There was No Legislative Decision : The Temporary Sort of Resolution to the Fiscal Grift
By Wing-Chi Poon [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
[Update: Turns out the House may not be interested in rubber stamping these deal. Also, see Matt Stoller’s Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR.]
The deal to avoid the misnamed ‘fiscal cliff’ the self-imposed crisis (i.e. shock doctrine) designed to impose austerity on a public that is overwhelmingly opposed to it justified by fake concern over deficits and debt sheds important light on the state of our political system. I’ll have more to say later, but to start, I wanted to mention the sham that has become of the legislative process. The deal was negotiated between Vice President (and former Senator) Joe Biden and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a process that excluded the other 99 members of the lame duck Senate and the entire House of Representatives. As the Washington Post reported:
“There are two people in a [metaphorical] room deciding incredibly consequential issues for this country, while 99 other United States senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives — elected by their constituencies to come to Washington — are on the sidelines,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)said on the Senate floor in the afternoon.
…Thune was right that legislators had, essentially, been cut out of the legislative process. By the time a deal was announced, about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, there was little time for anything but a vote.“At least we would have had an opportunity to debate this, instead of waiting now until the eleventh hour,” Thune said.
Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling.
It should go without saying that when all those high level federal officials are cut out of the process, the people are too. But for the moment, I want to point out how our models for understanding politics are often inadequate. Members of Congress aren’t deciding anything here – they are ratifying a decision made elsewhere. Now it’s true that Biden and McConnell were not free of political constrains, but then again, no one ever is. It’s generally a bad idea to assume that those who hold the power according to civics textbooks are those who actually hold the power. The Constitution was supposed to make the House the main driver of fiscal policy, secondarily the Senate, and lastly the President. (The Supreme Court was intended to have little to no role, yet that didn’t stop Chief Justice Roberts, a ‘neutral umpire,’ from making it the main theme of his report [pdf] on the state of the judiciary.)
I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not representative democracy. And it’s not legislative decision-making.