As we rush headlong toward the so-called “fiscal cliff”, Republicans are cowering in a corner fearing they will be blamed for the consequences. Conservatives from the Atlantic to the Pacific are exchanging emails and writing blogs blaming Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the Democratic Senate, or all three, for the mess in which we now find ourselves. Here’s a news flash for the constitutional neophytes in the Republican Party. Neither the President nor the Senate is in control of the nation’s finances.
For the first 169 years of America’s existence, we were a collection of colonies under the rule of the British King. Laws governing the lives of the citizens were made by colonial Legislatures in each Colony. The members of the Legislatures were chosen by the citizens of each Colony. These Legislatures were given complete control over the Colony’s purse strings. If a Governor, reporting to the King, wished to expand his carriage house or build a new bridge across the local creek, the money to do so had to be appropriated by the Legislature. Monies for the Crown came from excise taxes and tariffs imposed on Commerce. The “power of the purse” was so absolute among the colonies that they sometimes refused to appropriate money for the Governor’s salary until the Governor came around to their point of view. (For more discussion of this subject, click here)
The Governor had a simple choice, if he wanted his paycheck; he had to acquiesce to the wishes of the Legislature, even if that meant disregarding the direct orders of his superiors in England. Attempts by the British Parliament after 1763, to wrest control of the purse away from the Colonies led to widespread protest, and eventually to the Revolutionary War and the loss of the Colonies for Great Britain. By 1787 when the Constitution was written, citizen control over how taxpayer money was spent was so ingrained in American thinking that the new Constitution placed the power of the purse in the House of Representatives as the only branch of government elected directly by the people.
Article I, Section 7, Clauses 1, 2, says, “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.” You do not need a JD Degree to understand the clear meaning of this simple decree. Only the House of Representatives can originate tax laws or other means of raising revenue. The Senate can “propose” amendments, but the House does not have to accept them. The House has the final say over how taxpayer money is spent. For the past four years I have listened to conservatives bemoan the fact that neither the President nor the Senate has presented a budget since Obama has been in office. It is not the job of the President or Senate to present budgets. The only duty of the Senate is to concur with the Budget presented by the House or to offer amendments for the House’s consideration. A legitimate question may be asked at this point, “What happens in case of a stalemate?” Here to, the Founders did not leave us in the dark.
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7, says, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” Again, a Law Degree is not required to understand the meaning of this Clause. If the money has not been appropriated by the action of the House and concurred with by the Senate, it cannot be spent. The President cannot buy a postage stamp with taxpayer money unless it has first been appropriated by the Congress for that purpose, and don’t forget to get a receipt. “What then”, you may ask, “is the President’s responsibility in drawing up budgets?” Again, our Framers anticipated this important question.
Article 2, Section 3, Clause 1, says, “He [the President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;” Here, the key phrase is “recommend to their consideration”. Until President Obama solidifies his position as the dictatorial leader of America, he only has the privilege of “recommending” to Congress how he would like to see us spend our hard earned dollars, but neither he nor his minions in the bureaucratic monstrosity, created by former Presidents and Congresses, has the authority to spend money for things and in ways that Congress does not give its prior approval.
If a CEO in the private sector spent money he was not authorized to spend, it would be called “embezzlement”; he would be issued an eight foot by ten foot cell and a striped suit, and it would be years before he could again view a sunrise from the comfort of his patio. When a President does the same thing, he should face impeachment, be turned out of office, and prosecuted for his misuse of taxpayer funds. Congress members, who conspire with the President to steal from the taxpayers and use the money for political advantage, should be turned out of office and prosecuted if the situation warrants it. It is time the American people said, “Enough is enough” and put an end to the misuse of taxpayer money and the wholesale abuse of taxpayers’ labors.
If the Republican Party does not take a stand against raising the debt limit and/or increasing taxes now, this song and dance and the Ponzi scheme that has become the way our government operates will go on for the foreseeable future. We can only expect these unconstitutional practices to continue ad infinitum until all our money is gone and America becomes just another destitute, third-world power. When we go over the looming “fiscal cliff” it won’t matter who gets the blame, it is the American People who will suffer; and there may be a degree of poetic justice in that, since we are the ones that allowed our elected officials to get out of control, believing that we could somehow benefit personally from their lawlessness.