The impending taxing and spending compromise between congressional Republicans and Democrats and the Obama administration demonstrates how the federal constitutional system has broken down. And how the breakdown can sabotage democracy.
Under the emerging terms, as reported in the press, the Republicans will receive at least a temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. The Democrats will win additional spending on unemployment insurance and other items.
Now think about that for a minute: We have just gone through a national election in which the voters sent two messages loud and clear: (1) curb spending and (2) cut the deficit.
So Congress is now about to give us a deal that raises spending and adds to the deficit. How can this happen? It can happen because the Supreme Court has so expanded Congress’s spending power as to change the U.S. Constitution from a good constitution to a bad one.
Constitutions are rules for the political game. Good rules translate the normal political process into generally good results. Bad rules translate them into bad results.
If the courts were still enforcing the original Constitution’s limits on federal spending, this deal would have come out differently: Instead of Republicans winning tax cuts and Democrats getting spending increases (resulting in a higher deficit), the principal dealing would have been over whether to cut more or less spending, resulting in a lower deficit. In other words, under the original Constitution, the voters’ will would have been translated into reality. Under the current distorted system, it has been throttled.
Anyone who knows my personal and political history knows I love tax cuts. But whether extension of the tax cuts is good or bad (and I think they are good) is not the point here. The point is that when the Supreme Court stopped enforcing most constitutional limits in the name of “democracy,” what we really got was less democracy.
In November, the voters overwhelmingly demanded less spending and lower deficits.
In December they will get exactly the opposite.