All Honor to the House Republicans
10:07 AM, Jul 22, 2011 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
O tempora, o mores! O Cicero, if thou couldst be with us now! The corruption of our age is approaching that of your own! But who speaks for the ancient Roman—and modern American!—virtues of civic duty and personal responsibility?
The Republican members of the House of Representatives, that's who. Only one group of public officials has behaved in recent weeks as the elected representatives of the people in a great republic should: the House Republicans. The federal government has a problem. We're hitting a debt ceiling limit passed into law last year by the Democratic Congress, and signed by President Obama. We're doing so because of appropriations passed by that same Democratic Congress, and signed by that same Democratic president. Have the president and Senate Democrats proposed any actual legislation to deal with this problem? No.
House Republicans did pass a budget earlier this year—unlike their Senate Democratic counterparts. Unfortunately, federal spending has gotten so out of control that even if the Republican budget were to become law, we would have to borrow more money for several years to come. So House Republicans last week stepped up to the plate (to use a metaphor that I suppose would be unfamiliar to Cicero). Their constituents hate the idea of voting to raise the debt ceiling. But the House GOP did what had to be done. They voted for a debt ceiling increase, and accompanied it with serious spending cuts, restraints, and the promise of a forthcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget by capping spending. They did their duty, in accordance with the procedures of Congress and in the light of day, proposing and passing legislation that their fellow citizens could read, debate, and judge.
And they are the only ones who've done their duty. Having failed to pass a budget for two years, Senate Democrats have done nothing to deal with the debt limit either. President Obama has in effect withdrawn his January budget proposal, and hasn't submitted a new one. So the morally bankrupt leaders of our fiscally bankrupt federal government meet feverishly behind closed doors, out of sight of the public they're supposed to represent, to figure out how to paper over the mess they've created. Gangs of senators occasionally emerge from their hideouts to announce deals that would raise taxes and gut defense in response to a crisis caused by domestic spending and entitlements. The gangs roam the halls of the Capitol, invading television studios in order to terrorize the citizenry with the prospect of default and mayhem. They then retreat to their lairs, while Beltway insiders shower them with praise while scorning the actual legislation produced and passed by House Republicans in accord with the norms of democratic government.
Enough! No more gangs! No more deals! Gangster government is unworthy of a democratic republic. We elect leaders, not dealers. They are responsible for the fiscal future of the United States. They're not negotiating with foreign enemies, where secrecy is often necessary. They're not authorizing covert intelligence operations, which have to be planned behind closed doors. This is a representative democracy—much as many of our elites may resent that fact.
And so all honor to the House Republicans. They disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare how fiscal sanity and probity can be restored. The elites tremble at the prospect of an honest debate on how to restore solvent and responsible government.
For the next year and half, progress is limited by the president, and the Senate majority, we have. The debt limit will be increased, and the best House Republicans will be able to do is prevent defense from being gutted, and tax burdens from being increased. But in 2012, believers in limited and constitutional government have a world to win.
And so: All honor to the House Republicans, who had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce and pass legislation that is a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the gangs and the dealmakers, and that lays the groundwork for victory in 2012.
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