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Pundits slept through civics class

Pundits slept through civics class

Okay. This could classify as a screed—a somewhat educated screed, but a screed nonetheless.

I’m going to rail against my own profession. I still consider myself a journalist. (Journalists never really die. They just run out of ink.) It also has to do with the current national debate over raising the debt ceiling, and whatever other ideological junk the Republican House of Representatives wants to attach to it. 

The thesis is simple. It comes right out of your high school civics class, a class apparently most commentators and pundits nowadays didn’t take or the content of which they don’t remember. 

Here it is:  Revenue bills are written in the House of Representatives. That’s where they start. Revenue bills start in the House. They are approved by the House members. The bill then goes to the Senate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Congress or our state legislature.

So, all day Monday, (July 25, 2011) anchors, reporters, pundits, and commentators carry on about the President’s scheduled, prime-time message to the nation to be followed by a rebuttal by the Speaker of the House. 

“Is there any news to be made from this speech,” asked Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC? When the address was over, he proclaimed that there was no news flowing from the time on the air. 

George Will chimed in also Tuesday. He wrote in his condescending column, “Obama — a demagogue for an age of smooth surfaces; Huey Long with a better tailor — pretended Friday to wonder whether Republicans 'can say yes to anything.' Well.” That’s certainly enlightening and helpful, Mr. Will.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter got it right:

“Speeches by politicians are usually full of spin, biased use of facts and appeals to emotion,” Alter wrote today.  “President Barack Obama’s address to the nation last night on the debt ceiling was no exception.

“House Speaker John Boehner’s response was in a different league. It was chock full of statements that simply aren’t true.”

The loyal opposition keeps screaming, “Where is the plan?” They want to see the President’s “plan." Remember, revenue bills are written in the House of Representatives, not by the Executive branch. 

Certainly, President Obama, like Presidents before him—Reagan, Clinton, and others, can use the so-called “bully pulpit” to exhort lawmakers, particularly those in the House, to get about their work and write a bill.

Here’s the complaint: The House hasn’t laid out a bill for debate. It’s only through debate in the House that anything is going to happen. The House would likely pass a bill that would be an anathema to the Senate. The Senate could then amend the bill or rewrite it. Then, it would end up in a conference committee. 

Here’s where the President comes in. Should Congress pass a bill, the President can either sign it or veto it. “The whole world is watching,” President Obama said last night. 

Indeed, they are. The conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll this morning reports that only six-percent (6%) of Americans think Congress is doing an excellent or even good job, a new low. Apparently, the journalists aren’t paying attention.

Having been a reporter and having managed reporters, I think that today’s reports and commentators  are too close to the story. Most have lost sight of the process. Most haven’t remembered their civics lessons. Voices like Jonathan Alter are often drowned out in the cacophony of the 24-hour news cycle requiring people to say something, even it is stupid, when the tally lights blink on the camera in front of them.

No, the President didn’t present a plan. He’s not supposed to. That’s Congress’ job, specifically it’s the job of the House of Representatives. Any ideologue who berates the President for not presenting a “plan” is blowing persuasive smoke. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, lay out a plan. Mr. Speaker Boehner, let the House debate the plan. 

Journalists, take a step back. Forget possible political implications and other machinations of the moment and report who is saying what, and who is telling the truth.  Name names.

Let’s either get this thing done, or let the President decide whether to employ Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Late Tuesday, the President indicated he would not use the 14th amendment.

These are things the President can do. That’s what the President may have to do to keep the government going while Congressman plays political gamesmanship.

©  Jim McNabb, 2011

Austin Photo Set: News_Jim Mcnabb_Jonathan Alter_July 2011_congress
President Barack Obama delivers an address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of The White House
Austin Photo Set: News_Jim Mcnabb_Jonathan Alter_July 2011_headshot
Jonathan Alter Got it Right