Friday, February 27, 2009

The Cup and the Saucer

We are in for a fun ride. President Obama presented the outline to his proposed budget yesterday and got the talking heads, well, talking. There are those that say we cannot pay for it and those that are saying that it is bold and progressive.

I say it is the clay to the potters in Congress, especially those in the United States Senate. I say that based on what I saw develop during the debate and passage of the stimulus package. The Democratic leaders in the House put together a package that represented eight years of frustration, putting money into pet projects and using their new muscle to force it down the Republican's throats. In response, the Republicans walked away from the bill.

However, in the Senate, thoughtful debate was held for the most part, calmer heads prevailed, and a compromise was reached where at least three Republicans could support it. Now we have the President's Budget before Congress. The actual budget will be presented in April, but the outline was given this week and it seems destined to steamroll through the House.

It will then be up to the Senate to dissect it, debate it and tweak it before the budget bill goes into conference and then passage. Get use to it, because this is the pattern the President wants for most of his legislative agenda. Being a former member of the Senate, and a Constitutional Law professor, Obama believes that old cup and saucer story.

For those who don't know the story, legend has it that George Washington, then the presiding officer over the Constitutional Convention, invited Thomas Jefferson to dinner. Jefferson, who was an anti-Federalist, and not a big fan of the direction the convention was going, obliged.

During dinner, and lively discussion, Jefferson asked Washington the question about the need for a bicameral legislature. His objection was based on the British Parliament, where he personally felt that the House of Commons was effective but the House of Lords was unnecessary. Washington then asked Jefferson, as coffee was being served, "Why do you have a cup and a saucer for your coffee?"

Jefferson replied, "I pour the coffee out of the cup and into the saucer to cool the coffee." Washington smiled and then retorted, "That's why we need a bicameral legislature." Washington further explained that the House was the cup, gathering the hot passion of the masses, like coffee. The saucer was then the Senate, cooling the passions and letting reason prevail.

The Obama strategy seems to be to let that theory play out. That should make these next four years very interesting.