UNION — The crisis the United States finds itself in is the result of Congress failing to act as a check on the power of the presidency and the failure of presidential administrations of both parties to address the problems facing the country according to US House of Representatives Fifth District Rep. Mick Mulvaney.
During a town hall meeting Monday evening at the USC Union auditorium, Mulvaney, both in an opening statement and in answering questions from the audience, addressed a variety of issues including the fiscal condition of the federal government, the impact of federal regulation on business growth and job creation, immigration, and the divisions between the Republican Party leadership and the grassroots Tea Party movement.
Mulvaney began by looking at the financial condition of the federal government, stating that the $17 trillion debt it has incurred means the government is for all intents and purposes broke. He pointed out that because of current interest rates, the federal government is paying under $300 billion in interest on its debt. If, however, interest rates were to increase to where the payments rose to $1.7 trillion, Mulvaney said the government of the United States would be “effectively out of business.”
As for how the federal government got to this point, Mulvaney said that unlike state governments which are required by law to make spending choices that sometimes require them to say no, the federal government does not have to say no. He said the federal government doesn’t have to say no because, unlike the states, it has its own printing press and can keep printing money and therefore keep spending.
This continuous printing of money and continuous spending is, according to Mulvaney, the result of a combination of the failure of the legislative branch of government (Congress which is composed of both the Senate and the House) to carry out its constitutional duty of acting as a check on the power of the executive branch (the presidency) which has in turn failed to rein in federal spending. Mulvaney pointed out that the problem of out control federal spending — which includes the problems of waste, fraud, and corruption — has never been addressed by presidential administrations of either party in his lifetime. He added that while this failure is nothing new, reining in and making genuine reductions in federal spending is definitely not a priority for the Obama administration.
In discussing federal spending, Mulvaney provided examples of federal spending under the heading “wait, we paid for what?” including:
• $1.9 million for “Lifestyle Training” for Senate Staffers
• $350,000 to study how golfers are better when they imagine a larger hole (National Science Foundation)
• USDA spent $415,000 to serve fine wine in China
• $300,000 spent to encourage Americans to eat caviar
• $1.3 million to PepsiCo build a Greek yogurt factory in New York (Dept. of Commerce & USDA)
• $505,000 to promote specialty hair & beauty products for cats and dogs
• Over $500,000 for VP Biden to spend one night in Paris
• Dept. of State spent $5 million on crystal barware
Mulvaney said that another obstacle to effectively reining in and reducing federal spending is that these words have a different meaning in Washington than they do in the rest of the country. He pointed out that in the federal government if an agency doesn’t spend all the money it is allocated then it is considered a spending cut. Even if the allocation is increased from the previous year, Mulvaney said if a federal agency doesn’t get as much money as it and the groups that benefit from its spending requested then it is considered a cut.
Further compounding this problem is the unwillingness of Congress to play the role in the system of checks and balances on federal power assigned it by the Constitution.
When asked about corruption in Congress, Mulvaney said that in his nearly four years in the House he has never met a corrupt legislator. He said he has, however, met many who don’t have the courage to carry out their constitutional duties and check the power of the executive branch, a power he said Congress possesses since the Constitution gives it “the power of the purse,” that is the authority to say yes or no to spending proposals.
Mulvaney cautioned that even if Congress did carry out its constitutional duties of acting as a check on the power of the executive branch and its power of the purse to have the final say on the federal budget, making genuine and serious cuts in federal spending would not be easy. He pointed out that while there is waste, fraud, and corruption in the federal budget, it is all not conveniently located in one place, in one large amount, but is in (relatively) small amounts throughout the federal bureaucracy.
For example, Mulvaney pointed to the $5 million spent by the State Department on crystal barware. He said that in order to find $100 billion of waste $5 million at at time “we would have to find 20,000 problem programs.”
As a result, Mulvaney said Congress is unable on its own to root these things out and eliminate them because “there is not enough of us, there is not enough days” to do so. Instead, Mulvaney said it will take a presidential administration committed to doing so, something he said has not existed in his lifetime.
Even if it could not on its own cut federal spending, Congress could nevertheless contribute to making it happen if it would act as a check on the power of the president, but Mulvaney said it will not do that. Instead, he said Congress seems happy to not do its duty even in the face of the threat of it being reduced to irrelevance by an increasingly assertive White House.
Mulvaney showed a video excerpt from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in which he warned Congress that if it didn’t move forward with the legislation he desired them to pass he would use executive orders to make it the law of the land anyway. While the use of executive orders is a legitimate power of the presidency and one Congress often directs the president to use through the legislation it passes, Mulvaney said the president cannot use it to make law and/or change laws, pointing out that this is nevertheless what Obama has done repeatedly in delaying the start of the various aspects of Obamacare including:
• Nov. 15, 2012: Exchange deadline delayed
• July 2, 2013: Employer mandate delayed
• Nov. 21, 2013: Open enrollment delayed for 2015
• Nov. 27, 2013: Small Business Health Options Program (known as SHOP) delayed
• Dec. 12, 2013: Enrollment deadline extended
• Dec. 24, 2013: Enrollment deadline extended
• Jan. 14, 2014: High-risk pools extended
• Feb. 10, 2014: Employer mandate delayed
• March 25, 2014: Final enrollment extended
After the president makes his statement about using his executive powers to implement laws Congress won’t or can’t pass, the video cuts to members of Congress standing and applauding him. Mulvaney said he could not understand why members of Congress would stand and applaud a president saying he would use his powers to bypass Congress and make it irrelevant. He said he finds this applause to be very disturbing.
Mulvaney pointed out that this failure of the legislature to carry out its duties and even applaud the assertion of the executive usurping its legislative powers happened in ancient Rome when the Roman Senate made Julius Caesar dictator. While not saying Obama is Caesar, Mulvaney said that, just as the members of Congress rose to their feet to applaud Obama’s threat of legislating by executive order, he believes the members of the Roman Senate probably applauded their decision to give Caesar dictatorial powers.