President Obama wants another loan from the American people, then his party controlling the Senate owes them a budget plan detailing how their money will be spent”, said Stephen Miller, spokesperson for Sessions. “There is growing support for incorporating this legal and moral principle into the debt ceiling.”
A spending plan that does not take into account the priorities of those who are being asked to pay for it is not a plan at all. That kind of plan is, in fact, is not written to benefit all Americans; its only written for the purposes of sustaining the status quo on spending. Using that same plan has added over $5 trillion in new U.S. debt since President Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009. Since we haven’t been able to afford this plan over the first four years of the Obama presidency, with no changes, how can we be able to afford the next four? The fact is, at least for the taxpayers, we can’t. The real question is when will the President ask those who are paying the income taxes what they would like to see the federal government do, and spend money on, then compare those answers to how he wants to spend their tax money. The best spending solution for our country will lie somewhere between those two positions. The answer is not one-sided; it must include recommendations from both sides. Right now, to reduce tensions in Washington, Senate Democrats need to listen to their Republican counterparts, and reach an agreement together. Unless the Democrats decide to participate, there will be no agreement, and no increase in the debt ceiling.
Right now, if President Obama wants a solution to the stalemate, then he has to ask Democrats in the Senate to seek a solution that allows them to agree with Republicans. If Obama is unwilling to do that, there will be no agreement, and he will be the one who deserves to shoulder 100% of the blame for any problems that result from inaction by Democrats in the Senate.