Politico has trotted out Barney Frank to explain to its readers what is wrong with the House of Representatives these days. Predictably, Barney Frank’s hot take is that the GOP is a “plague on government.” I mean, exact words.
Now, the first thing that we ought to observe about this tiresome and predictable explanation is that it is a pretty ballsy take for a guy who was caught having a gay prostitution ring running out of his Congressional office. I mean, literally, you could call Barney Frank’s house and order yourself a gay prostitute, if you wanted one. Frank’s defense, which the voters of his Massachusetts district inexplicably bought, is that he had no idea that his office had become hooker central on Capitol Hill and that he fixed 33 traffic tickets for the guy who actually ran the prostitution ring just out of the goodness of his heart.
You might think someone with this personal and professional history would be a little more careful with throwing the word “plague” around. Sadly, once you get past the title, the article gets even worse. These are words that Barney Frank literally wrote and allowed someone to print under his name:
What has made effective governing so difficult in recent years is that that wing of the GOP is determined to ignore the normal constraints on achieving its policy goals—constraints that are imposed both by the Constitution and the traditions of a democratic system in which power alternates among advocates of conflicting policy outlooks.
Get it? Barney Frank says the problem in government is that the GOP is ignoring constraints placed on the power of Congress by the Constitution.
Not that Barack Obama is ignoring constraints placed on the power of the Presidency, that the GOP is ignoring constraints placed on the power of Congress.
How, pray tell, does Barney Frank think the GOP is ignoring constraints placed on it by the Constitution? By threatening (and causing) shutdowns and/or refusing to raise the debt ceiling:
This crucial last point has been too little discussed. Governance is not obstructed simply because an important political faction advocates radical changes in policy. The problem comes—today and for the past five years—when these advocates try to take the country hostage in response to their inability to effect change through the normal legislative process. Why this is the case? In a system governed by free elections, there is, after all, no necessary linkage between believing strongly in a set of issues and insisting on the right to shut down the government if you fail to advance them. Nor has this been the historical pattern in the U.S., with the exception of the bitter moral struggles that led to the Civil War (and even Ben Carson has backed away from equating Obamacare with slavery).
Predictably, Barney Frank does not even mention which portion of the Constitution the Congressional GOP is violating by attempting to extract policy concessions with the power of the purse. The reason for that is blatantly obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Constitution: it’s because the Constitution explicitly grants this power to Congress in Article 1, section 9, Clause 7. It’s pretty ballsy to claim that Congress is upsetting the balance of power set forth in the Constitution by doing what the Constitution specifically gives them the power to do.
On the other hand, Frank is summarily untroubled by the fact that, since 2009 (the time he pinpoints as the beginning of all these troubles), the executive branch under President Obama has arrogated to itself powers that are explicitly prohibited to it under the Constitution. To name just a few examples:
- The Obama administration’s unilateral decision to rewrite Obamacare on countless occasions and to change statutory deadlines, in blatant violation of the President’s duties as set forth in Article 2, section 3;
- The Obama administration’s breathtaking arrogance in declaring that Congress was in recess in spite of the fact that, under Article 1, Section 5, the Senate was not allowed to be recess without the consent of the House. This astonishing move earned Obama a unanimous rebuke from the Supreme Court, even from the two Justices that were appointed by Obama himself;
- The Obama administration’s decision to interpret Congress’ refusal to pass an immigration proposal he accepted as carte blanche to rewrite America’s immigration policy via executive order, in spite of the fact that Article 1, Section 8 specifically reserves the right to set immigration policy to Congress;
- The Obama administration’s willful disregard for the work requirements set forth in the welfare reform bill passed into law by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton;
- The Obama administration’s decision to implement via EPA regulation carbon control policy in spite of the fact that Congress refused to do so per their prerogative under Article 1.
And the list goes on and on. No President in recent memory has shown more contempt for the constitutional authority of Congress or had their actions unanimously reversed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional more often.
But to Barney Frank, the problem is not that President Obama habitually usurps the power of Congress in violation of the Constitution, the problem is that Congress responds by wielding the power of the purse as they are specifically allowed to do under the Constitution.
Whether you agree with what the GOP is doing in terms of using the power of the purse as a policy brake on the President or not, it takes a lot of balls (and a lot of ignorance) to claim that it is unconstitutional. But then, Barney Frank was never short on either of those.