Impeaching the president would be bad for the country in many ways. It should not happen, and it will not happen.
But we columnists like to use this kind of thing to make a point, so here goes.
If the U.S. House of Representatives somehow were to vote for impeachment, there would be no point in asking whether or not the Senate would remove the president from office. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote in that chamber, and no Democrat there would vote for that.
Instead, a better question would be, if we’re going to start stripping constitutional duties, why stop with the president? Maybe we all should be replaced.
The president has failed to provide leadership on the most important long-term issue facing the federal government, one that will really matter long after the Benghazi and IRS scandals are long forgotten. The national debt was $17.68 trillion on Aug. 11 – more than $5 billion more than it was the day before and more than $11 trillion more than it was in 2000. The $500 billion that will be added to the national debt this year will be the best fiscal year the nation has had since President Obama took office. The debt is now equal to about $56,000 for every American man, woman and child. It’s still rising, and it will continue to rise unless something in Washington changes.
The country must have a serious conversation about its wants, needs and expectations, because it’s clearly living beyond its means. The president started that conversation by appointing the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010 to make recommendations for addressing the problem. At the time, he seemed interested in the subject. But no one in the White House is talking about fiscal responsibility and reform now.
The president sets the tone, but Article 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the responsibility for taxing, spending, and paying off debts. Clearly, Congress has been failing to fulfill those responsibilities for a long time. For the past few years, it has lurched from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States and blunting the country’s economic recovery. Like a college freshman who parties all semester and then crams during finals week, it rarely acts anymore without an absolute deadline.
And yet despite the fact that, according to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, being a member is a secure job. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 90 percent of House incumbents and 91 percent of Senate incumbents running for re-election were sent back to Washington in 2012. Voters did not care that, during the fiscal year leading up to that election, the federal government had spent almost $1.3 trillion more than it had collected. In fact, they rewarded that behavior.
Ultimately, the White House and Congress reflect the will of the people, and the will of the people is to borrow and spend. Polls have made it clear that Americans are at least aware that the national debt is a problem, but they also oppose meaningfully cutting spending or raising taxes. In a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, respondents were presented 19 areas where spending could be cut. None were favored by a majority. Members of Congress and the president know this.
The Constitution reserves impeachment for “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Americans today – the president, the Congress, and the voters – together have made the decision to steal trillions of dollars from our children and grandchildren. Stealing is a crime – in this case, a high crime. We’re committing treason against the future country they will inherit.
So maybe it’s time to stop talking about impeaching just a particular president and start talking about impeaching us all. We voters have proven unable or unwilling to perform our duties, and so perhaps those duties should be stripped from us and entrusted to the next in line – every American currently under 18. Put kids in the White House and in Congress. If we won’t make their future a priority, maybe they will.
I’m kidding, I guess. But at least my 12-year-old and nine-year-old know that stealing is wrong.
(Follow Steve Brawner on Twitter @stevebrawner)