The current United States budget troubles have led to an impasse that is likely to lead us to another round of brinkmanship like what we saw with the fiscal year 2011 budget. Because it was a last minute compromise, some things slipped through the cracks from lack of time. Other things were dropped because there was no way an agreement was going to be reached in the time available. While both sides claimed a win, as the smoke cleared it became apparent to supporters on each side that the claims of their side were somewhat exaggerated.
In the end, we learned two things from the 2011 budget crisis. First, the direction of the discussion over budget growth changed. There is considerable debate over whether that change was for the better or not, but there was a definite change, even if it was too small to be anything but symbolic. (The deficit grew more in the eight days the compromise was being negotiated than the total cut, even if every penny claimed by the Republicans was actually cut.)
The other thing that we learned was that the word of the current President is worthless. Part of the deal was to eliminate the salaries for four of the so-called “czars.” The president often speaks of them as advisors, and if that’s all they were the controversy would be considerably less. But it’s clear that the “czars” exercise considerable management authority that would normally fall to a constitutional official subject to congressional confirmation.
In this case, it isn’t the fact that their existence is an insult to constitutional government that matters; t’s that the president was party to negotiations that would eliminate four of them. Once both houses of Congress had voted to approve the compromise, Barack Obama added a “signing statement” saying that part of the deal didn’t apply to him, and he was going to ignore it. In other words, he reneged on the bargain. He told the whole world that the word of the President of the United States was worthless.
Immigration reform is a simple and straightforward extrapolation. We’ve been here before. President Reagan recognized that tearing families apart to deport a mother and keep the baby here, or force American citizens to leave the only country they’d ever known was a hard and often cruel thing to contemplate. Having been a long time resident of the Southwest, I suspect that president Reagan saw the same thing that I did growing up, the exploitation of those who lived outside of the law and couldn’t call on the law for protection. He probably also saw (as I did) that many who were here illegally were hard working honest people trying to care for their families, and that many would make better Americans than some who are Americans simply by accident of birth.
So a compromise was crafted, involving amnesty for those who had made a life here. The other side of the coin was that we would close the border, so that the northward flood slowed to a manageable trickle. In 1986 president Ronald Reagan signed a comprehensive immigration reform act. Some people say this was a mistake. I believe that immigration reform, even with the amnesty included, was not a mistake. It was a good choice for both compassionate and practical reasons. The mistake was not in trying to bring existing illegal immigrants under the umbrella of the law, but rather in trusting Democrats. The Democrats collected the amnesty, made a couple of token gestures in the general direction of border enforcement, then walked away from the deal.
Today president Obama wants another round of amnesty in the form of The DREAM Act. He has repeatedly objected to conservative insistence that anything resembling immigration reform include controls on the border, and that border enforcement come first. He seemed offended at the very notion that he might collect the amnesty and then walk away from defending our borders. My response till now was a generic response aimed at Democrats in general: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But now we don’t have to speculate what a group of congressional Democrats might do. The president has clearly established that he is a liar, and will renege on a deal literally before the ink is dry. So I have to insist that this time the Democrats go first with border enforcement. They can trust us; we’ve already proven that we can deliver amnesty if the conditions are right. But we must insist that the conditions be right first.
In August of 1988, vice president George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) was nominated to be the Republican candidate for president. The deficit problems that plague us now already existed, though there were fewer zeros in the numbers. But in the speech accepting the nomination, Bush 41 made a promise that would warm the heart of any Tea Party member today:
And I’m the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent, my opponent now says, my opponent now says, he’ll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking into. My opponent won’t rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I’ll say no, and they’ll push, and I’ll say no, and they’ll push again, and I’ll say, to them, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
By 1990 an economic slow down combined with continued spending and reaching the cap on government borrowing had the budget process in a pickle. (Sound familiar?) But it was not just congressional Democrats pushing president Bush to raise taxes, many of his own advisors thought it was a good idea. So an Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act was cobbled together. The debt ceiling was raised. The hard caps on spending levels were replaced by targets. Income taxes were raised, and new taxes created on “luxury” items that would affect only “the rich.” (It turned out that one man’s yacht was another man’s cabin cruiser, and a lot more people were involved in building, repairing, and supplying boats than anyone suspected. I watched business after business fold near the harbor in San Diego, but that’s a tale for another time.)
The revenue targets said that for each dollar of new tax money raised, two dollars in spending would be cut. But that was a target, with no enforcement mechanism. Likewise, the limits on the amount of deficit spending were a target, with no penalty. And since the government could once again borrow, congress found itself in possession of a shiny new credit card. You can easily guess that this didn’t end well. The Democrats took the taxes from Bush 41’s broken promise, and the new debt ceiling. Somehow the two dollars of budget cuts for each dollar of new taxes never appeared.
The current president, who reneged on a deal before the ink was dry, wants us to trust him. He wants us to adopt amnesty, and increase taxes. The border enforcement will come later, he promises.
With all due respect, Mister President, after you — I insist!