Now that the Republicans have a slim majority in the House, they need to use all the powers available to them to slow down the Dems’ abuse of power and assault on the Constitution. This means both now and next term, no “bipartisanship,” no preemptive cringes to ward off media attacks, and no “negotiations,” over raising the debt ceiling, for example, that don’t get some substantive concessions for pruning back the Democrats’ fiscal excesses.
Come January, the most obvious actions are House committee hearings and investigations. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Comer (Ky), and other representatives, have already announced possible hearings on numerous issues: the origins of Covid, the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the porous southern border, the politicizing of federal law enforcement, Biden’s student loan forgiveness scheme, and Hunter Biden’s influence-peddling. About the latter, Comer said, “We are going to make it very clear that this is now an investigation of President Biden.”
In addition, the House will have the power to boot Dems from committees, as Speaker-elect Kevin McCarthy has promised. Then there’s the power to pass articles of impeachment, not just of the president, but of officials like AG Merrick Garland, FBI chief Christopher Wray, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, on whose watch nearly four million illegal aliens have crossed the border. Without control of the Senate, however, a conviction is impossible, though the House investigation that precedes the vote on articles of impeachment can be a potent way to consolidate and publicize the administration’s many failures and violations of the Constitution.
More substantial, and politically risky, is exercising the “power of the purse” to slow down the profligate spending that has caused the worst inflation in 40 years. Article 1.7.1. of the Constitution stipulates that “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.”
This power given to the House is one of the most consequential checks the Founders created to balance the powers of the Senate and the Executive branches. More important, it is a compensation to the people for the Constitution’s antidemocratic structures. For many Framers, the ancient Athenian “extreme democracy,” as Aristotle called it, and its demise in the 4th century B.C. epitomized the dangers of popular rule. That ancient history, along with the political, sometimes violent disorder caused by the overly democratic state governments in the decade between the Revolution and the Constitutional convention, made many Founders wary of giving too much direct power to the volatile, uninformed masses.
This fear was explicit in the constitutional convention debates. Typical are the antidemocratic comments of Virginia governor Edmund Randolph: “Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our [state] constitutions. It is a maxim which I hold incontrovertible, that the power of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches. None of the [state] constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”
The Framers’ solution, of course, would be the “mixed government” in which the branch directly elected by the people, the House of Representatives, would be balanced and checked by the Senate, until 1913 indirectly elected through the state legislatures; the President, indirectly elected through the Electoral College comprising electors chosen by the states; and the federal judiciary, appointed by the President with the Senate’s approval.
Yet the potential tyranny of the minority not directly accountable to the people was equally dangerous. As a check on the other branches, the Founders proposed that money bills should originate in the House, which as Elbridge Gerry said, “was more immediately the representatives of the people, and it was a maxim that the people ought to hold the purse-strings.” James Madison agreed that the House representatives “were chosen by the people, and supposed to be best acquainted with their interests, and ability.”
Possessing the critical power to withhold funds gave the people enormous leverage over the federal government. More specifically, the “power of the purse” would check the more powerful Senate. George Mason, arguing against the idea that the Senate should originate money bills, said, “Should the [Senate] have the power of giving away the people’s money, they might soon forget the Source from whence they received it. We might soon have an aristocracy.” Benjamin Franklin agreed: “It was always of importance that the people should know who had disposed of their money, and how it was disposed of.”
These sentiments demonstrate that the Constitution’s primary concern was to prevent tyranny by having the people’s House control the money that funded the federal government. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 58, “The house of representatives can not only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of 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 salutary measure.”
In recent times, however, this power has been demagogued as a mere tool of partisan obstruction. But it can still be effective. In 2011, for example, the Republican-controlled House demanded significant cuts in spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. The House, remember, had been won in no small part by the rise of the Tea Party, a movement to restore fiscal sanity after the 2007-8 recession brought on by the housing crisis, and by the bailouts of financial institutions partly responsible for the it.
But like MAGA Republicans, the Tea Party was demonized by the bipartisan establishment. Barack Obama infamously called the Tea Party “tea-baggers,” a term denoting a sexual practice, and later Senator John McCain, the Dems’ favorite “maverick,” called Tea Party Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz “wacko birds.”
Yet in the face of media attacks and lurid scenarios of senior citizens missing their Social Security checks, the House went to the brink of a government shutdown. In exchange for raising the debt ceiling, the Budget Control Act was passed, which put in place discretionary spending caps for a decade. The House’s stand didn’t resolve our ongoing debt and deficit crisis, but it did slow it down.
Holding the Biden administration accountable through hearings, investigations, and perhaps impeachment is critical. But the new Republican House needs the political nerve to face down a partisan media and establishment Republicans, and use their power of the purse to exact concessions from the administration and its Senatorial agents. As the Founders showed, the issue isn’t just about dollar and cents. It’s about using the Constitution’s powers to push back against the tyrannical policies of the big-government progressives