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Joel Weinberger Headshot

Super Congress or Star Chamber?

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Here's where we are now. A committee, grandiosely labeled a "Super Congress" will essentially decide whether and how much we'll cut and whether and how much we'll tax. They must trim 1.5 trillion dollars. There will be six of these supermen and superwomen. Half will be Republicans and half will be Democrats. Half will be Senators and half will be Congressmen and women. They will be chosen by the leadership in both houses. The Republican Senators will be chosen by President McConnell (oops Minority Leader Senator McConnell). The Democratic Senators will be chosen by Minority Leader (I keep making these mistakes, I mean Majority Leader) Senator Reid. The Republican House members will be chosen by Speaker Cantor (there I go again, I mean Speaker Boehner) and the Democratic House members will be chosen by the appropriately named Minority Leader Pelosi.

The recommendations of this committee of Übermenschen are not open to amendment or change. They can be accepted or rejected. If they are rejected, there will be an across the board budget cut (but no increase in taxes) that no one can stop. The committee is to make its recommendations in November and the vote is to come right before Christmas so as to maximize holiday cheer and good fellowship.

Let's leave aside the fun Congress will have in choosing these people. Let's leave aside the laughable idea that these individuals will operate independently in a non-partisan manner, for the good or our beloved country. We've already seen non-partisanship in action for the past few weeks. That's how we got here. Let's leave aside the fact that, in actuality, the whole thing will be about changing the mind of one Democrat or one Republican since a simple majority will suffice for this committee's recommendations to be sent to the Congress. The enormous power of that individual ready to turn on his or her partisan colleagues will have to be intoxicating, tempting and frightening. Imagine the promises that will have to be made to that individual to get him or her to turn. The attractive alternative is a straight party vote that will hamstring the committee and set in place the draconian cuts that hang over the heads of the Congress who can't trust themselves to do the right thing or anything at all.

No, I'd like to focus on something else. I'm not a lawyer or a constitutional expert. But let me see if I understand the constitutional and governmental ramifications of this. Our government is set up in branches. Let's begin by focusing on the legislative and the executive. The legislature is divided into two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. These people are supposed to represent us, the citizens of this country. (You remember us, we're the American people.) In my naïveté', I understood the Senate as concentrating power in the states regardless of population and the House as concentrating power in the population, independent of the states. The idea was balance and fairness (fair and balanced?). But the overarching idea is that we citizens get represented. So I'm from New York. I vote for a Congressman to represent the district I live in. In my case, Kew Gardens/Forest Hills in New York City (where I had the pleasure to be served by the eponymously named Anthony Weiner). I also vote for two Senators to represent the state I live in. In my case New York State. I am supposed to be able to count on them to represent my interests and to balance them with the interests of the country as a whole. Because we all are represented in this way, all districts and states have some say in legislation, including the all important decisions of where and how to spend governmental money and whether and by how much to raise and lower taxes, open and close loopholes and so on. That is now gone. Some Senators from states not my own and Congressmen and Congresswomen from districts not my own will now make these decisions with no input from my representatives, and my representatives can take them or leave them. Alternatively, my representatives may be the Supermen and women and the rest of the country can take or leave what they decide.

Am I alone in thinking that this subverts the whole point of representative government? To paraphrase a maxim that I think had something to do with the founding of our country, isn't this taxation (and budgeting) without representation? That our elected officials abrogated this responsibility voluntarily does not make this any better, I don't think.

Now let's move on to the executive branch. The President has the right to veto legislation. This is a check on the possible abuse of power by the legislature. Only if the legislature can override the veto with a 2/3 majority can the President be stopped from killing any legislation he deems harmful to the country. What has happened to this constitutional power? This has been give up as well in this deal? Our President is bound as well? What becomes his function? Rubber Stamp Man? This is the change we can believe in?

So we have a star chamber running the country now? Representative government and Executive checks and balances are a thing of the past? To hell with our constitutional system? Because our elected officials embarrassed themselves and us, we'll just go right by them?

That brings me to our third branch of government, the judiciary. Is this constitutional? I'm just asking. As I said earlier, I'm not a constitutional expert. If it is constitutional, then our form of government means squat. Let's just have secret meetings of people not elected or chosen by us for these decisions and vote yea or nay on what comes out of them. If it's not, let's put a stop to this right now.