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August 22, 2011

Our Lexicon: The American Politburo

They’re calling the debt-deal-committee a Super Committee. Mildly bolder souls are labeling it a Super Congress. But both terms hide its anti-constitutional design.

The new “Super Committee” of Congress should be called the “American Politburo.” The “Federalist Papers” tell us that our federal government was designed to move slowly, deliberately, and perhaps not at all. Unified power wasn’t viewed as efficiency, it was feared as tyranny. But the “Super Committee” created by the debt deal is specifically designed to unify power for the purpose of speed and efficiency, just like the old Soviet Politburo.

In this blog post you will learn….

* How the Founders warned us about the risk of tyranny through the unification of legislative powers
* How the Budget Control Act of 2011 specifically invites this danger


In the Constitutional debates about the need for a bicameral legislature…

James Wilson warned: “Is there a danger of a Legislative despotism? Theory & practice both proclaim it. If the legislative authority be not restrained, there can be neither liberty nor stability; and it can only be restrained by dividing it within itself, into distinct and independent branches.” 

Alexander Hamilton warned: …that to “accumulate, in a single body, all the most important prerogatives of sovereignty [would] entail upon our posterity one of the most execrable forms of government that human infatuation ever contrived.” 

James Madison said: “In republican government, legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and the common dependence on society will admit.”

The Budget Control Act of 2011 ignores these framers, and risks tyranny through the unification of legislative powers that should remain divided. Instead of ensuring action by two “distinctive bodies,” to be “exercised only after opportunity for full debate in separate settings,” the Act truncates the deliberative process by truncating debate, banning amendments, and insisting upon uniformity of procedure. It takes 100 Senators, and makes six of them “super”; it takes 435 and bequeaths six with superpowers.

Dear American, chances are that YOU have no representative at this table. Whatever this is, it isn’t representative government.

The founders didn’t believe they were engaging in hyperbole when they used the word “tyranny.” Neither do I believe I am being hyperbolic when I call the “super committee” an American Politburo. The whole purpose of this “super committee” is to avoid the full participation of your personal elected representatives.


Once upon a time, the regime we Americans disliked most was the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was ruled by the Executive Committee (Politburo) of the Central Committee of the nation’s only politcal party, the Communist Party. The Communists valued unity more than debate, so the rulings of the Politburo were binding and final. In addition, the members of the Politburo were elected by the Central Committee at the direction of the Politburo itself!

This system of psuedo-voting was called “democratic centralism.” This is what the Soviets meant by democracy.

I think the new American Politburo is intended to work in a way very similar to democratic centralism. It’s supposed to look democratic while avoiding debate. Most importantly, the Congressional leaders who appointed this Politburo want to avoid the influence of groups like the Tea Party and Downsize DC. 

Recently, many Americans have elected representatives who have been assigned the task of shrinking the Leviathan State. Congressional leaders do not want this to happen, so they have created this new American Politburo to preserve the statist status quo. Here are some of the things this American Politburo could include in the package proposal it will give for Congress to pass or reject without amendments….  

  • Tax increases
  • More “stimulas” spending to buy votes for the coming elections
  • New subsidies and tax breaks for “green Energy” and “green jobs”
  • Back-door approval for the un-declared war in Lbya, and extensions for the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • New police powers and budgets for the expansion of the already huge surveillance state
  • Stealth gun control
  • Favors for unions, like Card Check voting and national protection for collective bargaining rights for state employees
  • Pork of all kinds, especially for those incumbents who’ve been deemed “super”

All of these things are possible because the mission and powers of this new American Politburo have been loosely and vaugely defined. It isn’t limited in scope the way the old Base Closure Commission was (to which this new committee has been wrongly compared). 


Unlike this new Politburo…

  • That committee couldn’t throw any random, unrelated ingredients into the soup. Their mission was very narrow, and it was ONLY about reducing government spending, not MORE laws, MORE regulations, and MORE spending.
  • Committees in the House and Senate had an opportunity to review the report, and propose alternatives to the base closure list generated by this commission. If those alternatives had passed, by a simple majority vote, then they would’ve sufficed. But in this instance, the House and Senate cannot amend the proposals handed down from on high.

TO BE CLEAR: Given that the primary purpose of the Constitution is to maximize personal liberty by restraining the coercive power of the State, it would be fine if this commission was tasked with finding things to cut. But they won’t stop there. Aside from the list above, they may change rules on a variety of programs, including those that comprise the social welfare system. Surely, reforms are needed there. But how to achieve those reforms is a debate that, no matter how messy, should be done in the open, with all voices having a seat at the table.

Ah, but having all voices represented would mean that the handful of members who don’t like the debt deal — who don’t want the Gravy Train to roll on — would have to be heard, and even considered. And with a little traction, their voices (and your power) might grow in the next election. For the political class, it is far better to…

  • squelch those voices now
  • demoralize the new Tea Party force calling for budget cuts and balanced budgets
  • marginalize you, and the people who share your appreciation for smaller, limited government

Which leads me to wonder, why are so many who are disappointed by this deal NOT absolutely obsessed with this American Politburo?


People are always concerned about the abuse of power. Here is a clear abuse in the making.

But the power to abuse is of even greater concern. Power granted, will be power abused, and, in this instance, it’s been grabbed. This power…

…sets a terrible precedent. If this is permitted to stand, then every sticky issue could get the Politburo treatment. Why not strip the House and Senate of their procedures, and force a vote on any combination of issues just to get the sticky stuff done?


Most groups haven’t even identified the REAL PROBLEM here.

If this is a truly a republican form of government — a representative democracy, instead of a centralized democracy — then every issue should, on its own merits, be vetted, debated, and voted upon by two separate and distinct legislative bodies. Anything short of that is NOT THE Constitutional formula.

Additionally, we who advocate for reducing the size and power of The State, must uphold a principle: “One Subject at a Time.” And that’s going to mean some debate. After all…

We do have a serious budget problem. Politicians who can’t stand the heat should get out of the kitchen. But they shouldn’t be permitted, by us, to shirk their duties. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and “Defense” all require cuts. The budget must be balanced. This will require hard work and difficult choices. The debate might get messy. We’re all going to have to suffer listening to foolish ideas about how to (or even, if we should) address these issues. But…

Tyranny in the pursuit of budget cuts is no virtue.

And make no mistake about it, this American Politburo is, at minimum, a tyrannical precedent.


There’s one final point to be made. Politics, practiced in a media saturated atmosphere, is about achieving the dominant characterization or spin: Define or Be Defined.

The phrase, “American Politburo” may seem inflammatory. But our founders were no less so on this very subject (a bicameral legislature). Remember, they called a unified legislature, “tyranny.” So…

Let’s call this Super Committee what it really is. Encourage everyone who agrees with you about the need to “Cap the Debt,” that this is the “American Politburo.”  

Copyright (c) 2011 by Jim Babka. Permission to distribute this blog post for educational purposes is granted, if done with attribution to the author and the Downsize DC Foundation. Permission to use for commercial purposes is denied.

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