It wouldn't surprise anyone to know that I find Paul Mulshine's columns to be outrageous, with little historic or factual basis. His tirades against Chris Christie, which appear to be little more than a personal vendetta, are at least entertaining. It's not so funny, however, when this rather sophomoric fool writes about you.
On April 6 he wrote his annual column putting the entire federal debt problem at my door because I cast the deciding vote against the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1997. I've learned that it's better to ignore people like Mulshine since nobody really cares what he thinks. But let's make an exception on this occasion.
In 1997 the Senate considered several versions of a Balanced Budget Amendment. The one favored by Republicans contained no exceptions. If the nation was attacked or a depression ensued, the government would be in a financial straight jacket. I knew the historic dangers that this draft presented. One afternoon I was visited by Senator Moynihan. He was the most respected Congressional voice on issues of history and for several hours he lectured me on how the course of history might have been different. What if FDR had constitutional restraints after December 7? What if the New Deal couldn't have responded to the Depression?
The next day I returned to the Senate floor with an Amendment. I would cast the deciding vote for the Balanced Budget Amendment if the Republicans would provide an escape clause if the United States was attacked militarily or the economic circumstances were determined by the Congress to be a state of emergency. The Republicans refused.
I've always believed that ultimately the Republicans refused these changes because what they really wanted wasn't the Balanced Budget Amendment, they wanted a political issue. They knew that it was wrong. On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked. The Republicans regained a majority but never proposed the issue again. Before the decade concluded the nation entered the worst economic downturn in a generation.
Senator Moynihan died some years later but I've always been grateful that he led me to the right decision for our country. As he left my office that day, he noted that we didn't need the Constitution to protect the country from ourselves. We just needed good leaders who knew when it was right to mortgage the future and when it was time to save. Moynihan lived to see Bill Clinton balance the budget. He witnessed George Bush's use of those same constitutional powers to respond after the nation was attacked on 9/11 but didn't live to see Barack Obama use those powers to repair our cascading economy. He didn't need to. He understood history.
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