Well, President Obama has stolen the spotlight again. The shelf life of the Democrat wipeout on Election Day was about a week. The man stands by the rule, “My way or the highway!” — an attitude the more seasoned politicians simply cannot abide. And, with good cause.
The Constitution and over two centuries of practice have structured our government so that the good things the government can do are envisioned to be a result of negotiation and compromise between usually opposing views of what is best for the country. This outcome reminds me of when I used to conduct group singing. Some liked the pitch high and some low. The only way I knew the pitch was right was if EVERYBODY complained.
Unfortunately, our president just can’t humble himself sufficiently to accept the notion that the opposition too might have some good ideas. He seems committed to negotiation by fiat. Being clever as well as arrogant, he is adept at putting the opposition at a disadvantage if they oppose him. Such is the current situation concerning immigration.
The range of possible responses open to the incoming Congress is conditioned not only by legal and constitutional issues, but also by political considerations. The way through this thicket holds dangers on both sides of the path. Yet there are some reasonable and effective steps which can be taken.
The first of these comes from an unlikely source. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, is the outgoing and retiring Democrat Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is also one the most senior members of the Senate. Mr. Levin was asked about the strategy proposed by Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, to fund the government for only a short time until the new Congress is seated and appropriation bills can be shaped to eliminate spending for the Obama initiatives. Mr. Levin endorsed the fact that Congress has the authority to withhold funding for presidential initiatives.
“It happens all the time,” he told a National review online reporter in their Nov. 17 edition. “That’s not uncommon that there’s amendments saying ‘none of the funds in this appropriation bill may be spent for’ — fill in the blank… . . That’s not slash-and-burn. That’s not bringing down the government. That’s a fairly traditional, targeted approach to make a policy point.”
This column has been advocating a specific methodology for the application of targeted appropriations, namely a line item analysis of each department’s budget looking for waste, duplications and abuse. One of the inescapable facts about the president’s immigration actions is that they call for new forms, new administrative oversight, agent training, and deployment of new employees to new physical locations, requiring new facilities. All these things cost money. How to cut the money for the unauthorized activities without cutting necessary funds? That is the job of someone especially familiar with all the little details of the DHS budget (presumably the implementer of the Obama immigration initiatives), so that clever attempts to hide the real purposes of the budget under unassuming or downright misleading line items are discovered and disallowed. Luckily, there is a non-partisan agency designed for exactly this type of task — the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
With the knowledge of a line item audit in hand, the Congress’ ability to accurately and completely control the funding of the agencies of government will be immeasurably increased.
The only organization today charged with line item approval of departmental budgets is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is managed by the president’s men, and can hardly be called non-partisan. If Congress really wants to stymie the president’s plans for immigration — or any other area of government (e.g. health care) – the way forward is clear and simple, although not easy. Without both the understanding and authority which can only be derived from a detailed analysis of the federal budget requests, our government is doomed to wander in the darkness of ever-increasing outlays, and little Congressional discipline in passing new laws.
The bottom line is that Congress has to start living up to its responsibilities. We can criticize the president all day long, but the fact remains that, if the Congress had been doing its job of legislating instead of bickering on the evening news, the president would never have had the opportunity to try to rule by Executive Orders. A glaring example of this dereliction of duty is the immigration issue itself. First, House passes an immigration bill and sends it to the Senate. The Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, sits on it and won’t bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. Then the Senate passes a bill, and sends it the House, where Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, also sits on it and won’t even let a vote be taken. So, what happens to immigration legislation? NOTHING!
A second piece of sound advice on this immigration issue comes from Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Republican. During an interview on Fox News the night of the president’s announcement, Gov. Kasich said that, yes Republicans have to stop this usurpation of Congressional authority, but it is also imperative that the Republicans present a point-by-point alternative to the American people. It is not enough to be against the president, the GOP has to be FOR a better alternative. He also urged Mr. Obama to “do what he has to do, but don’t go so far”.
Like Mr. Levin, Mr. Kasich is a political veteran. During his tenure in the House of Representatives (1983-2001), he served as House Budget Committee Chairman and was the chief architect of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the only balanced federal budget since 1969. Newly re-elected governor of a large, critically important electoral state by a landslide (63.85 percent of the vote), Mr. Kasich is well positioned to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Finally, Republicans have to realize that, important as it may be to constitutional legitimacy, the distinction between the substance of Mr. Obama’s message and the means by which he intends to implement it flies right over the heads of most people. They want to know what he did, not how he did it. And the fact is that his position is supported by a significant majority of the public (57 percent favor “path to citizenship” NBC/WSJ poll 11/14-17/2014 before Mr. Obama speech). Fine constitutional distinctions did not win the day against President Clinton, and they won’t this time either.
The way for the GOP to handle this is to file the lawsuit, and let the traditional arbitrators of disputes between the branches of government, namely the courts, resolve this issue. Tell Mr. Boehner to bring the Senate bill up for a House vote, even though it is unlikely to pass. In the meantime, go about the people’s business, work with any Democrats you can find, try to pass some legislation the president will sign — and prove to the American people that the Republican party is not “the party of NO”. Show them that the GOP is indeed the party of opportunity — of all the people, including our undocumented neighbors. There is great human wisdom in the admonition, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
In the meantime, however, get that line item appropriation machine running!