The Washington Post reports this morning that an effort to get the Senate to raise the national debt limit — a requirement for the Obama administration’s spending plans — have hit an impasse. Senate Republicans don’t want an increase at all, but instead want significant cuts and less deficit spending. The White House wants an increase in the ceiling with no strings attached, as do progressives in both the Senate and House. However, moderate Democrats want the worst of both worlds in a bipartisan commission:
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Friday that the government needs to borrow at least $1.8 trillion more next year to avoid defaulting on its debts.
Such an increase is much larger than House Democrats had planned earlier this year, when they proposed raising the nation’s debt limit.
His comments came as senior White House officials and Senate leaders planned to resume negotiations over the debt limit, with the two camps at odds over how to chart a course toward fiscal solvency.
Late Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag and other senior White House officials met with more than a dozen lawmakers at the Capitol, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Conrad is the leader of a group of Senate moderates threatening to block an increase in the debt limit unless Congress also votes to create a bipartisan task force on deficit reduction with broad powers to force tax increases or spending cuts through Congress.
But the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have resisted giving an independent task force the power to make potentially momentous budget decisions outside the regular legislative process. One option: President Obama could appoint a task force by executive order, though that body would be significantly weaker than one created by statute.
Right now, everyone should be asking themselves, “Where in the Constitution does this mysterious fourth branch of government exist to force bills through Congress?” It’s a great question, and here’s another: why can’t Congress cut its own spending? The answer is simple — Congress doesn’t want to cut its spending. It wants to raise taxes. And worse yet, it wants to pass the blame for higher taxes onto a “bipartisan task force” that will entirely consist of people who either have no accountability to voters or incumbents who have almost no risk of losing their office.
The citizens of the US constitute a bipartisan panel every two years; it’s called Congress. Those elected officials exist to make decisions on spending and taxation. Over the last few decades, they’ve made a lot of really, really bad decisions, and we’re seeing the entirely predictable results of them in ballooning deficits and spending that rivals World War II in terms of the burden on GDP. These decisions to spend money in a manner that makes drunken sailors look like Ebenezer Scrooge has put this nation into a debt crisis of historical proportions, and into a position that leaves us at the mercy of foreign potentates in a way that would enrage and embarrass our founders.
Now our elected officials face a conundrum. They can’t raise taxes any more without provoking an electorate even further than this year’s Tea Parties have already shown patience at an end. They don’t want to cut spending and reduce government and lose their power and influence with lobbyists. Therefore, they’ll defy the very intent of a constitutional republic and a government accountable to the governed, and hand legislative power off to an unaccountable group of elites that will give them the tax hikes they want.
This goes far beyond the issue of raising this particular debt limit. Any member of Congress promoting this idea should resign from office or get recalled, and replaced with someone who took a civics lesson in their life and understands the role of an elected legislature. If they are too cowardly to take responsibility for legislation, they don’t belong in a legislature that represents a free people.
Update: The Anchoress has some good advice for Congress — go home and start over next year.