Ending The Budget Blame Game

by KrisAnne Hall, JD

Politicians and media pundits seem ntent upon deflecting, distracting, and deceiving the American public to keep the same old divisive politics churning along.  The popular talking points do nothing to identify the real problems nor focus on the right solutions.  Time to stop the budget blame game and look at the problem that has plagued America since 1929.

We want to look at the Constitution of the United States and what those who wrote that document say about the budget; how taxing, spending, & the budget is designed to work, who is responsible for that process, and most importantly what is the designed solution to this current problem.

First let’s put aside some of the errant deflections that saturate popular media and get to the root issues….

The President of the United States is NOT to blame for any budget crisis.  This is not a defense of any president.  This is a factual statement that applies to all presidents since the Constitution was ratified in 1789.  The president of the United States, other than submitting a budget, was not established as a “necessary” part of the budgetary process until 1974.

The Senate is NOT to blame for the failure to pass a budget.  The Senate, constitutionally speaking, only plays a supportive role in the creation and passing of the budget.  From a Constitutional perspective its not mandatory for the Senate to approve any budget.

I know this sounds strange.  I know that your DC politician is likely to vehemently disagree.  However, the budget process that is used today is not only relatively NEW in our government, but also CONTRARY to the design of the Constitution.

Ironically, it’s this radical, new budgetary method that makes the process so complicated that it’s nearly impossible to understand.  The process created by the designers of our Constitution, the process that was mostly followed until the turn of the 20th Century, is plain, simple, and expedient.   The constitutionally designed process, like the Constitution itself, was designed so that the people could clearly understand and follow the Budget process, easily identify any problems, and quickly apply the proper solutions.

Article 1 section 7 clause 1 of the Constitution is the governing text regarding this issue of spending.  It reads:

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.”

Since the Constitution is a contract, in line with contract law, we must look to the drafters of the contract when we need clarity, this is  called the meeting of the minds.  James Madison, drafter of the Constitution, 4th president, and commonly referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” explains in Federalist 58 that the budget is to rest firmly in the hands of the House of Representatives: He says,

“The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of the government…This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutatory measure.”

Madison also explains that one of the main reasons the House was vested with this important power was to reduce “the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of government” as the people may demand.

According to the Father of the Constitution, when speaking about the design of the Constitution with those who would ratify the Constitution, the sole responsibility for creating a budget rests in the hands of your House Rep… Alone.

On May 15, 1789, during the debates on the ratification of the Constitution, James Madison, then federal representative to his District in Virginia, had a conversation with fellow Virginia Representative Alexander White:

Mr. White says: “The Constitution, having authorized the House of Representatives alone to originate money bills, places an important trust in our hands, which, as their protectors, we ought not to part with.  I do not mean to imply that the Senate are less to be trusted than this house; but the Constitution, no doubt for wise purposes, has given the immediate representatives of the people a control over the whole government in this particular, which, for their interest, they ought not let out of their hands.”

It is interesting to note that Alexander White is repeating the principle of the power of the purse Madison identified in Federalist 58; that it is the duty of the House of Representatives to have a “control over the whole government” to reduce “the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of government.”

Madison replies to White with confirmation, He says:

“The principle reason why the Constitution had made this distinction was, because they (the House) were chosen by the people, and supposed to be the best acquainted with their interest and ability.”

It really becomes clear, according to the drafters of the Constitution, that the House alone was vested with the power of purse. 

Remember Article 1 section 7 clause 1 says, the Senate MAY propose amendments and MAY concur, but now we know it says MAY because their agreement is not necessary. 

As both White and Madison stated, this power rests in the House alone because it is the House that is chosen directly by the people as their representatives and best suited to remedy their grievances and reduce and control all the other branches ….as the people see fit. 

Constitutionally speaking, if the House proposes a budget that the Senate refuses to vote upon, then the House budget stands.  If the Senate proposes an amendment to the budget and the House doesn’t want it, then the original House budget stands.  It is also important to note that constitutionally speaking the president was to have no veto power over a budget.  And this is how our government operated until the 20th century.

Proponents of the new and radical budgetary procedure want to confuse the budgetary procedure of Article 1 sec 7 clause 1 with that of passing a law in Article 1 sec 7 cl 2 & 3.  A very important distinction must be recognized; a budget expires, a law does not.  A law must follow the procedure of all the houses of Congress, with veto power by the president because in order to get rid of a law it must be repealed.  Budgets, however, expire and must be renewed by each congressional session.  No future congress is ever bound by a past congressional budget.  That is one reason why the Senate is not necessary, and President is procedurally excluded from the budgetary process.

We must also remember that one of the chief purposes for vesting this power in the House was to reduce the overgrowth of the other branches of government.  It is counterintuitive to ask the House to exercise that control over the Senate, the Executive, and the Judiciary and then require those branches to concur with that control.  It is highly unlikely that our founders would create such an absurdity within the Constitution, yet the process has been corrupted to take control form the House and consequently from the people so that the other branches are free to run roughshod over the people’s liberty and continue year after year on an unbridled spending spree.  This is the most important reason the Senate and the Executive are intentionally excluded from the budgetary process.

Of course, the taxing and spending authority of the House of Representatives itself is not limitless but is directly limited by the few and defined powers that are delegated to the federal government.  Madison warned in 1792 that if the members of the House were allowed to tax & spend outside the delegated authority by the Constitution on things like education, roads, care for the poor, and local police matters, it would transmute the very nature of the Constitution and the limited government it created.

James Madison, in Federalist 45 also explains that the powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are exercised principally on foreign affairs.  He says these powers are specifically “war peace negotiations and foreign commerce, “with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected.” The power to tax and spend in the House was to be principally exercised through foreign affairs, not through the direct taxation of the people

The current budgetary procedures, invented outside the boundaries of the Constitution less than 60 years ago, have achieved exactly what both James Madison and Alexander White have warned and exactly what the creators of the Constitution hoped to prevent:  the House has let this vital power out of their hands and placed it into the hands of those not constitutionally fit nor authorized to fulfil the demand.  We need educated and principled leaders in Congress to stand against this usurpation of the greatest check and balance on governmental overreach.

  1. Budget is to be firmly in the hands of the House of Representatives
  2. No overriding control by the Senate
  3. No Veto power by the Executive
  4. No spending on items beyond the grant of the Constitution
  5. House of Representatives to check the expansion of the Federal government by control of the purse strings.
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