Conscience or Constitution?
As fine a Congress as ever robbed the helpless
by Everett Wilson
August 4, 2011
In one of Edwin O'Connor's novels, one character describes another: "as fine a man as ever robbed the helpless." Congress did not rob the helpless on a large scale this week, but they threatened to and might have, so they deserve the description--especially those members of the House of Representatives who voted No on the debt ceiling compromise. Passage was uncertain, and a prevailing negative would have meant that the House failed to meet one of its fundamental responsibilities: to fund the government of the United States. What the heck? They voted No anyway.
None of them should be re-elected, even the legends and stars; especially the legends and stars, because they're the ones who set themselves up to know better and then expect others to follow their example. To name names, here are four of them, from both Right and Left: Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, Barney Frank, Charles Rangel.
A No vote under the circumstances when the vote was taken was a vote of dereliction, not of conscience. On a question of such magnitude, when no time remains for alternative action, the only conscience a House member must honor is the Constitution, which gives the House the responsibility to see to it that the United States has the funds to pay its bills, meet its payroll, and honor its contracts.
You raise taxes to do it, you borrow money to do it, whatever it takes, but you do it. You don't play games. If you would rather follow your conscience than do your job, then resign your seat and let somebody take it who has the common sense to distinguish between preference and necessity.
Responsible grown-ups don't play games when national honor is on the table. They do not threaten to break their promises or welsh on their obligations. Congress played these games for weeks; finally, enough of them grew up temporarily and did their jobs.
I cut no slack for those who kept the game going after the clock had run out, then voted No on the only option left on the table. It should cost them their political careers; we will probably have to settle for a few of them losing their seats. However much they bluster from both Right and Left, they are not Constitutionalists. Constitutionalists do their Constitutional duty. It is the duty of the House to fund the government's current obligations--debts we have already incurred. For a while it sounded as though some of our leaders thought it was okay for us not to.
The United States keeps its word and pays its bills. We can't forgive our own debts. Sure, some of the debts are shockingly stupid, but they are ours to pay off anyway—even if we have to borrow money to do it.
Along with those stupid debts, remember, there are those we owe to people who depend on us for their rent and groceries. We pay them because we said we would; the entitlement is in our promise to them, not in their need. Failing to pay them would have meant robbing the helpless—which would have happened had the No voters got their way.
About the Author:
Everett Wilson thinks "political ethics" has long since been an oxymoron, but for old times' sake he makes a stab at it anyway.
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