With Congress lurching toward a possible shutdown of the federal government, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate began Friday's session with a prayer that included this plea: “Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis.”
In times like these in our democracy, it's good to revisit the work of the Founding Fathers, those smart old birds who met in Philadelphia in 1787 and created a system intended to do just what the chaplain prayed for.
In Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States, they said it plainly: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and (emphasis added) House of Representatives.”
They split legislative power between two chambers; they did not give all the power to one.
Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution further requires that: “Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the president of the United States.”
That gave presidents a role in turning legislation into law as well.
Should the Congress and president disagree, Section 7 also says that legislation presented to the president “shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives.”
That was another careful balancing of power. Lawmakers do not govern alone. The chief executive can approve or reject legislation, but he can be overruled if enough of the people's representatives agree.
Simply put, the founders devised a system that often requires compromise.
The Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress and signed by the president.
This law has flaws. Obamacare's champion in chief already has delayed implementation of big pieces of the law. And just days ago, he acknowledged that all will not go smoothly when the insurance marketplaces begin operating on Tuesday. “Like any law, like any big product launch, there are going to be some glitches as this unfolds,” the president said.
Republican critics have raised legitimate questions about the law and its costs. Ideally, the legislative process should offer remedies, allowing Republican lawmakers to propose suggestions for improving the law and obligating their Democratic colleagues to fairly consider those ideas.
Our current gridlocked Congress can't find this path. That doesn't change the fact that this law was passed by the House. It was passed by the Senate. It was signed by the president. Just as the Constitution prescribes.
Obamacare opponents do not have their hands on enough government levers to repeal it at this time. The democracy the founders gave to us also included an avenue for these situations.
If you don't like a policy or a law and don't believe you're getting a fair deal in Congress, then convince enough voters that change is needed. Elect enough House members and enough senators to make those changes. Elect a president who agrees, and those changes can be signed into law.
Americans in 2008 elected the Congress that passed the health care legislation and the president who signed it into law. Last year, despite Republicans' best efforts to make Obamacare a pivotal election issue, voters re-elected the president and elected enough Democrats for them to retain control of the Senate. Those voters also decided to give Republicans control of the House.
Which means that neither party can govern without the other. And that's the key word to remember right now: govern.
Obamacare isn't the only difficult issue lawmakers are facing. Everything from farm policy to oil pipelines to the best way to balance the budget is on the agenda.
Every tough problem cannot become doomsday.
Congress repeatedly has shown its inability to stop spending money it doesn't have, and taxpayers now are saddled with a $16.7 trillion debt. Sometime in October, the government's ability to borrow money will run out unless Congress raises the debt ceiling again. This is not borrowing for new spending, mind you, but borrowing to pay for things that Congress already passed and presidents already signed.
If agreement can't be reached, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that the U.S. government won't have enough tax revenue coming in to pay 32 percent of its bills. Reneging on the government's obligation to pay its debts is dangerous.
Finding solutions to the nation's difficult problems is the job of “governing,” a job that the politicians of both parties asked voters to allow them to do.
That requires compromise, an often messy and ideologically impure way to govern. But as the Senate chaplain's prayer made clear, it's better than governing by crisis.