Today’s dispute about raising the government’s borrowing limit might produce an anesthetizing boredom because such contretemps occur frequently. and because this one probably will end, as 11 of the 14 since 2008 have (including three during the previous administration), with other measures attached to an increase of the limit. Some people, however, who are fluent in today’s vocabulary of catastrophe (the planet is boiling, democracy is dying, etc.) think there is a risk of a default that will blow prosperity to rags and atoms.
Actually, there is a name for what is occurring: politics. Republicans are resisting progressives’ usual three priorities: unrestrained spending, unconstrained presidential power, and unlimited deference by Congress to the administrative state’s regulatory agencies.
House Republicans have been prone to fractiousness. and to fantasies, e.g., promising to balance the budget in 10 years, which the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says would require cutting nondefense discretionary spending 85%. Now, however, they are united and realistic. They have coupled raising the debt ceiling with some measures as moderate as they are sensible.
One is restraint in the rate of increase of the small (15%) discretionary nondefense spending portion of the budget: The House GOP proposal: 1% annual increases after going all the way back to the spending level of — brace yourself — 2022.
House Republicans’ most important provision is designed to partially revive the much diminished — the largely self-diminished — role of the legislative branch. It would combat the leakage of legislative branch responsibilities to the executive branch. It would require Congress to participate, more than it often wants to, in governing. The provision stipulates that all “major” regulations (those with annual economic impacts of at least $100 million) shall not go into effect until Congress takes responsibility by explicitly approving them.
This assertion of congressional power would combat executive aggrandizement and somewhat reverse the marginalization of Congress. It accords with Republicans’ refusal to comply with President Joe Biden’s ukase to Congress regarding the borrowing limit: Stay out of governing. Pipe down and raise the ceiling unconditionally.
Biden’s need to climb down from his refusal to negotiate with the legislature — which enacted the debt ceiling — is related to the fact that he is the most rhetorically clumsy president since the invention of broadcasting. In a 16-month span, he has given three of the worst speeches — shrill, divisive, untethered from facts — in the 234-year history of presidential rhetoric.
Atlanta, Jan. 11, 2022: Georgia’s new voting laws are “Jim Crow 2.0” and “voter suppression.” (Ten months later, Georgians broke the state’s midterm turnout records.)
Philadelphia, Sept. 1, 2022: The nation’s “foundations” are threatened by extremists who “do not believe in the rule of law.” (This, from a president repeatedly reprimanded by the Supreme Court for his extralegal, anti-constitutional executive highhandedness regarding vaccine mandates, rent moratoriums, the Environmental Protection Agency presuming to redesign the electric power industry, and — perhaps, soon — student loan forgiveness. So far, Biden has not uttered a peep against progressives’ itch to delegitimize the Supreme Court by enlarging it.)
To Howard University, May 13: Assaults on “our right to vote” are coinciding with Black history “being erased” by a “ferocious pushback” from “sinister” forces so powerful they are achieving erasure despite the vigilance of Biden, democracy’s savior. (Spoken 10 weeks after Black History Month.)
The sound you hear is the rustling of chickens coming home to roost. A critical mass of Americans probably has come to the conclusion that Biden does not mean what he says. The public’s cynicism does not matter much when he is just emitting noise about how the survival of what George Washington founded and Abraham Lincoln preserved now depends on . . . him. His flapdoodle is, however, important when he says: Trust me, I will negotiate serious spending restraints and other reforms — but only after Republicans forfeit their leverage regarding the debt ceiling.
Progressives’ unvarying agenda is to concentrate power in Washington, to concentrate Washington power in the executive branch, and to concentrate ever more of that power in administrative agencies that are effectively exempt from being accountable to people who are accountable to voters. Hence progressives’ impatience with the Constitution and its separation of powers.
This rivalry between the branches usually gives each party the power to stymie the other sufficiently to compel compromise. Unless the president considers this institutional architecture unreasonable, even unintelligible. Ohio’s John Sherman (1823-1900), senator and secretary of state, warned us: “The Constitution provides for every accidental contingency in the executive — except a vacancy in the mind of the president.”
George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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