For the ambitious Congressman, the Constitution has become a nuisance, a mere obstacle to be overcome or ignored rather than a guiding document of set limitations of power. Remaining faithful to their oath of office is not a priority; it is simply a formality.
However, House Republicans are now championing a new rule that requires all proposed legislation to be cited by powers within the Constitution as proof that they intend to restore constitutional integrity to Congress. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately their claims do nothing to ease my skepticism.
A bill or joint resolution may not be introduced unless the sponsor has submitted for printing in the Congressional Record a statement citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution. The statement shall appear in a portion of the Record designated for that purpose and be made publicly available in electronic form by the Clerk.
I’ll admit that this new rule is undoubtedly a good first step in the right direction in reining in the power of Congress; however it omits a key factor. The root cause of nearly all abandonment of adherence to constitutional limits can be squarely pinned upon the Congress’ abuse of three specific clauses within the Constitution itself: the general welfare, necessary and proper, and commerce clauses. Gross misinterpretation of each has given way to an endless accumulation of power never intended to be vested in Congress.
Through the general welfare clause alone, Congress has essentially claimed it can assume any power it deems necessary in order to carry out its delegated duties because it’s for the “general welfare” of the country. However, the general welfare clause was simply meant for Congress to carry out its duties not for one particular interest but for the general welfare of every state.
In criticizing the expanded view of the general welfare clause, Thomas Jefferson noted that if the clause itself granted Congress “a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless.”
So if the claims by Republicans to restore principled constitutionalism in Congress are to be taken seriously, then they themselves need to get serious about it. The empty rhetoric and meaningless lip-service gets us nowhere, and until they finally act accordingly to the merits of the constitution, that’s all it’ll be. There’s simply no point in trying to limit the boundless actions of Congress without prohibiting them from taking advantage of these clauses to enhance the size the government.
After all, the Republicans had a chance to get it right during deliberations on adopting new rules. Republican Rep. Scott Garrett issued a proposal to amend the constitutional citation rule which would block federal lawmakers from using the general welfare, necessary and proper, and commerce clauses as vague justifications for enhanced power.
Garrett explained in a recent press release that “while I appreciate the Republican leadership for following through on the promise we made in the Pledge to America, I believe the proposed House rule requiring that all bills cite the Constitution needs to have real teeth to in order to be effective. In other words, we have to make sure we are fostering an actual debate on the constitutionality of legislation without letting Members of the House off the hook by using the vague, and often times abused, ‘common defense,’ ‘general welfare,’ and ‘necessary and proper’ clauses of the Constitution.”
Without the adoption of Rep. Garrett’s amendment or some similar measure, there will be no mistaking that members of Congress will seek to have it both ways. They’ll pretend to abide by the Constitution while conducting business as usual. There’s little doubt in my mind that lawmakers will continue to manipulate the Constitution’s meaning by citing the very clauses used to destroy it.Published in