US budget 'shutdown' – what the pro-Obama BBC won't explain
From Brother Ivo:
The American political tensions over raising the debt ceiling have been brewing for months. They finally hit the headlines on Monday, and we awoke on Tuesday morning to learn that the US Government has been "shutdown". It is commonly said that when America sneezes Europe catches a cold, and while this is less true in modern times, it is undoubtedly the case that in an interconnected world we have a vested interested in our neighbours’ economic health. In the case of the USA, militarily they are also our keepers, so we do tend to have a special interest in that relationship.
We don't worry overly much about when Spain's economy is decimated, but we do begin to pay attention in the case of the USA.
On Monday morning, the BBC began to explain the story. We heard members of the Republican Party who did not want to risk electoral payback; we heard from Democrats; we heard a short extract from a 21-hour speech by Senator Ted Cruz in which he briefly recited a children's poem. What we did not hear, and have yet to hear from our national broadcaster, was an articulate explanation of why Congress is taking economic and political risks, or why they are taking their duties as the initiators of the budgetary process particularly seriously this year.
We have heard the President saying that "one faction of one party of one part of Government" cannot dictate to the rest. This suggests that there are important constitutional issues at stake which are inadequately explained by the BBC or its North American correspondent – thanks to its well-acknowledged culturally liberal bias.
The first thing we need to know is that the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution with one eye on the causes of the English Civil War, which broke out through tensions between a Parliament cognisant of its money-raising function in conflict with the Monarch who regarded his authority as unchallengeable. The constitutional draftsmen accordingly divided power very deliberately in three between the President, the Senate – comprised of two senators from each of the federating states regardless of size – and the House of Representatives, whose duty it is to initiate a budget at the President's request.
In that dispersal of power they sought to avoid the President aping the Monarchy by being over-mighty.
The congressmen of the House of Representatives tend to be the most reactive to public opinion as their members are more exposed to the will of the people. The senators tend to represent habitually Democrat or Republican States and so have a greater security of tenure. Only a handful in swing states are electorally vulnerable – or necessarily responsive to public opinion. The President, having just won his second term, will never face another election, and so, excepting impeachment, is now unaccountable. That is an important factor: once into his second term, the President can exercise power without responsibility, which is why Congress has the right, power and duty to clip his wings when he aspires to fly too close to the sun.
In such a balanced system, significant bipartisan co-operation is the path of wisdom, and has been the norm. It is not irresponsible for any part of the Government to do its independent duty, especially those most exposed to current voter opinion.
The USA is $17trillion in debt. Previous irresponsibility led to legislation requiring approval of any increase in the current debt limit. Last year the US Government overspent by $1.1 trillion. The 10-year budgetary projections for Obamacare have taken into account 10 years of contribution but only six years of liability. In short, it is an unimaginably colossal additional unfunded deficit in waiting.
In this context, the fiscally responsible might consider the Congress Republicans somewhat remiss in performing their oppositional duties within a balanced system of government if they failed to oppose increasing that colossal debt through the introduction of Obamacare.
That legislation was forced through in the most partisan manner: it received not one single Republican vote. For such a significant cultural and economic change, this is unique. Also unique is the remarkable fact that the Bill was large, complex, and so timetabled that it was physically impossible for any of the legislators to have read it within the time available, and the vast majority still have not. In the current debate, Senator Cruz was able to rebuke Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid by pointing out that he, unlike Reid, had read it. It is doubtful that many in the UK appreciate this extraordinary breach of duty by the proponents of Obamacare. The then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the breathtaking response when challenged: "We have to pass this Bill so you can know what's in it."
Can you imagine the response of the BBC if Iain Duncan Smith had brought his Welfare Reform Bill to Parliament at 24-hours notice and declared such a thing? Yet this dimension of the controversy is wholly absent from the reporting over here. It would not be hard to find intelligent commentators to explain it, but this degree of balance is never called upon.
The President assured the electorate that if they wished to keep their existing health policies, they would be able to do so. He named the legislation "The Affordable Care Act". He was re-elected on that prospectus. The Insurance Invoices are now arriving in the homes of America's working households. Premiums are rising by 200-300% and people are being asked to pay the first $5000 of costs. The federally-mandated content of each and every policy is forcing post-menopausal women to insure against maternity cover, and Roman Catholic nuns to fund contraception. Those who will elect the Congress in 2014 are taking a closer interest, but not all of them. Only those who will pay for Obamacare are really interested.
Voters were told that it was not a tax, though they will be fined for not buying it. It was only deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court because it is a tax. It is now coming sharply into focus that this is not only financially but constitutionally significant. Never before has the US Government forced voters to buy a product.
Thomas Jefferson predicted: "The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."
What is adding to the outrage are the exemptions. Over 1200 immunities have been granted, and you might be able to guess the beneficiaries..
Senators, Congressmen, their staffs and families have been granted a 75% subsidy to their existing plans so they can keep them. The Supreme Court Judges who approved its legality are exempted from the consequences. So are several unions, including SEIU in its Chicago, New York and Cleveland heartlands: they donated $27 million to the Obama election campaign. Some 300 exemptions were granted in the San Francisco area which elects Nancy Pelosi. Put simply, the elite exempted itself in the best traditions of Leona Helmsley, who famously thought "taxes are for little people."
Even those in work and on low pay who were supposed to be beneficiaries are learning that they have been duped by this political three-card trick. If you work in a company employing over 50 people your employer must comply. Plans for economic expansion are being shelved; the 50th employee is being laid off. If you work less than 40 hours you are not covered: so your hours have to be cut to keep your job in being. If your insurance plan once covered your partner, it does not now. As for your existing plan, well the Act allows you to keep it but the insurers across the country are having to withdraw them from the market as additional liabilities make them uneconomic to offer.
In this context of disaster re-appraisal, the Congress offered to fund the Government's current activities but not Obamacare. There was no need for shutdown. The President refused. He has been asked to delay the implementation for individuals to buy policies by one year – which businesses have been granted. He refused. He has been asked to rescind exemptions so that those who have most vociferously advocated the merits of Obamacare can fully share its advantages. Nobody is holding their breath.
Only the President's petulant rhetoric seems to be reported. Those obstructing his will are likened to terrorists. It is not being reported that since 1976 there have been 17 US Government shutdowns of varying, usually short, durations. 15 of these have been undertaken by Democrats; 12 alone by revered Democrat Speaker Tip O'Neill, and eight of those were in respect of funding that high national priority – abortion. Were he and his Democrat colleagues akin to terrorists?
All we are hearing from the BBC are the the terse and bitter comments of the President, as he seeks to uphold his unaffordable vanity project which will bequeath disaster long after he has left office. Both sides are seeking to blame each other for the "shutdown” of Government.
The truth is that much of the US Government will continue to be funded. Armed Forces, Police, Border Agents, Social Security etc., will all carry on as normal, though museum staff, National Park Rangers and Passport issuers will all be sent home. In every other such dispute their pay has been made up, though one would not put it past the petulance of Obama to up the ante by breaking with that convention.
The term of redundancy used is that of all "non-essential staff". They are being sent home. But some are taking to Twitter and asking why, in times of austerity, the Government is employing anyone who is not ‘essential’?
This is actually an interesting and important point. The White House currently employs about 260 staff on salaries of over $100k. Amongst those is someone to walk the President’s dogs.
We shall know the President is taking the concerns of the American people seriously when we see that post laid off.
So we have an unaccountable President in a contest with the legislators who alone are due to face the voters next year. He says he has a mandate, but so do they. He seeks to elevate the role of Presidency to disproportionate power, within a carefully calibrated system of checks and balances.
He failed to pass a budget for five years and has the remarkable claim to fame as being the President who offered a budget which not one of his own legislators supported. He objects to those charged with budget prudence making a connection between the current parlous financial state and the massive unfunded liability which his legacy project will hang round the necks of future generations. He emulates the despot by offering immunities to his chosen favourites whilst lamely whining "It's the law", to which constitutionalists reply that in democracies, heads of state cannot and do not suspend laws by executive fiat.
These are big issues. Sadly we do not have a national broadcaster big enough to understand and explain them.
Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers.