Friday, July 29, 2011

A modest proposal to Pres. Obama on what to do after August second

Assuming that the Congress will fail to expand the debt limit and the government runs out of money on August 2 with which to pay its bills, your first priority should be to turn off the water, lights and air conditioning of the Capitol and the House Office Buildings. You should also stop paying the members of Congress, furlough the Congressional staff, and cancel the health insurance of all members of Congress.

The problem is of course that the separation of powers requires that the administrative branch of government administer the appropriations laws passed by the Congress and also not to exceed the debt limit passed by the Congress. If the Congress fails to extend the debt limit then the appropriations passed by the Congress for this fiscal year will necessarily require borrowing in excess of the debt limit remaining from the existing law.

Secondly, I would withhold payments on all contracts for large companies, on the assumption that large companies would have credit lines and other resources which would allow them to deal successfully with the cash flow problems. The fact that the executives of the large companies would likely make their displeasure known to their Congressional representatives, and that their opinions count a lot with the Republicans, are only peripheral benefits of the decision.

Of course the Congressional appropriations bills do not specify the expenditures month by month in the fiscal year, so that it principle the administration may defer expenditures that would normally be made in August into September. Indeed the practice is that funds appropriated for a given fiscal year must simply be obligated in that year, as for example by being obligated in contracts or grants to be paid over a longer period.

There is a long history of American presidents impounding appropriated funds, and under some circumstances a temporary deferral of obligation of appropriated funds is allowed (for up to a year). Thus it would seem that the administration would have some flexibility in dealing with the responsibility of obeying the laws passed by Congress and signed by himself or his predecessors.

Of course, it is the courts that would be asked to judge the legality of the administration's acts after they occur. I recall that Andrew Jackson is supposed to have said of a decision made by the Supreme Court under John Marshall: "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"

Check out the two following figures from recent studies by the Pew Research Center and CBS:

The last couple of years have been hard, often very hard, on a lot of our citizens. The safety net provided by Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, government pensions, and related government programs should be protected!

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