Congress is coming back, although it is unclear why.
Perhaps senators are drawn by the fragrant memory of their restaurant's justly famous bean soup. Of course the portions, caught in the Gramm-Rudmanizing machine, will be cut across the board.
Congresspersons come back to contemplate their suddenly anachronistic House motto: "Here the People Rule." In Year 1, G-R, the ruling "people" are technicians in the Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office and the Comptroller General's Office of the General Accounting Office.
Under Gramm-Rudman, OMB is joined with the CBO. They are joined to the GAO. And the shin bone is connected to the knee bone. What in the name of Jefferson has this to do with the due process of democracy?
Assume, reasonably, that Congress rejects the president's budget, a menu of pains necessary to reach the deficit target without a tax increase. Assume, safely, that Congress also will refuse to write its own menu of pains. Then OMB and CBO will submit their estimates of the coming deficit.
Those estimates will be churned into butter by the comptroller general, and he will decree the "across the board" cuts required to reach the deficit-reduction target. Well, across the board except for the 48 percent of the budget that is totally exempt from cuts, and the 70 percent that is totally or partially exempt.
For this capitulation to unelected technocrats, soldiers shivered at Valley Forge? The constitutionality of Gramm-Rudman is being challenged on the ground that it violates the separation of powers. It would be better to challenge it with philosophic fundamentals. The Constitution says: "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government. . . ." Surely, then, the central government should be republican. But it is not under Gramm-Rudman. The essence of republicanism is the principle of representation: the people do not decide issues; they decide who shall decide -- elected representatives. Under Gramm-Rudman, elected people will decide almost nothing. They have decided not to decide among competing priorities. Bureaucrats will do the deciding. For example, The New York Times reports that, "spending must be cut by the same percentage for each national park, national forest, fish hatchery and wildlife refuge run by the Interior Department. The Department could then decide how to make the specific cuts."
All civics textbooks should be recalled by publishers. All passages describing the importance of Congress in the appropriations process must be removed. (In Gramm-Rudmanspeak, they must be "sequestered.")
Last Sunday government economists said, yet again, "Oops!" "Oops" is a technical term meaning (in this instance) the fiscal 1986 deficit will be $220 billion, not $194 billion. So prepare to sequester more, 50 percent of it to come from the only 28 percent of the budget that goes to defense.
Caspar "Sugar Ray" Weinberger was on one of the Sunday television programs, bobbing and weaving like a welterweight with springs for legs, jabbing at skeptics with the weightiest word in the language: "If." He said: Gramm-Rudman will not threaten Reagan's defense program . . . if Congress passes Reagan's budget.
But in the Ping-Pong of the budget process, Reagan is sending to Congress proposed cuts Congress has rejected before. Weinberger is an ardent admirer of Winston Churchill, whose calls for rearmament were opposed by people such as Stanley Baldwin, who had a cheese-paring approach to defense. Weinberger, having been admirably Churchillian, might be driven by Gramm-Rudman to be a Baldwin. He might administer the severest cuts since the end of the Korean War. The Washington Post recently published a Gramm-Rudman story that should be clipped and kept, but put on a high shelf (next to your dog-eared copies of "Fanny Hill" and "Tropic of Cancer") lest the children read it and lose all faith in democracy. It tells of one congressman who voted for Gramm-Rudman but is having second thoughts because it will do more than "just" slash defense. He thinks that after three years of across-the-board cuts, not much government will remain: "No FBI, no Coast Guard." He is saying, in the universal language of contemporary government, "Oops!"
The Post story contains this deathless passage: "Scattered across the country and in several foreign countries for the congressional recess, lawmakers have begun to think through the implications of the new law." Yes, "begun." Post-facto government involves reflecting in tranquillity about what you have done in pandemonium.