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Thursday, October 10, 2013
The Facts Permit Divergent Opinions

But I don't have to respect your opinion if you don't base it on the facts.

I respect your right to form and propagate your own opinions. You get that from me for free.

If you want me to respect your opinion, not just your right to have an opinion, there are conditions. Strangely enough, these conditions do not include agreeing with my opinions. I think -- it is my opinion -- that it's healthy for us to disagree in large and small matters -- and fundamentally, not just about details.

The main condition for my respecting your opinion is that you have based it on the facts, as best we can discern them. The facts often allow different interpretations, and, even when they don't, they leave plenty of room for disagreeing about what ought to be done about the facts. Moreover, it is often reasonable to disagree about why the facts are as they are.

I don't think you should be a Marxist in your opinions, but to illustrate the range of possibilities, allow me to speak for a moment of Karl Marx. In his writings -- at least what I have read -- he did three things. He described the terrible economic and other conditions of many people in his time. He explained the causes of these conditions. And he prescribed solutions. For my part, I cannot reject his descriptions of present conditions; you might say I cannot dispute the facts. But I only partially agree with his diagnosis of the causes, and I reject his prescriptions for addressing the situation. Karl Marx and I can base our views on the same set of facts, yet he was the prototypical Marxist (by definition), and I am a Tocqueville conservative with no fondness whatsoever for Marxism.

Here is a more immediate and smaller illustration. The other evening, I attended most of a public hearing the American Fork City Council held to hear residents' opinions. The subject was a proposed bond issue to jump-start long-neglected road repair. Some who came to speak at the hearing didn't know what they were talking about. They had not bothered to understand the circumstances or the proposal before forming their opinions, and, as they spoke, you could see that their thinking was wildly inaccurate. This is not unusual in such meetings. I respected their right to their own opinions, and I suppose I even respected their willingness to show up and speak publicly, but I did not respect their opinions.

One gentleman had done his homework. He had his facts straight. Whether or not I agreed with his opinion, he was like a breath of fresh air -- a voice of reason, as I said when I wrote to thank him. He had based his opinion on the facts, and I respected his opinion, not just his right to have one.

(Some time ago, as a commentary on this recurring phenomenon in local government, I wrote Chapters 7 and 8 of my slowly expanding "Chronicle of Vilka," which is a fictional celebration of the foibles of self-governing humanity. You might enjoy reading them. These two brief chapters recount a single episode, so start with Chapter 7. I remembered these chapters -- written long before -- as I sat in the hearing the other evening.)

Now, shall we turn to the dominant subject of the day, the government shutdown and the proposed debt ceiling increase? Believe it or not, I've been listening a lot more than talking lately, where these things are concerned. There's a great deal of disagreement, as you know, and I'm okay with that. But a lot of the opinions I'm hearing are divorced from the facts, and in some minds opinions seem so firmly established that facts are not welcome. Alas, when we are too firm in opinions not built upon facts, we tend to see facts not as facts, but as opposing opinions. This is how the facts themselves come to be dismissed as pure partisanship in some instances. In my opinion this is not good for government at any level.

I will attempt to list some facts with as few opinions as possible sprinkled among them, well marked. Then I will attempt to illustrate how these facts permit a range of (respectable!) opinions to be built upon them. At the end, I'll offer a single opinion among several I'm tempted to articulate.

Some Facts

With some effort you can verify any or all of these facts for yourself. I won't do your homework for you here.

Fact: The United States Constitution vests the power to originate bills which collect revenue solely in the House of Representatives. (See Article 1, Section 7, first paragraph, commonly called the Origination Clause.) The Senate is permitted to amend them, but not to originate them. This follows the practice of the English House of Commons. This language is weaker than what was proposed at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which would have required appropriations bills to come from the House, too, and would have forbidden the Senate to amend them. But the Convention compromised its way to the current language. (For more discussion of this, see The Heritage Guide to the Constitution.)

Related Facts: In United States v. Munoz-Flores (1990) the Supreme Court held that if raising revenue is only a secondary concern in a piece of legislation (for example, if it happens to impose a user fee), the legislation may originate in the Senate. In any case, in Federalist 58 James Madison argued (as in opined), "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." He spoke of the House's power of the purse as a tool for the redress of grievances and spoke of its potential to be used, as it was in England by the House of Commons, for "reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government." (To my opinionated ear, that sounds oddly relevant.)

Regrettable Related Fact: (The word "regrettable" here is my opinion. I do regret my participation in this fact.) I and, more publicly, some others recently have misstated this Constitutional provision as requiring spending (appropriations) bills to originate in the House. I hate it when I do that, and I give it as my opinion that it can be very wise to review the facts on which one bases one's opinions periodically, to make sure that one still has one's facts straight.

Fact: The House passed a continuing resolution to fund the entire government at the previous year's level, except for ObamaCare.

Fact: The Senate passed a continuing resolution to do exactly the same thing, plus fund ObamaCare.

Fact: The established process for reconciling different versions of legislation passed by House and Senate is a conference committee consisting of members of both houses, who hammer out a compromise and send the result back for a vote of both houses. There are many earlier phases in the legislative process where compromise occurs, but this conference is the final official forum for compromise. Senate Boss Harry Reid refuses to allow the Senate to participate in this normal legislative process.

Fact: For most of my lifetime, a single, comprehensive continuing resolution was not the way goverment was funded. There were about a dozen annual appropriations bills which constittuted some of each year's most important legislation. There was an Agriculture appropriations bill, a Defense appropriations bill, and so forth. They all came through committees and subcommittees, where there was study and debate and, often enough, plenty of controversy.

Fact: Historically, some programs and agencies were authorized in authorization bills but never funded in appropriations bills. This two-step process applied to most legislation involving funding. It was generally understood that you had not created a particular thing legislatively until you had seen it successfully through both authorization and appropriation. There was no general understanding that a thing was "settled law" and must be funded in the appropriations process if it was authorized.

Fact: Since the partial government shutdown (less than 20%, we read), the House has passed (as of now) 14 separate appropriations bills for various sectors of the government. They are all dead on arrival at the Senate -- no discussion, no debate, no compromise, no committee hearings, no votes.

Fact: The definition of compromise in modern English is the settlement of a dispute reached by mutual concessions. All parties make concessions -- give up something they want -- for the sake of reaching agreement. When one side gives up everything and the other gives up nothing, it is not compromise. It is unconditional surrender. If that earlier thing about the Origination Clause was black-letter law, this is black-letter dictionary definition. I give it as my opinion that compromise and unconditional surrender both have their places in government. However, though they are not exactly opposites, the two concepts are mutually exclusive -- if it is one, it cannot simultaneously be the other.

Fact: In order to keep the government running the House Republicans initially offered to fund the entire government except ObamaCare. This is already a compromise position; it includes full funding for many things which Republicans oppose. When the Democrats in the Senate and White House spurned this offer, Republicans offered a one-year postponement of the implementation of ObamaCare -- after the President himself had already, without legal or constitutional authority, decreed a one-year delay in implementing some major parts of the law. The Democrats rejected this offered compromise. Then the House Republicans offered to fund ObamaCare, as long as waivers and special subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs, labor unions, some big businesses, and other favored entities were eliminated. The Democrats rejected this offered compromise.

Fact: President Obama was elected by the people in 2008 and reelected by the people in 2012. The entire House of Representatives was elected by the people in 2012. One-third of the Senate was elected by the people in 2012, and the rest was elected by the people in 2008 or 2010. (I do not include a special election or two, occasioned by a representative's death or resignation.)

Fact: The government continues to receive revenues during the "shutdown." Even without a debt ceiling increase later this month, the government will have the funds to pay its current obligations to its creditors. So failing to raise the debt ceiling will not cause the government to default on its debt service. Many other things would have to go unpaid, of course, and the consequences would be far-reaching.

As I said, with a little effort, you can verify each of these facts for yourself -- because they are facts.

The Range of Fact-Based Possibilities

Based on these facts, a wide range of opinions are possible, but others are excluded.

These facts permit me to believe that the Republicans should give in completely to Democratic demands or vice versa, but they do not permit me to call either outcome a compromise.

These facts permit me to believe that ObamaCare is an extraordinary situation and justifies abandoning our long-established legislative processes. They do not permit me (or the President) to argue that House Republicans are obstructing the normal legislative processes.

These facts permit me to believe that the Republicans should find some compromise which is acceptable to the Democrats, or vice versa. They do not permit me to argue that the Republicans have been completely unwilling to compromise -- or that the Democrats have offered a compromise, only to have it rejected by the Republicans.

These facts permit me to argue that the debt ceiling should be raised, or not, for the good of the country. They do not permit me to argue that the federal government will have to default on its existing debts if the debt ceiling is not raised.

These facts permit me to argue that a single continuing resolution is (or is not) the best way to appropriate funds to run the government, either in this situation specifically or in general. The facts do not permit me to suggest that, historically, this has been how Congress has operated, or that there is something unusual about breaking appropriations into a separate bills.

These facts permit me to argue that ObamaCare should be funded (or not). They do not permit me to argue that appropriating funds for everything that has been authorized is the way things have always been done.

These facts permit me to argue that the President is right or wrong on these issues. They do not permit me to pretend that he is the only authority at the federal level who has the legitimacy of having been elected by the vote of the people.

No matter what you do, I will respect your right to have an opinion. Base your opinion on the facts, and I will respect your opinion, even if it differs dramatically from my own.

Just One Opinion

Every time we hear of another sacred American place the Obama regime has shut down out of spite; every time we see a picture of officers from the executive branch preventing people from stopping to take pictures of Mount Rushmore from the nearby highway; every time we hear that the Pentagon won't pay death benefits to soldiers killed in action; every time Harry Reid is shocked at the suggestion that helping a child who has cancer might be a good idea -- every time something like this hits the news, I hear or read exclamations that it's "unbelievable."

Folks, it's time to start believing. Not for the first time in human history, the unbelievable is now believable. Some (not all) of the leaders we have elected are tyrants and are acting accordingly. Somehow they still have the support of many Americans and most of the media, but they disdain our constitutional legislative process and the notion of limited government it is designed to preserve.

We have sown, watered, and nourished the seeds of our own oppression. We thought we could enjoy the fruits of tyranny without getting caught in its thorns. We were wrong.

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