Disaster Legislating; A Dangerous New Process
Some people are worried about the potential Constitutional crisis if President Obama uses the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling voting unconstitutional. The reality though is that we are already in the midst of a full blown Constitutional crisis that is will likely only get worse in the coming years.
Whether or not you think it is a good idea, the Constitution was designed such that any major policy change should take the agreement of the House, the Senate, and the President, unless the President’s veto could be overturned by the House and Senate.
By choosing to govern through threat of disaster the House Republicans have turned against the entire intent of our founding document. No longer does change need the broad agreement of the separate branches. No longer is winning all the political offices necessary. All that is needed now is one chamber to threaten economic destruction and the others to fear it enough to give into the hostage taking; which they should since the President is almost always politically blamed for a bad economy.
These extreme anti-constitutional tactics are at least somewhat understandable given the corrosive effect of abuse of the filibuster. This abuse has ground the Senate to a near standstill. Even so the precedent Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Obama have allowing to be set in this fight could be far more devastating in the future.
The most effective way to move your legislative agenda forward is now not by winning overwhelmingly in multiple elections to gain control majority control of all the branches. As we saw in 2009-2010 with the Democratic agenda, it will just slowly die in a dysfunction Senate. No, the best tactic going forward is from a minority radically threatened to destroy the country’s economy until their demands are met. Legislative extremism is the only path open.
It is a frighteningly stupid way to run a democracy and I see it getting more and more common. Boehner’s example has shown not only is legislating via threat of disaster effective, but it is now the only way to move an agenda, given how broken the traditional Constitutional route has become. Activist will rightly demand a repeat performance, since it is the only way to get anything done.
This maybe the first effective use of the debt ceiling as leverage but it is unlikely to be the last. The tactic will likely continue until we have the good sense to simply get rid of the absurd concept of a debt ceiling. Even then I suspect new forms of disaster governance will come into vague.
We are normalizing the idea that our government can only take action when facing a massive self-created disaster and those actions which are taken are radically undemocratic ones. We are accepting that governance by threats of destruction, extortion, extra-legislative committees, and always requiring a supermajority are legitimate tools to subvert the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. If this is not a total Constitution crisis nothing is.