Saturday, July 30, 2011

House Republicans Abdicate Governing Role

With the Republicans having a majority in the House of Representatives, they have a critical constitutional role to play in the governance of this country.   What transpired this past Friday, however, shows without any question that the Republicans have abdicated their responsibility.

Friday was showdown time.  House Speaker Boehner had not been able to secure enough votes from the most conservative Republican (Tea Party) representatives in his caucus to pass his debt ceiling legislation.   At this point he had two options. 

The first was to work with House Democrats to craft a bill that could pass both the House and the Senate.  This would have required attracting at least some support (around 30 votes) from his caucus, but given the stakes and his leadership that was certainly not an unrealistic scenario. 

This would probably, however, have set the Speaker up for a leadership fight from his disgruntled Tea Party colleagues.   Given their numbers and proven willingness to flex their muscles, his leadership position would have been in serious doubt.

The second option was to cave in to this most radically conservative element in his caucus, which is what he did by adding a requirement that in order for the second stage of debt ceiling relief to be implemented, Congress would have to pass a balanced budget amendment.  Given that a 2/3 vote in favor is required for a constitutional amendment, there is no chance that such an amendment would pass even the House, let alone the Senate. 

Thus his revised bill basically told everyone, no more debt ceiling relief.  His bill would have set the country up for a very serious economic crisis.

Now some readers might ask, what’s the problem with a balanced budget amendment?   It sounds so reasonable.   The problem is that even the most fiscally responsible government cannot always have a balanced budget. 

For example, if such an amendment had been in place at the time of the 2008 economic crisis, none of the actions taken by the Bush and Obama administrations to avoid a full-fledged depression would have been possible.  Or they would have only been possible at the cost of cutting a huge amount of government spending in other areas, which would have meant either directly or indirectly cutting millions of jobs, thus countering the impact of any stimulus.  A balanced budget amendment at that time would have held the country hostage and we would have descended into an economic nightmare that would have made the current recession or recovery look like a walk through that park.

The majority party’s responsibility is to govern by passing necessary legislation.   If the party cannot do so because of the recalcitrance of its own members, then it has an obligation to act in a bipartisan manner. 

House Speaker Boehner should resign his post.  He has abdicated his responsibility and thereby jeopardized the economic stability of the country.