Monday, March 26, 2018

Trumpian angst versus Presidential realpolitik


Both angst and realpolitik have been much in evidence over the omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed into law late last week.  The latter has come from the President, the former from many of his erstwhile supporters.  Consider this disappointed perspective:

Trump won the election in part because of his promise to be a genuine maverick. But the Trump we saw Friday evening, Friday afternoon, last September, last May and countless other times wasn’t a maverick. He was a soft, weak-kneed, bleeding-heart chump, point blank.

Have I personally given up on him yet? Of course not. But I have definitely chosen to stop excusing his bullshit.

Look, folks, you can’t act like Trump is some unparalleled leader and then turn around and whine that he’s failing because Republicans aren’t supporting him enough. He’s the damn president and commander in chief, and if he wants to win reelection in 2020, he better man up and start acting like it!

Angst?  You bet.  Logical?  Realpolitik?  Far from it.

Let's consider facts.  Congress, not the President, controls "the power of the purse".  Spending decisions are made, considered and passed by Congress.  The President can sign or veto them, as he chooses, but he cannot dictate what they contain.  If he vetoes them, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote.  The omnibus spending bill was passed with a 58% majority in the House of Representatives.  Over 100 Republican congressional representatives voted against it, but Democrats supported it, pushing it over the majority threshold.

I note with cynical lack of surprise that the Republicans control Congress.  They could have come together to draft and pass a bill that they could all support;  but they did not, so much so that the party fractured in its vote.  That isn't the President's problem.  That's the Republican Party's problem.  I daresay it'll only be resolved by voting many of their representatives out of office, and replacing them with those who are more committed to working together with the President, rather than for "the swamp".  That, again, is not something the President can do.  It's up to voters.

On the basis of his performance in office so far, President Trump is more interested in realpolitik than in angst.  He does what he can.  He fights the battles he can win.  If he can't fight them with a reasonable chance of success, he chooses a different battle.  He could not possibly win the "battle of the budget" if his own party could not draft, and unite behind, a more suitable spending bill.  It's no use criticizing him for signing a less-than-perfect bill.  Realistically, what alternative did he have?  Reject it, and plunge the nation into disorder while his veto was contested (and possibly overridden) in Congress?  Force the US government into shutdown because neither side was prepared to compromise?  We've tried that, repeatedlyIt doesn't work.

On the other hand, by choosing to work within the system, President Trump has opened up at least the possibility of avoiding the more onerous provisions of the omnibus spending bill, and using it to support his agenda.  Consider this:

1. Congress allocates money to be spent. The President spends the allocated money.

2. Once Congress allocates money, their job is oversight of the money being spent. They don't spend the money and have no say HOW it gets spent as long as it's spent legally. That's their job to monitor with oversight.

3. Once the President is given the money with the instructions to spend it, he has a number of choices to make in spending it. There are some rules he has to follow & some of the money is fungible and some isn't.

4. However there are some other factors that are in play here. One of them is that the President has declared a Human Rights Emergency AND has notified Congress that he's invoking the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

5. This opens up new options.

6. By making these two declarations President Trump has just communicated that he has the authority to NOT spend any funds he doesn't deem necessary and will return them to the US Treasury. So, funds for Planned Parenthood? He can simply not allocate the funds.

7. Also, these declarations make some funds fungible. For instance if he determines that building a Wall on the Southern Border is a defense against Human Trafficking? He can move funds from anywhere else in the Defense Dept Allocation & simply build the Wall.

8. Congress is powerless to stop cash reallocations on an omnibus bill AND cannot stop the DOD from taking measures under a declared Emergency.

9. Despite their language in the Omnibus Bill about the Border Wall, it is trumped by the State of Emergency that Trump declared.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Of course, there's no guarantee that President Trump will behave in that fashion:  but he was very prompt to invoke his powers and prerogatives (see point 4 above).  I doubt he'd have done so unless he intended to use them.  That's not his way.  Furthermore, as a commenter at Brock Townsend's place notes:

1. President Trump now has the money he wants for the military and a significant sum for ‘wall materials’.

2. President Trump is the Commander in Chief of the US Military.

3. The US Army has a 37,000 man strong unit of Army Engineers which, given the funds for manpower and equipment, could expand rapidly.

Add 1, 2 and 3 and examine possibilities.

Hmmm . . .

To reinforce the perspectives above, there's the issue of Presidential flexibility in using monies allocated by Congress.  If they are allocated in the form of "normal" appropriations bills, one for each department of the Federal government that's entitled to a budget, those funds can usually be used only as provided in the bill.  They can't be reallocated to some other purpose without Congressional approval of the change.  However, in an omnibus spending bill (i.e. not department-specific), the conditions attached to their use are more relaxed.  Provided that they're used to meet the overall needs of the department for which they're allocated, under certain conditions they can be switched from one need to another within that department - or not spent at all, at the President's discretion.  That's what I think the President's invocation of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, and his earlier declaration of a human rights emergency, are all about.

If President Trump should deem the uncontrolled influx of illegal aliens across the southern border of the USA to represent a "human rights emergency", and/or a threat to the nation's security, he could divert US defense and other funds to address it, because that could justified as a defensive expenditure to ensure US security.  Do, please, note the President's tweet yesterday (clickit to biggit):




Makes you think, doesn't it?  As for all those decrying the President for signing a manifestly imperfect omnibus spending bill . . . you might want to wait and see what happens.  This President is not noted for rolling over and playing dead.

Don't judge President Trump by what he says.  Judge him by what he does.  The two are frequently a long way apart.

Peter

11 comments:

STxAR said...

I saw that this weekend. Everytime I've been tricked by the lying press, I've I had to remind myself, "He isn't a normal politician." And he always seems to have an ace up his sleeve.

To accurately gage his positions and decisions, don't think of him as a normal politician, he's a business man. And he's working from that strength, not the "I'll lie to get in and then do what I want" political normal.

This is really kinda fun to see.

Anonymous said...

A few things: First, as pointed out, the President still controls the spending of allocated dollars and can spend, or not spend, as he sees fit. The Planned Parenthood largesse passed by Congress can sit unspent forever, and it would surprise me if Trump did not exercise his options in this category.

Second, also as pointed out, there are options within the declared emergency which involve the military. As example, the U.S. has troops spread all over the world; there is nothing stopping the Commander-in-Chief from bring a few divisions home from Europe, the Middle East, or Timbuktu, and assigning them the task of aggressively policing the border, "aggressively" in this case meaning "use arms as necessary to prevent further invasion of the continental United States." The media will go batshit crazy when 9-year-old Hondurans and their mothers start stepping on land mines at midnight or attracting 81MM incoming, but Congress has voted against walls - which don't kill people - and, effectively, for other measures which might.

The bigger issue here, and I haven't seen it discussed anywhere - yet - is the message that Congress, in its position as the Head of The Uniparty Establishment, sent to the American people wth the content and language in the spending bill: "If you want to affect change in Washington you will have to use something other than ballot boxes to do it with." Elect who you want as President, the Uniparty Establishment will steamroll them, and anyone elected to serve in Congress will be hamstrung, rendered ineffective, and thoroughly corrupted, in that order.

I find that very deeply concerning, because if a substantial portion of Americans - most specifically, not a majority, just a substantial percentage - become convinced that orderly procedures within the Constitution are not just inadequate but completely useless, we will enter extremely dangerous territory.

If there were any doubts about the necessity for draining the swamp they should have be dispelled by now, with the caveat that "draining the swamp" won't be enough; it will need to also be paved over. Otherwise, I fear we're headed for multiple regional secessions and more intense strife than anyone will enjoy.

Bob M said...

Thanks Peter,

A most welcome post.

As my daughter-in-law likes to call him, the "orange headed, racist, sexist, misogynistic, redneck loudmouth buffoon" is several steps ahead of the swamp dwellers.

As for me, I call him "my president".

Good stuff....... and most encouraging.

Perhaps he makes the swamp deeper and drowns them all? Much easier than wading in after them one at a time.

Anonymous said...

Back when Reagan was president, I watched as he fought with Congress to get them to live up to their promise to reduce spending.
The media support of congress-critters led to the eventual signing.
Nowadays, I get to see people posting blame on Reagan for the deficits that arose from all that.
Wonder if I am seeing history repeat itself on a second stanza?

Snoggeramus said...

Oh, this seems to have popped up.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/text-letter-president-speaker-house-representatives-president-senate-21/

Fun times!

Anonymous said...

If Trump takes the money, builds the wall, and defunds PP too, then I will agree he is a genius worth of support.

I'm not holding my breath though.

Borepatch said...

Actually, you *can* listen to what Trump says, which is remarkably consistent (going back to The Art Of The Deal). He structures deals so that he wins no matter how things come out. This is right in line with that.

I'd also add that Congress has made stopgap spending bills into a fine art. Trump may be trying got change that, by invoking rules that let him change how the money is spent. He may have a lot more leverage with Congress in September if they realize that he won't spend the money the way they want him to, and he can get away with it. He's removing incentives for Congress to keep behaving badly.

LindaG said...

I want to thank you for this post. I was very frustrated that he signed the bill. I wanted him to veto it to make Congress pass it over his veto so we could see all the liars who ran with big promises of helping Trump drain the swamp, but have done exactly none of that.

I had not heard of him invoking that emergency act. Your post gives me hope. I am excited to see where Trump goes with this.

Joseph Bridges said...

I'll try to keep this brief, as there's probably a lotta folks queue-ing up to put in their $0.02-worth as well...

First - We elected a President, not a Miracle-Worker...and he's had pretty-nearly everybody he has to deal with, even indirectly, throwing rocks of all sorts 'n sizes at him ever since Election Day (plus, some were already building-up the bombardment well before that time). Just 'cause, by YOUR "objective standards", he's not turned out to be, 100% (nor even, maybe, 50% in some cases) what you think (or just imagine) is "all that, and a box o' crackers", doesn't mean squat. He can only do what he can do - politickin' is, often-enough, referred to as "The Art Of The POSSIBLE" for good reason...

Second - In general, the Executive DOES NOT have "The Power Of The Purse" - Congress (specifically, the House Of Representatives, whereat ALL fiscal-spending measures originate, by Law) has that Power. Trump asked for a Budget Allocation - including, of course, certain items, specifically...What Congress gave him, instead, was this crazy-assed "Omnibus Spending-Bill" bag 'o beans. So be it - they want to "play games"...and they challenged him, thereby, to what they thought would be an exercise in "Brinksmanship": Sign This...Or - Be "Responsible" For a Gubment Shutdown...So - he signed (while voicing displeasure - and serving notice that this ain't the way it'll go six months from now...when that "omnibus" runs outta gas and rumbles towards a halt) - and immediately set to work, bending and warping on that potful of message thay sent him, getting ready to allocate/re-allocate as he sees fit/sees necessary..

Stand by, folks - wait for the end-results, an' listen for the screaming that's likely to start iin a few months' time.

Next time around - well...maybe there'll be a New Game in town, y'know? (8-D)

Anonymous said...

Trump cares nothing for anyone but Trump. Much like Hillary. Peter I like you, have bought your books and agree with you a lot. But not on this. The republicans are a dead end, and a dead party. Time to do something else. If you haven’t noticed the future looks very bad for anyone who does not worship the sjws. Supporting a useless piece of crap like Trump and Mitch o Connell is a waste of time, we need a new party, and some people to lead who are not brain dead idiots. The worst decision they republicans ever made was to tie themselves to the religious fanatics. Been straight down hill ever since.

Anonymous said...

When I read that congress would give Trump 2000 border agents after talks and he only received 65 in this bill??I started thinking Congress wrote this bill and for the previous 8 years I heard "it's the will of the people"These Jack Asses gave us the people the middle finger they hear nothing what We The People said in the last election,Just how much of that map was Red?