Freedom and popular government in Britain and America became possible because over the course of many years the House of Commons, and later the American colonial legislatures, were willing to exert the power of the purse to discipline an overreaching executive.
In Britain, the House of Commons—Parliament’s lower chamber—sometimes defunded the executive in order to curb it. The House was willing do this despite threats from the Crown and “bad press” from the British establishment. In America, the colonial assemblies were willing to defund the king’s governors to check their power.
The U.S. House of Representatives is the direct descendant of the House of Commons and of the colonial assemblies. Like them, it enjoys power to defund government programs. Yes, the Senate has to approve financial bills. But those bills have to originate in the House, and nothing forces the House to send to the Senate a money bill for a program the House doesn’t want.
An August 25 headline says that although the Republicans control the House of Representatives, there still are not enough votes to defund Obamacare.
Now, let me see if I’ve got this straight:
* Obamacare’s massive new bureaucracy is a classic case of executive branch overreach;
* its central promises turn out to be false—health care premiums are going up, not down; and people are losing the insurance coverage the President promised they could keep;
* the President himself says he is forced to suspend part of it;
* a clear majority of the American people want it to go away;
* most members of the House of Representatives say they want Obamacare to go away;
* those Representatives have the power of the purse; but
* they still “can’t” defund it?
Just whom do they think they are kidding?
If these pusillanimous politicos were in charge during critical moments in the 17th and 18th centuries, no doubt America would never have been free, and we’d all be slaves of the British Crown today.
Rob Natelson is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. This post originally appeared in the Institute’s constitutional studies blog.