Later On

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The Long War: How Descendants of Confederate Ideas Still Work to Destroy US Democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson writes about the continuing fight against the Union:

Tonight, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill that would both keep the government from shutting down and prevent a default on the U.S. debt. The vote was 220 to 211, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.

There are two financial deadlines looming. One is the need for Congress to fund the government. In late December 2020, Congress passed a huge bill that, among other things, funded the government through September 30. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The second deadline is lifting the debt ceiling. That’s the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Beginning in 1939, rather than approving individual issues of debt, Congress gave the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit that included all the different financial instruments the government uses. The debt ceiling is not connected directly to 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 the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.

There is a long history behind our national funding systems. Until now, the U.S. has always protected its debt. After the Civil War, Democrats were determined to destroy the strong federal government the Republicans had built to fight the Confederacy. They tried to change the terms under which people had invested in wartime national bonds. Horrified at what would undermine confidence in the survival of the Union, the Republicans protected the debt in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The fourth section of that amendment reads: “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.”

Former Confederates challenged the nation through financing once again, in 1879. In that year, in control of Congress for the first time since the Civil War, Democrats refused to pass appropriations bills unless those bills included their own policy priorities, especially the removal of the federal troops still in the South to protect black voting (it is a myth that federal troops left the South in 1877).

Republican leader and Union veteran James A. Garfield had fought the Confederates on the battlefields and recognized that destroying the government by starving it was no different from destroying it through arms. He urged President Rutherford B. Hayes to veto the Democrats’ appropriations bills, and Hayes did, five times. Democrats backed down, but not before voters turned against them. The next year, voters put Garfield into the White House.

In the modern era, shutdowns emerged as a policy tool after the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act moved control over budgeting from the executive branch to Congress. Disagreements over funding in President Jimmy Carter’s term had little effect on the country, since government systems continued during them under the assumption that funding would eventually materialize. That changed in the early 1980s, when legal opinions said it was illegal to spend money that hadn’t been appropriated.

Beginning in the 1980s, government shutdowns became a tool of Republicans determined to cut taxes and dismantle the active government in place since 1933. In November 1981, President Ronald Reagan furloughed more than 240,000 federal workers in a fight with Congress over budget cuts, but full-fledged government shutdowns began in earnest after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 1995 for the first time since 1954.

Demanding steep budget cuts in Medicare, public health, the environment, and education, House Speaker Newt Gingrich refused to compromise with Democratic president Bill Clinton, who opposed the cuts. Without funding, the federal government shut down all non-essential activity for a total of 28 days between November 1995 and January 1996: National parks shut down, government contracts ceased to operate, applications for visas and passports went unanswered. The crisis pushed Clinton’s poll numbers higher than they had been since his election.

In 2013, the government shut down again from October 1 to October 17 as Republicans tried to defund the Affordable Care Act. It shut down yet again for its longest stretch in . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 11:08 am

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