Opinion

Obama the intractable

Betsy McCaughey Author, "Beating Obamacare"
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Once Congress promises the American people there will be no government shutdown, the president has unlimited power.The framers’ acclaimed invention — checks and balances — will be a dead letter.

Democratic bigwigs are excoriating Republican members of the House of Representatives for attaching a condition – no Obamacare — to a stopgap bill to fund the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “extortion.” Congressman Steny Hoyer labeled it, “hostage-taking.” Representative Nancy Pelosi termed it, “legislative arson.” What the House Republicans are doing is not blackmail It’s checks and balances in action.

You’ll be hearing more inflammatory charges in the coming weeks, as Democrats try to defend a president who refuses to negotiate over his signature law that many Democrats even admit needs at least significant reforms. Barack Obama has drawn a red line, saying he will not negotiate on a continuing resolution to fund the government, and he will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling in the coming month. But the Constitution requires him to do so.

The framers of the U S. Constitution gave Congress power over the purse – the power to appropriate money and to borrow it or raise it through taxes, in order to compel the president to negotiate.

And for good reason. The nation’s first plan of government, the Articles of Confederation, had no president. When the framers gathered in 1787 to write a second, more effective plan, they reluctantly created the presidency. Reluctantly, because the worried that a president would accumulate power and spend flagrantly, as they had seen the despotic kings of Europe do.

To prevent that, the founders created checks and balances. In the words of James Madison, the Constitution’s chief architect, each branch of government is “effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

That is, unless the president refuses to negotiate . Fast forward two hundred and twenty six years to last Friday. President Obama called Speaker of the House John Boehner to say he “will not negotiate” with Congress on raising the U.S. government’s borrowing authority. No negotiating on the Keystone Pipeline, or immigration, or other issues. Obama, who claims to be a constitutional scholar, needs a refresher course.

The same day, Obama whipped up a crowd at a Ford plant, complaining that by attaching conditions to the stop-gap appropriations bill, House Republicans are “trying to mess with me.” Yes, they are, Mr. President, though James Madison expressed it with more elegance and precision.

“An elective despotism is not the government we fought for,” Madison wrote in Federalist 58. A president with the power to borrow and spend freely would be that.

Sadly, large numbers of Americans will fall for the politics of blame surrounding a potential government shutdown. One reason is that only a third of Americans can identify the three branches of government. That’s how gravely our civics education has failed.

Second, the President’s party is fanning fears of a shutdown, something no one wants. But let’s be clear, the military would continue to operate, doctors and nurses would still come to work at federal hospitals, air traffic controllers and other emergency personnel would be on the job, and everyone would eventually get paid. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, you might be inconvenienced.

Compare that to what’s at stake: preserving the Constitution. Once Congress says it will avoid a shutdown at any cost, the president’s powers become unlimited. Checks and balances are gone.

Obama used last Saturday’s weekly radio address to demand again that House Republicans fund the government, no negotiating Obama claimed that “the most basic constitutional duty Congress has is passing a budget.”Wrong again, Mr. President. Congress’s most basic duty is to protect and defend the Constitution, and withholding the money is the chief way to do it.