The power of the purse

It once belonged to Congress.  No more.  When a Democrat is in the White House, the President has it.  This is because it was established in 1995 that when a Democratic President vetoes a budget and we have a government shutdown, Congress is responsible.  If Congress doesn’t include funding for Panned Parenthood in the next budget, Obama will veto, the government will shut down, and the Republican Congress will shoulder the blame.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right after the 2014 election, admitted as much.  When he promised no government shutdowns, he was saying, in effect, that Barack Obama has the power of the purse, and Congress has no choice but to include in the budget whatever he demands.

Are there any limitations on the President’s power to force Congress to spend money it doesn’t want to?  Of course, there must be some limit, right?  Reduce it to the absurd.  If a President wants massive funding for a new program or initiative, presumably at some point Congress would have right to say no.

But that’s up to the media.  They get to decide who’s at fault in a government shutdown.  So far there is no sign that any demand Obama makes would be considered unreasonable.  Up to now, at least, all government shutdowns are the fault of a Republican Congress.

While this is not exactly what the Framers had in mind, it is, apparently, an iron law of contemporary politics.  Anyone who refuses Obama’s demands is a radical.  Period.  If he wants money for Planned Parenthood, he’ll get it.  Congress is powerless to stop his spending.

Or not.  A number of Presidential candidates, including the leading contender, Donald Trump, are calling on Congress to stand firm.  If all or substantially all of the 17 candidates take the same line, there’s an outside chance Boehner and McConnell will man up.  If this question isn’t asked at Thursday’s debate I’d be very surprised.

Does anybody remember “No taxation without representation”?   For hundreds of years the British Parliament fought the king to win the power of the purse.  This is a fight worth having.  Are our Congressional leaders so inept that they cannot explain fundamental Constitutional principles to the American people and win  their support?  Pathetic.

Lew Uhler is holding a 40th anniversary party for the National Tax Limitation Committee in Washington D.C. on October 20th.  One of the people he hopes to attend is Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.  Enzi has introduced a BBA in Congress, one which, presumably, he doesn’t think will wreak havoc on his own state’s finances.  Lew will ask him to explain this to Phil Nicholas.  I’m anxious to hear how that conversation goes.

In Phoenix I heard Kasich tell the story of meeting Reagan at the ’76 Convention, and chauffeuring him around.  He was 23 at the time.  It’s a good story.  If the opportunity arises he should talk about it at the debate.  He was a Reagan Republican back then, helping to take on an incumbent Republican President.  If you were a conservative in 1976 that’s what you did.  If he still considers himself a Reagan Republican he should say so, and explain what that means to him.  All these candidates, of course, want the mantle of Reagan.  Kasich’s got a better claim than any of them.

Use it.

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