TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Sep 7, 2011

Journal Issue Date: Sep 2011

Journal Name: September 2011 - Vol. 47, No. 9

My legal education began when I was in the 9th grade. As an inquisitive young scholar at one of the state’s finest public institutions of lower education (Frayser High School), I took Civics. The class was taught by Professor Renfro. Well, he was Coach Renfro, and take it from me, coaches are better teachers than professors. Since they know something about sports, they have common sense and can actually give you practical advice.

And believe me, Civics under Coach Renfro was a very practical course. Coach Renfro taught us how a bill becomes a law. Under his tutelage, my classmates and I also studied the Constitution (particularly the Bill of Rights), and we learned all about how our federal government works.
For example, we learned that there are three branches of the federal government: the American League, the National League, and the NFL.

That was a joke Coach Renfro made. He was a very funny guy. And then after making the joke, he quickly told us that in reality, of course, the three branches of the federal government are the Executive, the Judiciary, and Lobbyists. Well, okay, that last one was my joke. He told us, of course, that the three branches are the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislative.

Coach Renfro is retired now. At this moment, he is probably reading the Constitution of the United States while watching a Braves game on TV.

But if Coach Renfro comes out of retirement, I’m afraid he’s going to have to modify some of his lectures. You see, my fellow Americans, we no longer have three branches of the federal government. We have four: the Executive, the Judiciary, the Legislative, and … the Super Congress! You read that right, Thomas Jefferson-breath! The Super Congress.

The Super Congress was recently created by the current members of Congress to make sure they get re-elected next year.

It all started recently when the United States of America was about to go bankrupt. I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV. But given my limited knowledge of bankruptcy law, I would think that the United States is already bankrupt since we currently are in debt in the amount of 15 trillion dollars with apparently no plan whatsoever to pay it back.

But apparently every time the federal bills come due, the Secretary of the Treasury goes to the Bank of China and borrows more money. Despite the fact that the United States of America should have the credit rating of your basic deadbeat dad, China is more than happy to keep extending us credit.

Why? Simple. China will soon own Fort Knox, the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Disneyworld, Six Flags Over a Bankrupt Nation, Justin Timberlake, Wal-Mart, Facebook, Chick-fil-A, and any other valuable business entity the Chinese don’t already own.

But just as our Treasury Secretary was about to walk into the Bank of China, take out a 15th mortgage on Yellowstone National Park, and walk out with a new Chinese toaster and a wheelbarrow full of Yuan, he was stopped by the new power brokers in our Nation’s Capital. No, not the president of the United States, the speaker of the House, or the Senate majority leader. Believe it or not, the new power brokers in Washington are a group of freshman congressmen.

Once upon a time in America, the role of a freshman congressman was to keep his mouth shut, vote the party line, and patiently wait for decades to gain seniority. They were expected to behave like the mother of a groom at a wedding: smile, keep their mouths shut, and wear beige.

But these new “Tea Party” congressmen are an impertinent bunch, with no respect whatsoever for their elders. When the president of the United States and the speaker of the House agreed to send the Treasury secretary back to the Bank of China, the Tea Party animals balked. They said that even if Bank of China was going to extend us more credit, they wouldn’t authorize it unless an agreement was reached to borrow less and spend less in the future.

For several days there was a fierce debate on Capitol Hill as to how we could cut back on all our borrowing and spending. The problem, however, was that the bills were still due, and unless we went back to the Bank of China and got some more Yuan, we wouldn’t be able to pay these bills we already have. It’s like the old joke my father used to tell me when I was a boy: “Our furniture goes back to Louis XV … if we don’t pay him by the 14th!”

Winston Churchill once said, “The American people can always be counted on to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other available option.” True to form, just as America’s furniture was about to go back to Louis XV, or more accurately to Chinese President Hu Jintao, Congress and the president came up with a bold new plan to authorize the Treasury Secretary to borrow more money. Instead of cutting specific government programs or raising taxes, they created a fourth branch of the federal government … the Super Congress!

Faster than a speeding lobbyist! More powerful than a pointy-headed federal bureaucrat! Able to leap the Washington Monument in a single bound! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Congress!

There are currently 100 members in the United States Senate and 435 members in the House of Representatives. By my UT math, that’s 535 members of Congress.

But these 535 leaders (and I use that term loosely) have now agreed to defer decisions on federal spending to a Super Congress consisting of just 12 members. These 12 Super Congressmen will, at some point down the road, make the tough decisions that the other 523 members of Congress are not willing to make.

It’s a great plan. 523 member of Congress will be able to run for re-election next year by telling the voters that they are for a balanced budget, against any tax increases, and against cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or any other entitlement programs. And if the federal debt keeps skyrocketing, taxes are increased, or social programs cut, it will not be the fault of your Congressman. Blame it on the Super Congress!

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.