The Social Compact is Broken

As a counterpoint to my earlier post, Eric Idle, writing at HuffPo:

Half of America seems to be entirely enviable: movies, books, TV, arts, liberal democratic institutions, great centers of learning and research, gay marriage, social freedoms, etc., etc.

The other half does seem to be, well, nuts.

Currently you appear to be almost in a state of civil war. If one party can shut down the government, then the social compact to rule is broken. In most other democracies this simply could not happen. In the UK, for example, the government would dissolve and the prime minister would call for an immediate general election, which would be held within three weeks. (Yes, that quickly.)  With your fixed terms you do not have this benefit. You must limp on to the next overlong election cycle and then waste a whole year of execrable television and billions of dollars on it. This is a very expensive and not very flexible system of democracy that no one else wants to follow.

The Mad Hater’s Tea Party throws everything overboard, not just the tea. The captain, the crew, the ships dog… Pirates could hardly do worse.

True enough.

And this from Think Progress:

Ultimately, the roots of the looming shutdown stem from a different distinction between our government and that of most other modern democracies. Canada, Britain and many other democratic nations are what is known as “parliamentary democracies,” meaning that the nation’s executive is chosen by whoever controls the legislature. Stephen Harper’s power flows from the fact that his party controls a majority of the seats in Parliament. Similarly, Prime Minister David Cameron owes his job to his position as the leader of a governing coalition in the legislature. President Obama’s election, by contrast, took place entirely separate from the (admittedly, quite flawed) election that placed Republicans in control of the House. In the United States it is possible for a president to serve despite the fact that he or she is widely loathed by both houses of Congress. This is a unique problem facing what are known as “presidential democracies.”

IOW, the Madisonian system is working exactly as it should and the outcomes are unacceptable; the flaw is inherent in the system, the system itself is flawed.

  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on October 15, 2013 - 2:21 pm

    It should not be possible for politicians to deliberately shut down the federal government to create a manufactured crisis or commit economic sabotage. IMHO the debt limit is already unconstitutional, but maybe we could address both with a constitutional amendment.

    • #2 by Glenden Brown on October 15, 2013 - 2:38 pm

      I saw an op-ed over the weekend that said we’re dealing with this issue because of a decision by the AG in 1979 or 1980. Attorney General Eric Holder could simply issue a contrary decision and voila, fixed. I’m not sure that’s actually doable but it’s an interesting idea.

      • #3 by Richard Warnick on October 15, 2013 - 4:23 pm

        There were lapses in appropriations during the Carter administration, but federal employees stayed on the job anyway. Unfortunately the Antideficiency Act specifically forbids this. Unless the law is changed, I cannot even set foot in my office during the shutdown. The penalty is two years in a federal penitentiary. There is no way to re-interpret the law out of existence.

        President Carter’s Attorney General, Benjamin Civiletti:

        “On its face, the plain and unambiguous language of the Antideficiency Act prohibits an agency from incurring pay obligations once its authority to expend appropriations lapses.”

        • #4 by Bob S. on October 16, 2013 - 12:12 pm

          There is no way to re-interpret the law out of existence.

          And yet isn’t that exactly what President Obama is doing with large sections of Affordable Care Act?

          • #5 by Richard Warnick on October 16, 2013 - 12:23 pm

            Not exactly the same thing. For example, the Obama administration directed the Internal Revenue Service to refrain from enforcing the ACA’s employer mandate penalties for one year. Well within the accepted powers of the Executive Branch.

            If you want an example of an attempt to re-interpret a law out of existence, refer to the Office of Legal Counsel’s secret redefinition of torture so that the Bush administration could claim that they weren’t breaking the law. But it was merely a claim, because the OLC is part of the Executive Branch, and doesn’t have the power to change any law.

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