A Few Words on the Shutdown

A break from our usual topics of discussion.

Earlier this week your author somehow ended up in a Twitter discussion shouting match with ex-NY Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald about the US Government shutdown. Sadly, Kurt went ad hominem pretty quickly but he was just playing to his base of Twitter followers sheeple.

Some non-US readers have asked about this.

So, the following is to help clarify for them, and for US readers who have long since forgotten their Civics classes.

The US Constitution, contrary to claims of credentialists, is a plain-English document, written to be understandable to the voters of the time.

The intentions of the writers of the Constitution, again contrary to the claims of the credentialist-obfuscation-complex, are also well known, and written in plain English. How do we know this? Because before the Constitution was voted upon, a series of articles were printed in 1787 and 1788 promoting and explaining its provisions, and addressing some of the arguments against ratification. These 85 articles are collectively known as The Federalist Papers.

One of the key components of the Constitution is the elegant system of checks and balances contained within it.

To that end, we have a bicameral legislature and only the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, holds the “power of the purse” as written in Article 1, Section 7 (the “Origination Clause”) and explained in Federalist 58 and 66.

Its adoption was well documented as it was an integral part of Roger Sherman’s great “Connecticut Compromise” between the small states (the “New Jersey Plan”) and the large states (the “Virginia Plan”).

Should the power of the purse be vested in the President, it would lead to tyranny. If the power were vested in the upper chamber, the Senate, the smaller states would hold power in excess of their tax contributions. But in the lower chamber, the decisions about money would be made by the representatives of the people, from whom all money and all political power flows.

An elegant solution.

Now, what has happened recently in these United States?

The House of Representatives has originated and passed a bill to fund the government. The Senate refused to ratify it, as the President did not like it. Why? Because it does not provide money for one of his great desires.

One could say that the shutdown was precipitated by the House passing a budget the President did not like, but it is the Senate and the President who caused the shutdown to occur. President Obama would rather shut down the government than accept the budget given to him by the representatives of the people.

The shutdown can end instantly if the Senate and President choose to do so. Rather than accept the (rather large) budget they have been given, they accuse the House of using the budget as a weapon. As if the systems of checks and balances is a bad thing merely because they do not like the outcome.

In actual fact, the Founding Fathers expected this power to be used as a weapon, and predicted it would be so.

From Federalist 58:

The house of representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government. They in a word hold the purse; that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people, gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse, may in fact be regarded as the most compleat and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

This is the messy business of government. Contrary to the bleatings of CrashTV, and the obfuscations of the Senate and the Administration, it is not a world-ending catastrophy. It is how the sausage is made.

For a far more nuanced take, this piece is strongly recommended. Also, Thomas Sowell is one of the few widely published authors who not only understands the situation, but can explain it in a straightforward manner, sadly far better than the politicians. His piece is available here.

Next time. The Debt Ceiling. What it is and what it isn’t, and why the explanation is so simple it makes for terrible television.

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