There have been many charges levied against the Republican Congressmen that they have thwarted legislation that they know will help the US economy in order to weaken President Obama’s chances of re-election. Being GQ, I’m going to turn this into a hypothetical to avoid any debate as to whether the above analysis is accurate or not.
Let’s assume that this is true, and unambiguous evidence, say a leaked (yet authenticated email circulated among the Republicans in the senate) unambiguously stating that they should filibuster a certain piece of legislation, knowing that this legislation would help the US economy, in order to make political gain at the expense of harming the US.
Saying any legislation would unambiguously help the economy is oversimplifying things. Take the upcoming “fiscal cliff” for example - if Congress doesn’t act, tax rates go up on the middle class. I would agree that the net impact of this outcome is probably more negative than positive. However, is taking middle class tax rates back to where they were under Clinton truly an unambiguously bad outcome for the economy? For one thing, doing so would certainly raise more tax revenue, which would in turn reduce the deficit.
It’s not illegal but the Senate minority leadership apparently intimated employees of the Congressional Research Service (known for a long history of producing non-biased reports for Congress) to hide a published report (actual PDF report here) that cutting taxes for high income earners does not spur the economy. The New York Times article (first link) is dated November 1st. The report was issued in September. Adding insult to injury I remember reading about this report back in September when it was issued but it apparently received little press, even though the contents are pretty damning to the Republican mantra calling for reduced taxes for the rich. It’s not until news about suppressing the report that it is now garnering wide attention.
Anecdotally I’ve witnessed individual Members of Congress suppress information that would undermine their public political positions, to the detriment of their constituents and the greater economy. Can it be “proven” they did it? Practically impossible. For me that’s the difference between politicians and statesmen, the former all too abundant and the latter practically non-existent.
I get that, which is why I tried to set up the comically oversimplified email chain whereby one party (so not to be accused of being partisan) expressly states their desire to do harm to the country through legislation, or blocking legislation, for political gain.
ie, the email says, “Bwa ha ha! Let’s all veto this piece of legislation that we all agree would cut unemployment in half within three months in order to make the economy worse so that President Smith will be blamed and will have a more difficult time being re-elected. PS. My fingers are tented in front of my chest Mr. Burns style.”
As others have said, I think this would have to escalate to the level of treason for it to be enforceable in any way. So the letter would have to say something like “To my masters in China: We have blocked yet another piece of legislation. Soon, Americans will all be penniless, you will own the debt, and your master plan for world domination will come to fruition!”
Anything less is going to be justifiable in some legal terms, regardless of how unpopular or Machiavellian it may be.
My question would be: who determines what hurts the economy? Let’s take the kerfuffle over raising the debt ceiling where Republicans “held the economy hostage”. Neo-Keynsians argued that not raising the ceiling would hurt the economy when it most needed stimulus spending. OK, I’ll buy that, but on the other hand, doesn’t the government policy of continual deficit spending also hurt the economy? We waste 6.5% of the budget on interest on the debt. As this recession showed, the government is about at the limit of how much it can stimulate the economy. So an arguement could be made that raising the debt ceiling will in the long-term hurt the economy by creating more liability for the US government without creating any real growth. So who would be arrested in this scenerio? Those that vote for the deficit increase or those that did not? How would you determine to a LEGAL standard how valid the neo-Keynesians hypotheticals of “If we didn’t spend the money …” are?
The “…except Treason, Felony, and Breach of the Peace…” phrase applies to Congress’ immunity from arrest in session and coming and going. The “shall not be questioned” piece is not limited by that phrase, and prevents any judicial criminal consideration of acts that occur in the regular course of the legislative process or into the motivation for those acts. See United States v. Brewster, 408 US 501 (1972).
Of course, Congress is the sole judge of its own members, and either the House or the Senate could choose to expel one or more of their members because his tie doesn’t match his suit. But that’s not the same as a criminal trial for a criminal act.