Arlen Specter: Congress is a profile in cowardice
Washington traditionally boasts about its’ profiles in courage. Today, facing arguably the greatest potential financial crisis in American history, politics trumps economics as officials focus on the next election instead of the public interest.
The leader of the parade in profiles in cowardice is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with his ingenious, diabolical proposal, which avoids tough votes for Republicans and places all the blame on Democrats. It’s all inside the beltway maneuvering and hard to explain, but it is indispensible for the American people to understand it so public opinion can be mobilized to stop it.
Senator McConnell wants an act of Congress to give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own and then to decide where federal expenditures would be cut. Congress could overrule the president with a resolution of disapproval calculated to fail because it would be vetoed and an override by two-thirds of both houses would be a practical impossibility. This cynical plan would enable Republicans to vote for the sham resolution of disapproval and then claim no responsibility for raising the debt ceiling or for cutting popular programs. The Democrats would have to provide the votes to sustain the veto and get the blame for increased borrowing and curtailing popular social programs.
The plan is patently unconstitutional because Congress cannot delegate its’ core responsibilities to the president. For example, Congress cannot give the president its authority to declare war. The Supreme Court held the legislation granting a line item veto unconstitutional because Congress could not authorize the president to eliminate individual appropriated items, appropriations a core Congressional power. Thus, the president could not today be empowered to unilaterally say what appropriated programs would be stricken. Congress has historically been indifferent to the constitutionality of legislation, leaving it to the courts to decide years later after the crises have passed.