Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Virginia Can Engage in Mid-cycle Redistricting

Monday's redrawing of Virginia Senate Districts was likely Constitutional.

On Monday, Virginia Senate Republicans redrew Virginia's state senate districts utilizing their bare majority due to the absence of Senator Henry Marsh who was a couple hours up the road attending inauguration activities.

I have seen repeated calls for the plan to be struck down as unconstitutional under the Virginia Constitution.  Up until a few days ago, I agreed that mid-cycle redistricting was likely unconstitutional.

I repeatedly heard of a redistricting case from early 2012 in Richmond that prohibited mid-cycle redistricting, but no one seemed to have read the case.

I looked into some arguments, and had changed my mind.

Then I obtained a copy of the opinion.

In part:

The Constitution of Virginia dictates that “[t]he authority of the General Assembly shall extend to all subjects of legislation not herein forbidden or restricted; and a specific grant of authority in this Constitution upon a subject shall not work a restriction of its authority upon the same or any other subject.”  VA. CONST. art. IV, § 14 . . . The Court is unable construe Article II, Section 6, [regarding apportionment] as cabining the General Assembly’s authority to enact decennial reapportionment legislation to 2011 and foreclosing the enactment of such legislation in 2012.  Moreover, the 2004 amendments to this provision, specifically the addition of the word, “decennial,” and the replacement of the date in a section containing two-hundred-fifty-one words, do not support a finding that these revisions divested the General Assembly of its authority to enact decennial reapportionment legislation in 2012 after it failed to do so in 2011."  Slip Op pp. 7-8.

Reading the entire opinion is necessary if you want to understand the breadth and detail of the ruling.  The Judge did leave a loophole for later adjudication, and this legislation may beget the test case for that loophole.

Please note that this opinion is not binding outside of the parties in that case.  Nonetheless, the reasoning is sound, and I do not feel I could say it better myself.

The lawsuit to strike down the bill will likely fail, but the press generated will be damaging.  Republicans concerned about the effects on our statewide ticket this November need to urge the House to reject the legislation and the Governor to veto it.  Pass the bill in the light of day, and we will talk. 

As previously laid out the current senate districts from the Democrats are a travesty.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Debt Ceiling Hypocrisy, and the Right of Congress to Check Government Spending

Today, President Obama threw out his latest volleys on the debt ceiling, stating in part:

"The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending.  Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending.  It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to."  Source: Washington Post.

The Treasury Department has issued a policy document echoing similar sentiment:  Debt Limit Myth v. Fact, stating in part:

"The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations . . . Failing to increase the debt limit would have catastrophic economic consequences. It would cause the government to default on its legal obligations – an unprecedented event in American history."

What is this debt limit crisis?

Not being one to accept presumptions of disaster at face value, I have looked into the function of the debt ceiling to determine the legitimacy of the above sweeping claims.  Below are my results:

·                    Having found no indication otherwise I accept that raising the debt ceiling does not directly authorize more spending. 
·                    Paying already incurred debts appears reasonable, the devil is in the details of the definition of "already incurred."
·                    Raising the debt ceiling not only allows the payment of obligations already incurred, but also allows the payment of obligations already approved by Congress and the President, but not yet spent ["ongoing obligations"].  For example, if the debt ceiling is sufficiently raised then the executive branch could effectively pay for obligations in February, March, April, May, June, etc. of 2013.  The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases p. 4.
·                    Not raising the debt ceiling does not cause an automatic default on the nation's debts.  The Treasury Department has about $42 billion in its bank account from which it continues funding ongoing obligations.  Daily Treasury Statement.
·                    In order to illustrate current spending, the numbers from November 2012 are telling.  The federal government spends approximately $11 billion dollars per day, while bringing in an approximately $5 billion per day, resulting in a daily deficit of about $6 billion.  "How Much does the Government Spend Every Day?"
·                    The current debt subject to the limit is $16.393975 trillion, the current debt limit is $16.394 trillion.

Based on the foregoing:

The crisis time for raising the debt limit is now.

Based on the reports form the treasury the debt limit has been maxed out.  With $42 billion in funds, and a $6 billion dollar per day deficit, we have about one week until ongoing obligations begin to go unpaid.  Nonetheless, there appears to be a jump in the debt subject to limit as of late December as reflected in this chart:

This has the makings of a manufactured crisis.

Not all ongoing obligations will remain unpaid

As the treasury will continue to bring in revenue, and pay some of its obligations, it is not that every recipient of the government will go unpaid.  Instead, the Treasury will have to decide which recipients to pay and which to delay payment until some later deal is reached on the debt limit.

The debt ceiling was created for the express purpose of reigning in government spending

The debt limit also provides Congress with the strings to control the federal purse, allowing Congress to assert its constitutional prerogatives to control spending.  The debt limit also imposes a form of fiscal accountability that compels Congress and the President to take visible action to allow further federal borrowing when the federal government spends more than it collects in revenues.  The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases p. 6.

The debt ceiling was not created as a formality.  The debt ceiling instead was the result of a compromise during World War I to finance our entry into the war.  Congress retained power over setting the debt limit as part of its assertion over its constitutional powers of the purse, of taxation, and the initiation of war.  The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases p. 7.  In fact, our current President, while a legislator (in additional to many current Senate Democrats), thought controlling the debt limit was an important tool to curtail executive power.

The ultimate result:

President Obama does not actually believe the fear mongering about default coming from our Treasury Department.

More importantly, President Obama actually meant to say in today's news conference:

"The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending [on already incurred obligations].  Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending [on already incurred obligations].  It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to [with the understanding that spending cuts would be forthcoming and the power to rein in spending with the debt limit would remain a tool available to Congress]."

Congress needs to stand their ground and hold out for the cuts promised in August 2011.