It's a floor wax AND a dessert topping

An article on HotAir mentioned a constititional wrinkle I was not familiar with:
There is lingering confusion over the limits on the Senate regarding budgets.  It’s true that the House has to originate bills that raise revenue (Article I Section 7 of the US Constitution), but either chamber can originate spending bills.  Since the debt ceiling is not a tax, the Senate can originate it.
This seems a bit odd, as if increasing the federal piggy bank by borrowing were not "raising revenue" in the same way that imposing taxes is.   It's plausible, perhaps, given the Founders' probable inability to imagine that the U.S. would become the world's reserve currency and gain the ability to borrow seemingly unlimited amounts, right up to the point where the currency collapses.   I found what seems to be a thoughtful Constitutional website, with this to say:
In Federalist 66, for example, Alexander Hamilton writes, "The exclusive privilege of originating money bills will belong to the House of Representatives." This phrase could easily be construed to include taxing and spending.  The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that the Senate can initiate bills that create revenue, if the revenue is incidental and not directly a tax.  Most recently, in US v Munoz-Flores (495 US 385 [1990]), the Court said, "Because the bill at issue here was not one for raising revenue, it could not have been passed in violation of the Origination Clause." The case cites Twin City v Nebeker (176 US 196 [1897]), where the court said that "revenue bills are those that levy taxes, in the strict sense of the word." 
However, the House, it is explained, will return a spending bill originated in the Senate with a note reminding the Senate of the House's prerogative on these matters.  The color of the paper allows this to be called "blue-slipping."  Because the House sees this as a matter of some pride, the Senate is almost guaranteed not to have concurrence on any spending bill which originates in the Senate.  This has created a de facto standard, despite my own contention (and that of the Senate) that it is not supported by the Constitution.
That's an interesting issue if we're wondering about how to think of Obamacare, by the way, which originated in the Senate, now that the Supreme Court has explained to us that it's a tax, not a penalty, sort of.   In fact, there's a new challenge mounting to Obamacare on just that point, which may eventually turn on whether the revenue raised by the tax is incidental rather than direct.   Now that taxes no longer are viewed primarily as revenue-raising tools but as carrots and sticks, it's very hard even for smart Supreme Court justices to work out what "taxes, in the strict sense of the word" is supposed to mean.  So much effort is spent publicizing goodies in each new entitlement program, that our Congressional leaders are quite adept at obfuscating what a tax is.  Even if that confusion were to be cleared up any time soon, I'm not aware that the Supreme Court has ever tried to help us understand the fine Constitutional gradations of meaning that separate "raising revenue" from "borrowing great huge pots of money in order to facilitate an endless avalanche of increased spending."

Until recently, I never noticed the debt ceiling or understood why it might be important.  In a political climate in which people (including our chief executive) argue with a straight face that Congress can pass all the crazy spending obligations it wants, and never worry about how to pay for them, then berate their opponents for threatening to "dishonor" the country's financial "obligations" if they object to breaking a hard-and-fast limit on borrowing, the debt ceiling increasingly seems like a red line to me.  More than that:  an Angel with a fiery sword.

1 comment:

E Hines said...

But Obamacare, as I recall, originated in the Senate as an amendment to a House-passed bill--it's how they were able to pass it through reconciliation and skip the whole filibuster bit which Scott Brown's election had just made viable.

I don't see that suit getting far.

In the end, to some extent, the Progressives are right: the place to eliminate Obamacare is at the polling stations.

Eric Hines