Rep Carter: Return to Regular Order to Handle the Debt

OPINION:  A Return to Regular Order to Handle the Debt

By Congressman John Carter

The hopes of the country were high – unjustifiably high – following November’s landslide election of a new House of Representatives committed to balancing the federal budget and avoiding a Greek-style calamity.

We can say “unjustifiably” from the reality that Republicans won only one of the two houses of Congress and the White House remains in the hands of President Obama. That leaves two of the three bodies required to pass a law still in the hands of those who created the current crisis and remain committed to staying their disastrous course.

The House has the power of the purse. With a judicious use of this power, we can force positive change. We have not done so thus far because we have not effectively used the legislative tools given us by the Founders. Those tools are the regular order of the legislative process. Here’s how they work.

The House passes a bill, which is then sent to the Senate. The Senate can pass the bill or an alternate more to its liking.

The House and Senate then appoint a conference committee to sit down and work out the differences between the two versions. If the conference committee makes no progress in producing a compromise, the speaker and the Senate majority leader can meet to negotiate a way around the impasse.

This compromise bill is then sent back to both houses for final approval. If it passes both the House and Senate, it is sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed. If it is vetoed, the speaker and Senate majority leader can pressure the president for a compromise or work together to overturn the veto by a supermajority vote.

This is regular order. It is how the House, Senate and White House work together to produce an acceptable result and maintain a guard against any one legislative house or the president gaining unbridled power.

Instead, we have allowed Mr. Obama to skillfully circumvent the democratic process to his political advantage.

The Republican House has done its job in passing tough budgetary measures to control deficit spending. Then the Democratic Senate has refused to take any action, while Mr. Obama begins direct negotiations with the House, effectively eliminating Senate action, House and Senate compromise, final House and Senate approval and joint House-Senate political pressure on the White House.

If the negotiations fail, which the president can guarantee unless the House acquiesces to his demands, the White House is set to use its bully-pulpit advantage with the national media to blame the Republican House for global economic calamity.

The Democratic Senate is allowed to sit on the sidelines, doing nothing, taking no tough votes to have to defend in the next election, and watch the House squirm as Mr. Obama blocks the regular order of the constitutional legislative process.

This is not the working of government designed by our Founders. These are the political hallmarks of a monarch or dictator dealing with an inferior legislature. If you recall, we rejected this form of government with the U.S. and Texas Declarations of Independence in 1776 and 1836, respectively.

This must end if we are to salvage our economy and our future. Now is the time to cease out-of-order negotiations with the president and get down to legislative work through regular order.

We know what must be done to restore fiscal health to our government. We must significantly cut current and future federal spending, put the nation on a course toward a balanced budget in time certain without accounting gimmicks, and begin the process of legislative and constitutional reforms to prevent a repeat of this disaster in the future. With all three of these goals accomplished, we can afford to pass a reasonable temporary increase in the debt ceiling to prevent a downgrading of the U.S. dollar as part of the package of getting our national finances under control.

We have more than enough votes to pass such a measure in the House with flying colors next week. We should do so immediately and then move on to other business until the Senate takes action through approval or the drafting of an alternate version. If the Senate refuses to pass either the House measure or an alternate, the debt ceiling will be reached and no further borrowing will be able to occur because of the Senate’s failure to act. The economic results will be bad, but ultimately no worse than continuing down this road of suffocating national debt. We can lessen the negative impact by passing the Full Faith and Credit Act to guarantee that our bonds cannot be forced into default for political purposes by the Obama administration.

The president should not be allowed to derail the regular order of the democratic process again. House Republicans should stand solidly behind the speaker and refuse to negotiate with anyone other than the Senate until its version of a bill has passed and a conference agreement has been reached.

Our nation is blessed with the inheritance of a system of checks, balances and legislative processes that at times seem unwieldy but together provide us with the tools we need to preserve the ordered liberties that make the United States the greatest nation on earth.

But tools are only useful if someone picks them up and gets to work. It is past time for somebody other than House Republicans to grab a hammer.