By Ann Heitland, Past Chair
Through all the smoke the House Republicans have blown since they took over the U.S. House in January, they have made no headway on their most clearly established constitutional duty. That is the duty to raise revenue for the functioning of the federal government. The Origination Clause is Article I, Section 7, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, and it says that all bills for raising revenue must start in the U.S. House of Representatives.
President Biden proposed his budget at the beginning of this month. The President’s budget shows what the administration thinks is important to fund and how much that will cost. That’s the spending side. There is also the revenue side: Biden proposes to raise taxes on those making more than $400,000 per year to fund the expenditures and to reduce the deficit.
Having received the President’s proposal, Congress is supposed to consider the President’s budget, hold hearings to ask administration officials why they need certain items or have gotten rid of others, and then develop its own plan. This budget resolution, as it is called, sets amounts that Congress thinks are appropriate for different parts of the budget. Congress is supposed to pass that budget resolution by April 15. To be fair, that target is often missed. But there is no apparent action to move toward that target under Speaker McCarthy’s leadership. On Friday, McCarthy was asked about a statement from his Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Arrington, who said he and McCarthy were finalizing a list of proposals. McCarthy responded, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
McCarthy’s leadership failure has given an opening to the far-right Freedom Caucus to which McCarthy owes his election as Speaker. On March 10, they laid out the demands they want to be met before they will consider raising the debt ceiling. They want laws that cut current spending by stopping student loan relief, clawing back all unspent Covid-19 funds, and repealing the $80 billion in appropriations for the Internal Revenue Service and all the monies appropriated by the Inflation Reduction Act for addressing climate change. They want to cap future spending at 2022 levels, claiming a cap will cut “the wasteful, woke, and weaponized federal bureaucracy.” They demand further business deregulation and more work requirements on programs like Medicaid. Adding to the chaos, this week McCarthy suggested tying changes to the permitting process for oil and mining development to the debt ceiling.
Let’s be very clear on this, as Heather Cox Richardson wrote on March 23: the debt ceiling is not about future spending. It is about the amount of money Congress authorizes the Treasury to borrow in order to pay obligations that already exist. It is not associated with any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. It enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in bills already passed. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling when necessary, the government will default on its debts, sparking a financial catastrophe.
The budget is about future spending. The Freedom Caucus’s plans for that are universally unpopular. McCarthy has no plan. Both are intent on holding the debt ceiling hostage as part of their continuing campaign to gain and retain power through criticism of people (primarily Democrats) who are actually trying to govern. Sadly, we have to live with this until January 2025.
- Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, March 23, 2023
- Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, March 24, 2023