Pro Logica

November 25, 2011

Obama, Boehner and the Constitution

The recent Congressional law concerning appropriations, borrowing and the deficit has pushed the deficit onto a super committee.  Many pundits, myself included, were fairly confident that it would never accomplish its goal especially when the super committee’s members were appointed.  This law required unpleasant cuts in spending for both political parties, hopefully ensuring a failsafe super committee.  However, it did resolve the looming contradiction between Federal spending and borrowing.  One facet of this Congressional mess was the meeting requested by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner, with the POTUS, Mr. Obama.  While I have no objection with the POTUS and members of Congress meeting to talk about policy–Constitutional interpretation is never fixed and particular outcomes of enacted laws may be explored and debated–this meeting was particularly egregiously wrong from the standpoint of the U.S. Constitution.

The pre-history of this meeting was a lengthy discussion/debate in the House dealing with the above concerns.  No workable bill was forthcoming  primarily due to the mulishness of the members of the two major political parties.  With this background and time for action becoming worrisome, (the contradiction between spending and borrowing) Mr. Boehner requested a meeting with the POTUS to get an agreement that would be acceptable to members of both parties. his reasoning probably being that upon reaching an agreement, he would then convince the Republican Party members of Congress to vote for the bill while the POTUS would convince the Democratic Party members of Congress to vote for it and, also, not veto the bill when it comes time for the POTUS’s signature.

The relevant circumstances from the point of view of the Constitution are these:

  • The discussion in the House was stymied.
  • There was very little dissent among the Republican Party members of the House; the dissent was over political party ideologies.
  • The Republican Party had control of the House and could have passed a resolution without any Democratic Party members support.
  • Doing so would assure defeat in the Senate.
  • The Speaker of the House requested a personal meeting with the POTUS expressly and publicly for reaching an agreement between themselves.  This agreement would raise the borrowing limit and specify deficit reductions.

Constitutionally, this last statement was the invalid tactic since it was an actual request by Mr. Boehner to have Mr. Obama set aside his Constitutional duty as POTUS and, instead, use his office as a bully pulpit to convince recalcitrant Democratic Party members of the Senate to vote for a largely Republican Party bill.  This hints at a possibility that Mr. Obama knew he could never convince the Senate Democrats.

Now here is how I would have handled  the situation.

  • First (a no-brainer), I would agree to the meeting and set up a date to meet in the oval office.
  • Second (after the social niceties), I would tell him that I intend to make an initial small speech and will record this meeting beginning with my speech after which he (Mr. Boehner) can decide if he would like to continue the meeting,
  • Third (my initial speech),  “I have been following the proceedings in the House and understand your frustrations and I realize that it is those frustrations which have led you to seek this meeting; so, before anything is discussed between us, I should make clear a most important parameter which will govern my statements during this meeting.  I have been elected by the people of this country as President, and, as such, I have taken an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and this is my primary responsibility as President.  In this regard, I would be remiss in my duty to the people of this country if I were to commit myself to signing a bill which has not yet cleared the full Congress.  From this point of view, anything discussed at this meeting is essentially inconsequential  and I can only say that when a proper bill is sent to me from Congress, then and only then will I consider whether it merits either my signature or my veto.  I take this position because you, Mr. Boehner, are only one person.  If the object of this meeting is to discuss aspects of a bill that will be presented to me for my signature, where are the Senate representatives?  the Democratic House members?  Surely, you are not telling me that you represent the Senate and, really, since you cannot represent the Senate, I am more than justified in following the Constitution.  Also bearing upon the content of this meeting is the fact that the House is controlled by the Republican Party.  It is also true that under the current circumstances the House Republicans are not divided and could pass any resolution they desired; the fight you have is with the House Democrats and the Senate.  Let’s delve into the problem just a little deeper and may I point out that the borrowing cap is strictly a legislative problem, not an executive one; to wit, there are two laws on the books, one of which requires me to spend an amount of money which will not be in the treasury. In order for the treasury to obtain this money, I would have to issue a presidential directive authorizing the Treasury Department to borrow the necessary amount, but the other law puts a cap on the amount of money which the Federal Government can borrow and, unfortunately, we are at that limit.  I am left with the choice of enforcing one of these laws while not enforcing the other one.   This is not an executive problem since, in the absence of direction from Congress, I will make a decision on which law to enforce and base it upon my interpretation of the Constitution which I am duty bound to uphold.  Furthermore, the solution to this legislative problem does not impinge on any of the deficit discussions which are causing your frustrations.  Your problem, as I see it, is to solve the legislative contradiction before I am forced to make a decision and deficits have no bearing on that solution.  If you and the Republican Party manage to get a bill through Congress that include provisions to lower the Federal Government’s deficit, I can assure you that it will be vetoed by me unless one of the bill’s provisions authorizes a steeply graduated income tax on incomes above three times the median wage and will last long enough to pay for the cost of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars while Mr. Bush was President.
  • Fourth, I would then ask Mr. Boehner If he would like to continue this meeting.
  • Fifth, I will make the recording of the meeting available to the public.

My guess would be that the meeting would not continue after my speech.

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