In between crying wolf over the impact of a government shutdown triggered by no continuing resolution or an “economic shutdown” brought on by no debt limit increase, President Obama makes an institutional case saying that he is protecting the power of the presidency against legislative usurpation.
Within Congress, Democrats are asking if playing hardball with these two powers is an attempt by a minority to whipsaw a majority and reverse legislation already enacted.
While drenched in partisanship, both assertions have merit and deserve consideration.
No, this CR fight and the coming debt battle are attempts to expand the powers of Congress but are not usurpation.
ObamaCare was passed on Christmas Eve on a straight party line vote using a procedural gimmick — the Byrd Amendment — to circumvent the need for 60 votes, a tactic of which Senator Byrd himself disapproved.
But, more importantly, the CBO had been grossly negligent in estimating its cost as under a trillion. Congress bought a pig in a poke. It is now likely to cost almost $3 trillion over a decade. Oops. Slight mistake.
Normally, Congress could revisit the math and scale it back through the appropriations process, but as Obama cast the program as an entitlement, it does not go through appropriations. So Congress is fully within its rights to use its power over the budget and the debt to revisit the glossy assumptions on which passage was based. It is the only way they can.
On a political level, ObamaCare was passed on a party-line vote. Its passage reflects a unique moment in our history where one party government was possible, made more so by the shaky procedural ruling on the Byrd Amendment.
The program never had a majority or plurality in public opinion polls and was passed despite a high profile victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts largely attributable to public anger over the new law.
When America saw what their super majority Democratic Congress had passed, they reversed field and threw them out of power in the House and reduced their Senate majority.
So are we not entitled to revisit the issue? Can we not now look back? With a threefold increase in cost, can’t we use fiscal checks and balances over the debt limit and budget to see if we really want to go down that road? Damn right we can.
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