I have been following the non-communications between the House and the Senate since the specter of a government shutdown began. What amazes me is that no one has been able to, or has cared to, vocalize what is really going on — that the Constitution is at work here.
The Founders were leery of any government, or part of government, accumulating enough power to be the dominant force. That’s why they designed into our government the concept of checks and balances — except perhaps in the case of the Supreme Court, but I’ll address that shortfall later.
A bicameral legislature, ideally, guarantees close scrutiny of the workings of the other chamber and helps assure that they “agree” with each other before penning a final bill for consideration by the chief executive.
But the Founders went one better in making the House the originator of revenue-generating legislation and further gave it the sole power to fund legislation. In today’s situation, the House is acting fully within its prescribed power under the Constitution to either fund or not fund any legislation. That’s their check in the “checks and balances” concept. It is their given power to prevent tyranny. And that is what is going on now, but it seems the Senate majority leader either didn’t pay attention during Civics 101, or he chose to ignore that lesson.
After 5.5 years of operating, unconstitutionally, without a budget, the House has collectively said enough is enough. It says no to more continuing resolutions, and I applaud its members for doing so and encourage them to continue to do so when the debt ceiling comes up for consideration.
Having said that, one must realize that the Senate, too, is technically operating under the provisions of the Constitution. The Founders gave each chamber the authority to set its own rules. This enforced the premise that each chamber is independent of the other and allows both to be participants in the “checks and balances” built into the Constitution.
However, there seems to be a bit of incongruity when either house exercises the power to not consider input from the other or bills submitted by one of its own for consideration. Essentially, it prevents members of either the House or the Senate to properly represent their constituencies. Somehow, these actions don’t seem to parallel the intent of the Founders, and that flies in the face of the concept of representation in a constitutional republic. By not hearing a bill, a representative of the people, as well as the people he or she represent, are essentially disenfranchised. Could it be that the adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is borne out in those rules?
That power exercised by the leader of each house, as well as the frailties of people in positions of power, is best described by what James Madison penned in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
We can only hope that these frail men in our Congress who are not angels take Madison’s words to heart.
Walt Nowosad is a Navy retiree who has lived in Nevada since 2000. Before fully retiring, he was the director of plan management at Visa in California.