Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Congressional Responsibilities and Dereliction of Duties


Some vows are made to be broken. We don’t really mean them when we say them-- although most of us would never admit we don’t. For example:

·      I swear I’ll never eat that much turkey again--ever!
·      I will never forget my phone again. I know you need to contact me when I run late.
·      I take you to be my lawfully wedded spouse. Before these witnesses, I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you with all your faults and your strengths as I offer myself to you with my faults and strengths. I will help you when you need help, and I will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life.
·      If You get me out of this one, I promise never to get myself into such a mess again.

Good intentions, but human nature has a voracious maw for rationalization. We know that a Thanksgiving turkey, center-stage on the table set with both leaves, will swallow all our protestations from the previous year. And those promises two people make while standing center-stage among flora, fauna, and overdressed friends--well, however well-meaning those people are in the moment, at least 30% of their words will come to nothing more than divorce decrees.

One vow very much in the news today is the one that State and federal elected candidates and incumbents have made to one Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform organization. Conceived by a twelve-year-old boy and now a core support column for the GOP ideology, that vow reads:

I pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ District of the State of _____ and to the American people that I will:

One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and

Two, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Break Norquist’s vow, and his supporters will deliver a final judgment involving primary challengers, campaign funding, and votes. Many candidates and incumbents have been intimidated into signing in order to serve, but once elected, those public servants must swear allegiance with another oath. The Founders, of whom the GOP is so fond, declared in the Constitution that the legislative branch, The Senators and Representatives ... shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (US Constitution, Article VI, Section III)

In 1884, after the terrible Civil War, the Congressional oath grew to seventy-one words and now reads:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

We and those in Congress should therefore know what the duties of the office are. Are those duties merely complemented by Norquist’s pledge, or is that pledge an obstacle in executing the duties of office well and faithfully? Here is a very short synopsis of the Congressional powers enumerated in the Constitution.

It shall make law and enact law. It shall provide funding for essential government services, and it may borrow money if sufficient revenue cannot be raised for those services deemed essential. In short, Congress is in charge of the annual budget, and it may direct how monies are spent. (For a more thorough explanation of Congressional power, please read the information posted here.)

In my opinion, Norquist’s pledge is an end-run around specified Constitutional responsibilities for Congresswomen and men, and any woman or man who promises to uphold the Norquist pledge instead of the Constitution has broken faith with those who elected him and all those in the nation who count upon the good judgment of Congress to provide necessary government services.

Furthermore, any person holding office should weigh the evidence of the nation’s needs, then deliberate upon the best solution for the greatest number of people, without regard to constraints imposed by a small, third party. Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform, you and I have the right and a duty to offer our best judgment about how to resolve the injustices and problems that face our nation, but I do not have a right to deny your rights or discount your needs for service, and that is often the end result of upholding Norquist’s pledge. He believes and has often stated that his goal is to shrink government to a manageable size so small that he can drown it in a bathtub.

Such an ideology violates the social contract, one that has evolved since the Magna Carta to the great modern experiment known as a democratic republic, the United States. In that experiment, government serves the people who call it into existence, and it does so as the needs of the people swell according to the conditions in which they live.

Atticus taught his children to uphold higher laws when human suffering and injustice were at stake, not to settle for the status quo of segregation when human life and well-being are at risk. Members of Congress should heed his lesson.

Not to lead with regard to budget and government services is a dereliction of duty, one of the seven deadly sins in days of old, for people are in need, the infrastructure endangers our well-being, and quality of life depends upon decisions and choices about climate, wages, and health care. Not to raise revenue when revenues are needed to wage wars and return soldiers safely to their homes and full employment is to neglect the Constitutional responsibility with which Congress has been charged. Furthermore, upholding a promise to a third-party instead of the oath of office sworn before an entire nation should be an impeachable offense for those Congresswomen and men have abdicated. They must stop calling for presidential leadership and man up themselves! Higher law calls to them, one above Norquist.