Of course that hasn't prevented Congress from passing bad legislation that denies our freedoms, such as Prohibition or, more recently, Obamacare, which will force Americans to buy health insurance they neither want nor need. But that has meant blocking good legislation, too, such as the House's mid-fiscal-year budget cuts, which will carve $61 billion out of President Obama's 2011 spending binge as a down payment for bigger budget cuts to come in the fiscal 2012 budget bill. The House bill is blocked by an unyielding Democratic majority in the Senate, the body that Thomas Jefferson said was needed to "cool the passions of the House."
In this case, the House Republicans were fully justified in their mission to end the runaway spending that has marked the Democrat-run Congress over the past two years -- pushing spending up to nearly $4 trillion a year, driving this year's budget deficit to an unprecedented $1.4 trillion, and ballooning our national debt to over $14 trillion, putting it on a fast track to another $10 trillion in this decade.
But here is where the spending battle gets complicated and very tricky. The budget for the entire government has been running on a so-called temporary, month-to-month continuing resolution (called a CR) for this fiscal year, which ends six months from now. That's not the way the budget process is supposed to work, but Democrats did not enact a budget, and somehow were never held accountable by the news media for their failure to carry out their chief fiscal responsibility.
So the House GOP's demands for spending cuts have been tied up by the continuing resolution that received a two-week extension to keep the government running while both sides worked on a compromise.
However, there wasn't much of a compromise. President Obama, not wanting to get his hands dirty, has stayed out of the budget process to the angst of Senate Democrats, who offered a puny $10 billion budget-cutting package to the CR that Republicans said was laughable and that some 10 Democrats voted against. So now, as the CR's expiration draws near, a growing number of tea party conservatives are opposing a further extension to force Democrats to negotiate a budget-cutting deal or else face a government shutdown.
The latest proposal from Republican leaders offers to extend the CR again, this time until April 8 in the hopes of negotiating deeper spending cuts for the remaining fiscal year. The CR contains $6 billion in cuts.
But Democrats have made it clear they're not interested in working out a compromise that significantly cuts spending, daring Republicans to force a government shutdown. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that both Obama and Democratic leaders want a shutdown.
Why? Because then the story on the nightly network news programs will become the government shutdown -- i.e., which agencies have closed their doors -- giving the White House and Democrats in Congress a new political issue that shifts the focus from the spending debate on to the Republicans for shutting down the school lunch program or locking the doors of the Archives building where the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are on permanent display.
Democrats think they can win that issue and a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 Americans by the Washington Post suggests they can and will. When asked, "Overall, do you think a partial shutdown of the federal government would be a bad thing or a good thing?" 63 percent said bad and only 31 percent said good. Moreover, no one needs this issue more than Obama whose polling numbers are weak and re-election prospects wobbly at best. He couldn't decide what to do about the ongoing massacre of protesters in Lybia. He has no plan to deal with high unemployment. He has been sitting on the sidelines in the budget debate. When asked, "Who is taking a stronger leadership role in Washington?" 46 percent say the Republicans in Congress and 39 percent say Obama, according to the Post's survey.
But on the government spending debate, where Republicans want to keep the focus, the country remains divided over cutting spending and keeping essential functions operating. 43 percent support Obama on this, while 42 percent side with the Republicans and their argument that major spending cuts will lead to wider job creation.
Conservatives like tea party-backed Sen. Marco Rubio are saying that it is irresponsible to run the government on short term week-to-week CRs, and he is right of course.
But a government shutdown strategy, which most Americans who pay the bills wouldn't feel, would still give the Obama Democrats exactly what they need right now to distract attention from the Republicans' strongest issue: uncontrolled, unneeded federal spending.
The next round will be the 2012 budget fight that gives the GOP a more level playing field when the House will send a deep spending cut bill to the Senate and where a number of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election will happily vote for it.