Monday, May 30, 2011

A High School CIvics Lesson

Yesterday I made mention of Paul Ryan’s Budget proposal, which easily passed in the House, albeit along party lines. Last week the Senate finally got around to rejecting the Ryan proposal--again mostly along party lines-- but not before unanimously rejecting the Obama Administration’s proposal. At least they finally got around to voting on it, but the bottom line is that the Senate has not passed any budget at all. Ryan himself summed it up best in the aftermath of the Senate vote on May 25:

I thank Senate Majority Leader Reid for drawing attention to the bipartisan, unanimous repudiation of President Obama’s budget. I thank Senate Budget Committee Chairman Conrad for drawing attention to the fact that it’s been 756 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget. I am disappointed, however, in their irresponsible abdication of leadership. Earlier this year, Republicans advanced a serious budget that saves Medicare, strengthens our safety net, and lifts our crushing burden of debt by getting government spending under control. Our plan of action puts the budget on the path to balance and puts the economy on the path to prosperity. President Obama’s reckless budget and Senate Democrats’ inaction, on the other hand, commit our nation to a debt-fueled economic crisis. Senator Reid and Senator Conrad are playing politics with the health security of America’s seniors and the economic security of American families.
In the meantime, Vice President Biden is allegedly meeting behind closed doors with Democratic and Republican leaders, trying to negotiate an alternative that is agreeable to both sides. But there is something fundamental that people are forgetting, which perhaps can be cleared up by a simple high school civics lesson about how a bill is supposed to become law. The first clause of Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution reads as follows:

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

The Constitution is silent on how to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills before they reach the president, but there are long established procedural rules by which both houses appoint members of a Conference Committee to work out differences between the bills. But such a conference committee is only formed once both houses pass their own respective versions of the bill.

Thus far, only the House has passed a budget. The Senate hasn’t passed diddly squat. But this hasn’t kept Senate Democrats from publicly and privately playing the “Let’s make a deal” card and acting like they are doing their job. Predictably, they are taking every opportunity to demagogue the issue over the public airwaves. Senator Chuck Schumer is even pretending to give Republicans some friendly advice by suggesting that they abandon the Ryan plan in order to not suffer significant losses in the next election.

Isn’t it kind of Mr. Schumer to offer such helpful advice! I have some better advice for the House: Instead of allowing the Senate leadership to play rope-a-dope with you (as they did with the 2011 budget), instead of allowing them to demagogue you to death while dragging out negotiations and pretending to be serious, you should immediately call off the charade. Stop the negotiations now and insist that the Senate first go on record by passing a budget of its own (if it can). Then we can talk. That is, the differences can be worked out in an actual conference committee, as has been done throughout the history of the republic--just like they taught us in high school civics.

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