Two things we can salvage from this deal

It has been 274 days since the historic 2010 election swept a a new wave of Republicans into Congress – many of them professing to be fiscal conservatives who embraced the values of the Tea Party.  Many of us worked hard to elect legislators who represented our values and we expected something in return. Speaker Boehner promised us fiscal responsibility and transparency. What we got was a deal crafted behind closed doors (perhaps even on the golf course – so much for that 72 hours rule) and budget cuts that amount to a few grains of sand on the beach of our massive federal spending which will do little to curb our crushing federal debt.  Pardon my cynicism, but we sent these people to Washington to change the trajectory and by most accounts, this “deal” is all smoke and mirrors, gimmicks and accounting tricks.

When they were campaigning last year, these avowed conservatives told us that if they were elected we should “hold their feet to the fire” and demand that they keep their promise to get spending under control. The time has come. Although The Budget Control Act of 2011 is now a done deal,  they can still redeem themselves in our eyes and demonstrate some semblance of fiscal responsibility in this process.  Here’s how:

1.  Vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment before the 2011 election.

Every single member of Congress needs to be on record about the BBA before voters go to the polls in November. The text of S. 365 says:

“After September 30, 2011, and not later than December 31, 2011, the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, shall vote on passage of a joint resolution, the title of which is as follows: ‘‘Joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.’’

Of course, there will be resistance, particularly in the Senate. The 20 Democrats who have supported the BBA in the past will have to explain why they won’t vote for it now.  But the bill anticipated that.  The BBA can originate in either the House or the Senate and the bill demands that the other chamber must act on it quickly:

(b) SENATE CONSIDERATION.—(1) If the Senate reeives a joint resolution described in section 201 from the House of Representatives, such joint resolution shall be referred to the appropriate committee of the Senate. If such committee has not reported the joint resolution at the close of the fifth session day after its receipt by the Senate, such committee shall be automatically discharged from further consideration of the joint resolution and it shall be placed on the appropriate calendar.

There are also rules to prohibit maneuvers that would kill or table the bill:

“Consideration of the joint resolution and on all debatable motions and appeals in connection therewith, shall be limited to not more than 20 hours, which shall be divided equally between the majority and minority leaders or their designees. A motion further to limit debate is in order and not debatable. An amendment to, or a motion to postpone, or a motion to proceed to the consideration of other business, or a motion to recommit the joint resolution is not in order. Any debatable motion or appeal is debatable for not to exceed 1 hour, to be divided equally between those favoring and those opposing the motion or appeal.”

Speaker Boehner should put a carefully crafted, clean Balanced Budget Amendment on the schedule as the first order of business upon returning from summer recess. Pass it and then send it immediately to the Senate.  Forcing members to vote on it before the election will increase the chances of it passing. Each and every member of Congress who votes against it should be held accountable on election day.

2.  The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction must include serious Constitutional conservatives.

Stacking the committee with namby-pamby moderate Republicans will not be acceptable. The Democrats will not reciprocate – they will not send their moderates.  Actually, in the context  of our desperate need to cut spending, can anyone think of a single Democrat who would be considered a moderate?  Note that a recent Rasmussen poll showed that  49% of Americans think the Tea Party movement is good for America and 45% believe that Tea Party members have a better understanding of our country’s problems than members of Congress do.  It would be unconscionable to exclude their views from this important debate.

Appointments to the committee are to be made by the following:

(i) The majority leader of the Senate shall appoint three members from among Members of the Senate.  (ii) The minority leader of the Senate shall appoint three members from among Members of the Senate.  The Speaker of the House of Representatives shall appoint three members from among Members of the House of Representatives. (iv) The minority leader of the House of Representatives shall appoint three members from among Members of the House of Representatives.

Three for Senator McConnel and three for Speaker Boehner.  The GOP must choose wisely.

In an interview with Greta Van Sustern, Senator McConnel indicated that his main goal was reaching a consensus rather than fighting for spending cuts and reducing the deficit:

“I’m looking for someone who is solid philosophically but also interested in getting an outcome. You know, I think if everybody puts on our most partisan members, nothing happens. We need to get an outcome. Our country is looking for an outcome. We need to save entitlements. It’s absolutely essential. They’re not going to be there in a few years. And we’ve had a difficult time getting that done sort of doing things the way we always do it around here so it’s time to try something different. And that’s what the joint committee is about.”

When Greta suggested that strategically it might be a good idea to wait to see if the Democrats stack their side of the committee with partisans before choosing his members, McConnell said he’s still going blindly, recklessly for consensus-building:

“I’m going to pick three people that I think are serious, responsible people who want an outcome for the country in a way that Republicans believe in and I’m not going to pay any attention to who anybody else puts up. I”m only responsible for my three and I’m going to make sure they’re serious, constructive people who have the same vision for the future of America that I do and that most party members do.”

Once again, we’re going to get rolled by the Democrats. The Democrats are certainly not going to sit in the dugout waiting to see if the Republicans are going to send “non-partisans” to the plate before choosing their lineup. They’re going to send in the heart of their order to get the best deal possible before the election. And McConnell will send in the team from the Old Timers game.

And in the House, Mr. Boehner should be reminded of his recent statement when allegations were made that he would retaliate against Rep. Jim Jordan for his lack of support for Boehner’s plan in the House:

“Jim Jordan and I may not always agree on strategy, but we are friends and allies, and the word retribution is not in my vocabulary.”

A vote against Boehner’s plan should not be grounds for disqualification from committee membership.

I’d also like to remind the Speaker of something he said just a few days before November’s historic election at a campaign event for Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH).

“And so, Mr. President, I’ve got a word for those people, those people who oppose your policies, those people who love our Constitution, who love freedom and who love the principals that America was built on. You know what I call those people?  Not enemies – they’re patriots!”

We must insist that both the Speaker and the Minority Leader each appoint at least one Constitution-loving patriot who represents the values of the Tea Party to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Because the President and the Democrats are vowing tax increases, it is the only way to assure those of us who worked tirelessly this past election cycle that the committee is little more than Congressional Theater Redux or a rubber stamp for the President.  In addition, such a move heading into 2012 would build a bridge between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party. To exclude these members would be bowing to the ugly rhetoric and accusations of those calling us terrorists and hostage-takers. They should not be permitted to silence and marginalize the views of a majority of Americans.

Clearly, Senator McConnel is not inclined to go this route. To my knowledge, Speaker Boehner has not given us a peek at his lineup card yet.  If conservatives launch an all-out effort to demand representation on the committee, perhaps they will be swayed.  If Obama can Tweet-stalk Congress, conservatives can do it to Boehner and McConnell, I suppose.

It’s quite simple. If  the end game of this deal is higher taxes and no Balanced Budget Amendment, we will take these legislators at their word and “hold their feet to the fire.”  They can be replaced. If 2010 showed us anything, it demonstrated that everything has changed and no seat is safe. We the People have spoken and we will not be silenced with a tiny bone here and there.  We want to see real, measurable change in the way Congress does business. Complacency is not an option.

Crossposted at http://whattoreadtoday.blogspot.com/