By Ralph Nader
While attention was focused on the House of Representatives’ impeachment of Donald J. Trump, legislators from both parties were secretly huddling with White House aides to seal a $1.4 trillion budget deal to fund the government until next September. They were rushing to do this to avoid a partial government shutdown starting December 21, 2019.
Had the budget been deliberated in open Congressional hearings, the media would have reported on this backroom deal and the people of this country would have had a chance to weigh in during the proceedings. Instead, a degraded Congress pulled a fast one on the citizens. This obfuscation is especially unacceptable considering that these lawmakers work only three days a week at best— when they are not in recess altogether.
Astoundingly the Democrats also caved in on Trump’s wall! After blocking Trump’s funding demand for the wall for three years, the Democrats approved $1.4 billion for the wall and even allowed Trump to divert funds from the Pentagon to that porous, wasteful barrier. In so doing, the Democrats legitimized one of the egregious, impeachable offenses Trump committed earlier this year when he seized $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s budget in money not approved for the wall. The Washington Post reported that former secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus tweeted “As hurricane heads for Camp Lejeune Trump takes $3.6b from military for needless wall. Same amt Marines say needed to fix Lejeune after last storm.”
Trump usurped the Congressional “power of the purse,” to use James Madison’s phrase, under our Constitution. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi declined to charge Trump with this and other similarly impeachable spending violations. Now we know one reason why—the ongoing secret budget deal.
Just as astonishing was that the Democrats caved on the funding for Obamacare. Year after year, Democratic leaders defended Obamacare, rather than support more efficient full Medicare for All (with free choice of doctor and hospital). See H.R. 1384 for the most recent version of Medicare for All.
With the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just deciding against the individual mandate in Obamacare, what does the House Democratic leadership do? They go along with the Republicans’ demand to repeal the medical device and health insurance taxes that were helping to fund Obamacare’s expansion of health insurance coverage for twenty million people.
It gets worse. The House Democrats approved a huge increase of $22 billion to the already bloated, wasteful military budget in return for Trump approving paid family leave for federal government employees. The Democrats made this deal instead of just pushing for paid maternity leave, a right provided in all other Western democracies and numerous dictatorships in the world!
“No problem,” say the feeble Democrats. It is just more of the terrible practice by the Democrats of giving equal increases for the military budget, demanded by the Republican illegal war hawks, as the price for social service funds for low income families and children. What a grotesque way to spend taxpayer money!
To what level has this Congress lowered itself? Allowing the Trump dump to contaminate Congress even extends to cruel bigotry. They allowed Trump to extend his racist discrimination against the American citizens of Puerto Rico by reducing the Medicaid funds from $12 billion over four years to up to $5.7 billion over two years. The higher sum and longer term already were endorsed by Republican and Democratic leaders on two Congressional Committees.
Robert Greenstein, director of the highly respected Center on Budget and policy priorities, declared that “with another funding cliff looming in two years under the new agreement, Puerto Rico may continue to lack the certainty it needs to commit to long-term increases of its very low payment rates to health care providers [vendors] to stem their alarming exodus to the mainland, to provide coverage for such key health treatments as drugs to treat Hepatitis C, and to cover more poor, uninsured residents.”
Over the years, Congress has weakened its exclusive constitutional “power of the purse” by giving presidents waivers. As with the war powers, Congress has delegated more of its constitutional authority to the Executive Branch.
Just days ago, the racist President Trump bragged before a large campaign rally that he has cut off “six hundred million dollars” in aid for Palestinian relief, including aid for suffering children. This was a long term assistance program, under past Republican and Democratic administrations, to help provide the barest necessities to displaced and impoverished Palestinians whose territories are blockaded or militarily occupied by the Israeli government.
Washington justified such expenditures for both humanitarian and security purposes. No more, says the imperial Trump, exercising his Congressionally-granted waiver.
Congress has also long abandoned its constitutional authority over tariffs to the imperial presidency. Constitutional litigator Alan Morrison has challenged the White House’s unilateral imposition of tariffs—now involving tens of billions of dollars—on imports from foreign countries. In January Morrison will argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that the authority to impose tariffs belongs to Congress.
What is Trump doing with these tens of billions of dollars deposited in the U.S. Treasury? Congress has not approved spending them for any programs or objectives. When I asked a staffer with the House Budget Committee what is being done with loads of money, she replied that “we have it under study.”
Secret government has its direct consequences for the American people, and abdication of congressional checks on the Executive Branch is harmful and cowardly.