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Shall We Scream and Shout or Get Something Done?

We have other tools available besides taking hard stances on the debt limit and repealing Obamacare in the House.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

January 12, 2011 - 12:00 am

One of Robert Frost’s poems suggests, tongue-in-cheek I hope:

When in Danger
And in Doubt
Run in Circles;
Scream and Shout

Is that to be the Conservative Republican motto for the next couple of years or would we prefer that they actually accomplish something beyond being reelected? The national debt limit and ObamaCare seem to be among the first tests.

National Debt Limit

We are within a few hundred billion dollars of reaching the national debt limit and that won’t take long even without any newly authorized expenditures. There is lots of opposition to increasing the limit. We have already spent far too much! Gotta stop those wastrels. Rein them in! These statements are not only true but obviously so. However, the money has for the most part already been spent or obligated and this problem must be dealt with piece by piece and not as part of a suicide pact over the national debt.

I agree that refusing to increase the debt ceiling would be peachy, if the consequences were not draconian. Want to default on existing debts, foreign and domestic? Great. Then the dollar will forfeit any remaining status as an international currency and even as a respectable domestic currency. Halt Social Security payments? OK. Want to support your aged parents as you pay lots more for Chinese junk and foreign oil since we haven’t been able to follow the commandment “Drill, baby, drill?” Want to pay more for just about everything else? Then refuse to increase the debt limit. Punish the beastly Democrats? Sure. That would be nice. But let’s not punish ourselves and help to produce a resurgent Liberal Leftist majority in the process.

An increase in the debt limit need not, must not, and simply cannot mean increased spending if our CongressCritters are paying attention. All appropriations bills arise in the House because they have to; that’s what the Constitution requires and when on infrequent occasion the Senate has decided otherwise, it has been put in its place by the refusal of the House to give up its constitutional prerogative and pass the Senate-crafted appropriations. The Republicans are now in charge of the House and don’t have to fund anything unless they choose to. The Senate can’t do it and neither can President Obama.

Our Honorable Members in the House should be clever enough to understand that an increased debt limit does not compel them to appropriate more money or prevent them from appropriating less. It does not even mean that existing funding must be maintained. There are many places to deny funding almost immediately. Funding has only been provided through early March of this year; that’s when the government will run out of money (regardless of any action on the national debt limit) because the late but unlamented lame ducks were unable to pass an omnibus appropriation bill providing funding beyond that. A further interim appropriation bill can, of course, be passed to keep the government running in as low a gear as desired for another few months until appropriations can be fixed for the remainder of fiscal 2011. That’s where the focus must be. Starve ObamaCare, the EPA, even the sainted United Nations and a bunch of other ravenous beasts to death. That will work and will be healthy rather than suicidal. It will also greatly irritate the leftists, not a bad thing to do.

The repeal of ObamaCare has acquired much the same aura as refusal to extend the debt limit. ObamaCare is bad and so are hurricanes and floods. We are not in a position to outlaw or otherwise to prevent the latter two; resources dedicated to those ends would be wasted. What we can do is build strong houses and dams. That is not as effective as successfully eliminating hurricanes and floods would be but it is possible and does some good.

The House voted on January 7 to approve rules leading to the repeal of ObamaCare, 236-181. On January 8 the House postponed all legislative action for a week to “take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today’s tragedy.” Obviously a national tragedy, the shooting serves as a compelling reason for reflection rather than the sort of crass political opportunism to which the mainstream media has repeatedly and with obdurate persistence hitched its star. It does not, however, legitimize forgetting the other important business of the country.

As I argued here, outright repeal of ObamaCare just won’t work. Here’s why: the Republicans/Conservatives do not yet have a strong veto proof Congress. By 2013 there might well be a veto proof Republican/Conservative supermajority or a better president whose veto it will not be necessary to override — unless we spoil our chances. Getting to that point is something we can and should work very hard to accomplish. Until then, the death of ObamaCare and other obnoxious laws by starvation seems better than ineffectual threats of a cleaner demise. Despite the feel-good sensation produced by passing a repeal bill it is almost certain to amount to no more than sound and fury signifying nothing; perhaps worse.

I disagree with the argument presented here to the effect that enough Democratic senators may be afraid to vote against repeal because that might result in their failures to get reelected in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Reid, who is not himself up for reelection until 2016, will keep any ObamaCare repeal bill passed by the House from coming to the Senate floor. He did that sort of stuff in the very recent past (when he was up for reelection) and there is no apparent reason why he can’t/won’t do the same during this Congress. Even if enough Democratic senators were to manage to get the bill from his clutches and to pass it, President Obama would veto it as he has already promised to do, which leaves us exactly — where? Still with ObamaCare. He won’t cave in because it was his signature initiative.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) argued that the House should first pass a bill repealing ObamaCare, as it has already prepared to do; then, upon failure of the repeal bill to pass in the Senate or its veto by President Obama, defunding should be used. Congressman Allen West (damn, I like using that title for Colonel West!) seems to agree. I guess that’s OK if they don’t take too long to get to work. However, it’s important not to wait until those things happen, as one or the other eventually will, because it will take time to devise defunding bills. Waiting could take months and lots of time would thereby be wasted. We can’t afford that sort of delay, if for no other reason than that the Honorable Members of the still very new House will start campaigning for reelection in less than a year. That can be a full-time job and little time will then be available for the contentious and labor intensive tasks of selectively defunding the most obnoxious aspects of all of President Obama’s HopeyChangey initiatives; that seems possible but only if the Honorable Members of the House are not distracted by pursuits of glory in trying to do the impossible and of reelection by trying to explain away their valiant but failed efforts.

Wasting resources of which time is probably the most important on things which are impossible would give us only a modestly satisfied but empty feeling and nothing more. Our courageous CongressCritters could of course bravely claim to have tried their best; it’s not their fault that the stinky partisan Democrats didn’t see the light. Gosh! We were sure surprised! That’s all behind us now because of them. Don’t worry, though; now it’s time to get on with the country’s important business. How about some new federally funded hospitals, some sweet insurance subsidies, a new airport and maybe even some Social Security increases as consolation prizes? Feel consoled? Anything useful and requiring work will have to be done sooner rather than later.

Very difficult work will be required. Multiple appropriations bills, each separate from the others and each with the necessary specificity about what the appropriated funds can and can’t be used to accomplish, will be necessary. These will require a lot of unglamorous work and I am not confident that our Honorable Members are fully up to the task. We should gently demand that they try and succeed and cease giving them excuses for doing anything easier and perhaps glorious but nevertheless ineffective to claim as Pyrrhic victories instead. They will likely need some strenuous as* kicking to persuade them. The grimiest, grungiest, and most dedicated Conservative Members of the House will have to find their old green eye shades and assemble their most legalistic staff members and accountants to go through the 3,000-page ObamaCare legislation and all the rest and all linked laws affected by them to write many hundreds of individual paragraphs specifically directing that no appropriated funds be used for each. The appropriation/defunding bill for ObamaCare alone may well be nearly as long and complex as was the ObamaCare legislation which few were able to read or would have read if they had had the opportunity; there is much more to do: the EPA, the FCC, czars and all the rest. Although this will require much tedious work, that’s what we pay them to do. That’s why we call them “Honorable Members”; sometimes. Doing these things will be as effective as a doomed repeal effort wouldn’t be because the government lives on money. Without money, it starves to death very quickly. The Senate will have no viable alternative but to pass such legislation. Nor can the president veto the bills without essentially eliminating the relevant agencies and departments; neither the Senate nor the president can or will permit that to happen. Were they to do so, I would lose precious little sleep over it.

The hammer is a grand and highly useful invention. You can use it to pound nails, break things, and even to crush ice for a cool drink. It is not, however, useful for everything. You can’t use it to saw wood, to screw in screws or to cook dinner. Other tools, perhaps a saw, a screwdriver, and a stove, are needed. Repeal is like a hammer. We have other tools better suited to the purpose right now and should use them right now. Defunding is the best tool now available to starve ObamaCare and other rapacious HopeyChangey initiatives to death.

Screaming and shouting, while a welcome catharsis, will otherwise do no good. Is that really what we want our new CongressCritters to do? I hope not.

Dan Miller graduated from Yale University in 1963 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1966. He retired from the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and has lived in a rural area in Panama since 2002.
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