January 01, 2019

Horse 2498 - The US Government Shutdown Is The Result Of A Stupid Constitution

The first day of 2019 is the embodiment of so many things that I cite as proof that the United States Government is badly constituted. The fact that there is a government shutdown at all and that the government has continued to be shutdown into the new year, doesn't merely short that the system is broken but that it was never properly built in the first place. The fact that government shutdowns happen with such alarming regularity, indicates to me that whether by design or by complete lack thereof, that this is baked into the system and that the blame for this should be directed squarely at the so-called 'wisdom' of the founding fathers and probably most directed at Alexander Hamilton who most vigorously defended the document with the Federalist Papers.

The current system of government in the United States is actually the second attempt at government in the country. The first attempt with the Continental Congress and which had seven presidents, was so abominably feeble that all that it could really do was collect funds to go to war and declare that the country was either at war or peace. The idea that there should even be a central government was viewed with suspicion by the thirteen colonies of whom it must be said, acted like scared little children in a big vast land.
The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 was the last major conflict in the American Revolutionary War and the United States acted as a single country in the negotiations for peace in the Peace Of Paris in 1783. The three great peach powers who still had an interest in the North American continent argued for their bit and apart from the United States and Britain, Spain and France also secured their stakes; although the latter would suffer its own revolution because it too was broke.
I little doubt that at the bunfight of the constitutional conventions which resulted in the document in 1789, that most people saw that experiment in government as being no more permanent than the Continental Congress which preceded it. It actually speaks volumes to me that it was George Washington who became the first President because that indicates that the country saw itself as still being on a defensive war footing and not building a thing that would outlive the people immediately involved. I don't think that any real succession plan existed for who might come after Washington and that probably helps to explain why it is practically impossible to remove a sitting President.

Andrew Johnson probably shouldn't have been impeached and the Senate couldn't ultimately get the votes to do so, which is what lies at the heart of the mechanics of the process. Warren G Harding probably should have been impeached over the Teapot Dome scandal in which Federal Oil Reserves were secretly 'leased' by the Secretary of the Interior but Harding helpfully died before any charges could ever be drawn up. Richard Nixon almost was impeached and probably would have been it wasn't for the fact that he removed himself from office, after it came to light that there was no possible way that he would survive a trial over Watergate. Bill Clinton's impeachment trial fell over in the same way that Johnson's did.
The question of the impeachment of Donald Trump should be something of a fait accompli. There are almost certainly charges to be laid relating to obstruction of justice over the Russian hacking of the 2016 Election, and there are continuing questions over financial irregularities which stem from his continued running of businesses and whether or not he has used the position of the presidency for financial gain.

The Constitution requires that impeachment charges are drawn up in the House Of Representatives and that they only need a simple majority of members on the floor to agree to it. When those charges are heard in the Senate, it then requires a supermajority of two-thirds or Senators to pass the impeachment resolution. At no stage in US Senate history, has any party controlled two-thirds of the Senate. Furthermore if just a rump of 34% of Senators remained loyal to the President, then no president will ever be impeached.

This is fundamentally different to a Westminster Parliament when a party can under its own internal rules, remove a Prime Minister with comparative ease and where the Governor-General or the Queen, can remove a government. The precedents for that exist in Canada when a sitting government was forced to stay in power and in Australia where a government was dismissed. I think that you have to go all the way back to Charles I to find a King dissolving a parliament because of personal nonsense.
The Crown is a fundamentally disinterested part in the machine of a Westminster Parliament. The President of the United States is not only the Commander in Chief (which they share with the Governor-General or the Crown) but they are also the person in whom the executive of the nation is vested.
If by some bizarre imaging of history Donald Trump had made his way to the top of a Westminster Parliament, he would have been removed by either his party or the Governor-General or the Crown, a long time ago. As he is the head of state, he occupies the position which should logically have the power to remove him but with the sole exception of Nixon, no President has removed themselves. From its inception as it is constituted, that is a bad thing.

The second fundamental flaw of the US Constitution on display is the mechanism by which the budget comes to be.
The passing of the budget by a government, is the most fundamental piece of legislation that a legislature must pass. The continued functioning of government can only happen if there are the available funds to ensure that that happens. Blocking the supply of monies to a government utterly renders their ability to govern, void. The process by which the budget is passed in the United States is so flawed, that the shutting down of government happens frequently as opposed to almost never, in most other democratic countries.

The budget in a Westminster Parliament is written by the Government in the lower house, who are in the first place invited him form government because they have a majority of members on the floor in that chamber, who then almost always pass the budget through the lower house without delay and negotiate its passage through the upper house where it is then signed off on and into law by the Crown.
In Australia, money bills can not originate in the upper house and the Governor-General who is not a sitting member of either house can not debate its passage. I imagine that the Governor-General could veto the budget if they really wanted to but that has never occurred in 119 years.
In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords lost its power to block the passage of money bills with the Parliament Act of 1911, after the 'People's Budget' of 1909/10 was rejected by the House of Lords. and caused one of the most severe political scandals in British political history.
In the United States though, government is not formed by a majority of members in the legislature and in addition to that, there are practically no restrictions on the changes that the Senate can make to the budget once it has passed through the House of Representatives. In addition to that, instead of there being one appropriation bill which is the Federal Budget, in the United States there are twelve such bills because the various government departments and agencies are all budgeted for separately. That in and of itself explains why there is currently only a partial government shutdown.

The thing is though that all twelve budget bills for 2019 have already passed through both the House and Senate. The unsigned bills that remain are being held over the Congress as a ransom for Mr Trump's plans for a wall along the Mexican border. In theory, any and every bill which the Republican Party wants to pass, should have been passed without delay as they currently have a majority of members in both houses and there is a Republican President. Even if every single Democrat were to vote against legislation, the numbers exist such that that's irrelevant; so blaming the Democrats for blocking legislation is functionally a lie because that's numerically impossible.
The budget bills which haven't been passed and which currently sit on the President's desk (hence the shutdown) are being held as a ransom for a line item of $5bn in a bottom line of $4407bn. That's kind of the equivalent of throwing a tantrum and not leaving the supermarket with a hundred dollars worth of groceries because daddy can't have one nail from the hardware section; the reason why you don't want him to get a nail is because he intends to hurt children with it but he controls the credit card.

All of this means to say that the 2019 US Budget hasn't been passed because you have a President who can't easily be removed, blocking legislation which has been passed by the Congress. Either that's a design flaw, which the framers of the Constitution had never really thought about because they never saw the system of government as being permanent, or that is a design feature which was designed to keep George Washington in power. None of this would happen in a properly constituted system of government and if it did, it would be a once in lifetime occurrence; not the second in decade and certainly not the ninth in my lifetime.

No comments: