The House of Representatives, at 10:57 p.m. on January 1, passed the Fiscal Cliff bill, with Republicans voting 2 to 1 against it.  Speaker Boehner’s negotiations with President Obama had been a disaster.  The President’s only concession was his definition of rich, which he raised from $200,000–$250,000 per year to $400,000–$450,000.  Other than that, nothing—no spending cuts, no discussion of entitlements.  The Senate Democrats, for good measure, added lard for such favorites as Hollywood and Goldman Sachs.  The law is 153 pages long with at least 100 pages of fat.  But following this debacle the Republicans told us not to be downhearted: We’ll get another chance; we’ll resume negotiations around March 1 when the debt ceiling needs to be raised.  The President will have less “leverage” then.

The Fiscal Cliff bill was drafted by the Senate, a statement that sounds wrong, since we learned in high-school civics class that “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.”  Again, the Republicans were outmaneuvered.  In August the House passed H.R. 8 to reenact all the Bush tax cuts and sent it to the Senate.  They knew it was pointless, since the Democratic Senate would not agree, but the Republicans wanted to say they had done something.  They did, but not what they wanted.  They gave the Democrats a vehicle to end-run the constitutional standard.  The Senate simply stripped all the content of H.R. 8 with the following language: “Amendments: Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the following.”  Then they wrote 153 pages of their own and sent it back to the House.

Why are the Republicans negotiating with the President in the first place?  They control the House.  The House controls the purse strings.  According to Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, money can only be paid out of the Treasury by appropriations: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”  Not a cent can be spent without the House’s authorization.  The Republicans say ObamaCare is harmful: Why don’t they defund it?  They say education should be handled locally: Why don’t they delete the Department of Education?  They say without large spending cuts we are going the way of Greece, and they are right: Why don’t they cut spending?

Both parties have conspired to mislead the public.  The parties say they are negotiating, and the press covers the story that way.  Probably 99 percent of the public believes the President and the House must agree to cut spending.  Why else do they keep negotiating, even though they obviously don’t like each other?  That can’t be fun.

But they aren’t really negotiating: There is no substantive point to their deliberations.  The people’s branch—in our case, the House—has held the purse strings since Parliament stripped the crown of the power in the 17th century.  The money cannot move unless the House appropriates.

The Republicans are just looking for some political cover.  Spending cuts are, by their very nature, unpopular.  The House wants the President to share the political responsibility with them.  They are saying to him, “cuts are critical for the good of the country, and we’d like you to join us in taking the heat for them.”  The problem with that negotiating position is that once the President says, “I’d rather not,” the negotiations are over.

The President says that Republican threats do not phase him: “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up through the laws they have passed.”  Why not accept that?  He doesn’t want to talk, so fine.

Why doesn’t the House start over?  Why not explain to the people your plan of how we can avoid becoming Greece and then make the necessary cuts?  Maybe the experts are right, and it will be unpopular.  Maybe you lose in 2014.  You may lose in 2014 anyway because you look like inept fools.  But trust the people a little.  As Jefferson said, “Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”