The Sequester, the Constitution & President Obama
by FRANK SALVATO
February 27, 2013
During the State of the Union Address, we heard the President say how much he disagreed with and abhorred the fast-approaching "sequester"; the budget-hacking debt and deficit measure that an ad hoc committee from both houses of Congress cobbled together so that the federal government could say they did something - at least for then - on the generational problem facing our country that is a spendthrift federal government. Of course, after all the congratulatory back-slapping died down, thinking people understood that the "agreement" to which Republicans in that ad hoc committee signed on to was politically horrendous. Some of us, armed with an ability to read and comprehend the Constitution, even understood the whole of the effort to be unconstitutional.
Over the first term of Mr. Obama's reign as President of the United States, I have - on many occasions, questioned just how it came to be that he can claim the mantle of "constitutional scholar." Truth be told, without a full vetting of his college transcripts (to which we are denied access) all we know is from time to time he lectured to a constitutional law class at the University of Chicago under the title of "senior lecturer." As he was not a seated professor at the UofC, his position was little more than a trophy title and one that is routinely bestowed upon political figures. Again, because we have no proof that Mr. Obama took - or even passed - a constitutional law class in either undergraduate or graduate school, his qualifications to teach - and his knowledge of the subject - is unclear.
I provide the aforementioned thoughts because two aspects to the so-called "sequester" have everything to do with constitutionality.
First, we have the issue of "providing for the common defense." The White House, as reported by The Washington Post, describes the sequester thusly:
"...a package of automatic spending cuts that's part of the Budget Control Act, which was passed in August 2011. The cuts, which are projected to total $1.2 trillion, are scheduled to begin in 2013 and end in 2021, evenly divided over the nine-year period. The cuts are also evenly split between defense spending - with spending on wars exempt - and discretionary domestic spending, which exempts most spending on entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid...The total cuts for 2013 will be $109 billion..."
Two points which bring about my first issue with the sequester are these.
First, it needs to be noted that even though the brain trusts from the Right side of the aisle - Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Dave Camp (R-MI) - agreed to divide cuts to defense spending and domestic spending equally, the total of the Defense budget, in context to the whole of the federal budget, is only 20 percent. That means that 20 percent of the budget must should 50 percent of the proposed cuts under the sequester. Anyone with a half-functioning brain understands that Progressives would sell the souls of their Mothers to decimate the Department of Defense budget in such a gouging manner.
But second, and perhaps more troubling, where domestic spending can be argued to be the purview of "providing for the common good," "providing for the common defense" is constitutionally mandated. In fact, if we are to adhere to that "cool set of rules" created by those olds guys in wigs (my apologies to Jeff Spicoli) we see that it is clear that the defense budget and "providing for the common defense" is not only a priority, it is sacrosanct. And while past Progressive administrations have established commitments to our citizenry which we must now honor where domestic spending is concerned, we must prioritize budget reductions and future expenditures in a way that abides by our constitutional mandates, meaning the defense budget at 20 percent of the federal budget, should never have been targeted for 50 percent of the proposed budget reductions.
It should be noted here - and it is something that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), explained in the TEA Party response to Mr. Obama's fifth State of the Union Address - that the sequester cuts future spending increases, not today's spending levels. One must understand that we operate on a smoke-and-mirrors system of "baseline budgeting," that automatically increases federal spending with each budget (if you want to make your blood boil, read up on baseline budgeting and see how your elected officials have been sticking it to you since 1974).
This brings me to the second big issue I have with the Budget Control Act, or the sequester, as it were...
Article I, Section 7, of the United States Constitution reads:
"All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."
And while the verbiage that follows outlines the processes by which the presidential veto and congressional veto overrides are to be executed, nowhere is the power of the purse - the ability to create legislation that address or "raises revenue" - extended to any other chamber, committee or branch of government.
Why is this important? Because, once again, that "cool set or rules" was ignored for political expedience and opportunism.
If all legislation for raising revenue must originate in the US House of Representatives - and addressing future budgets, debt and deficits absolutely and without question comes under the heading of raising government revenue - then the inclusion of exactly half of the "super committee" members from the US Senate - and the coinciding negotiations with the White House, where the sequester idea originated - was, in fact, an unconstitutional act and, therefore, the whole of the creation of the Budget Control Act was unconstitutional at its inception.
Taking these two major issues into consideration - the issues of providing for the common defense and the proper genesis of legislation addressing revenue - the whole of the crisis we are facing in dealing with the sequester, an Obama Administration created and pushed vehicle, is moot: no tax cuts should take place, no deadlines should be honored and Congress - and specifically and exclusively the US House of Representatives - should immediately craft a budget for fiscal year 2014, debate it, pass it and send it to the Senate for action. This is called operating by Regular Order and our Legislative Branch has operated outside of Regular Order for far, far too long.
If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), probably the most obstructionist partisan to ever exist within the halls of the US Capitol, chooses to continue to play politics with the financial well-being of the nation - remember, he has broken the law by not passing an annual budget for well over one-thousand days, then that should be his political legacy. If that is his end, I am certain that one day he will be as ideologically despised among the "low-information voters" as he is today amongst those who take their constitutional obligation of governmental oversight seriously.
Which brings me back to the subject of our President's constitutional knowledgebase, expertise and constitutional literacy...
It would seem to me that anyone who had even a cursory understanding of the US Constitution would know enough that the adequate financing our nation's defenses is sacrosanct and that all legislation addressing revenue must originate in the US House. Even if Mr. Obama - unquestionably an off-the-scales Progressive - believes that the US Constitution is flawed and/or a "living document" (he's going to have to make up his mind on that one), he must still acknowledge that procedurally the sequester - the whole of the Budget Control Act - is null, void and non-bindingly unconstitutional.
That is, if he really was educated on the basics of the US Constitution...which I am finding harder and harder to believe.
What do you think, Spicoli?
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Frank Salvato is the managing editor for The New Media Journal. He serves at the Executive Director of the Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(C)(3) research and education initiative.