Posted by Kevin Boland on September 17, 2010
On this day in 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the U.S. Constitution - and what better way to honor their legacy than to adopt a proposal by Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) to require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill would be enacted. Last month, Rep. Shadegg submitted the idea on America Speaking Out, and it was immediately embraced by House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH). To mark Constitution Day today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the House Democratic leadership should honor the Constitution by scheduling a vote on Rep. Shadegg's proposal. POLITICO today reported on the concept:
"House Republicans are planning to roll out their [governing] agenda over the next two weeks as they seek to take back the House majority, prepping a list of roughly 20 initiatives — including a few that seem driven by the tea party movement.
"One of the GOP proposals would require bills to have a specific citation of constitutional authority, on the heels of criticism that Democrats breached their constitutional limits in Congress with big-ticket bills like health care reform. If a member questioned whether the House had constitutional authority to pass a bill, that challenge would receive debate and a vote."
As Rep. Shadegg explains:
"For too long, the federal government has operated without Constitutional restraint, creating ineffective and costly programs and massive deficits year after year. In the past eighteen months, this trend has gotten alarmingly worse, and Congress continues to overstep its governing role at the expense of American taxpayers.
"As Members of Congress, we need to make sure that we are only spending when authorized to do so. That is why every Congress since the 104th Congress I have introduced the Enumerated Powers Act, H.R. 450 this Congress. This measure would require that all bills introduced in the U.S. Congress include a statement setting forth the specific constitutional authority under which the law is being enacted. The Enumerated Powers Act will force Congress to re-examine the role of the national government, and will fundamentally alter the ever-expanding reach of the federal government."
Rep. Shadegg's proposed "Constitutional clause" requirement sounds simple – and it is. But it could also be surprisingly effective in creating an obstacle to expanded government. Had the Shadegg reform been in effect months ago, for example, it would have presented an interesting challenge for Democratic lawmakers trying to pass President Obama's massive health care takeover. The centerpiece of ObamaCare is a constitutionally-suspect "individual mandate" requiring every American citizen to purchase government-approved health insurance. The mandate is under legal challenge in federal courts in Florida and Virginia; more than 20 States are questioning its Constitutional basis.
In an op-ed appearing this morning on National Review Online, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) marks Constitution Day and discusses the need for congressional reforms to defend the Constitution:
"It is clear that we cannot rely just on the courts to uphold the Constitution. Congress — and each of its members — must take seriously its responsibility to legislate only within the few and defined powers of the Constitution. But for that to occur, appeals to the Constitution during legislative debate have to become more than just another rhetorical tactic.
"My colleague John Shadegg of Arizona has proposed that every bill include a section that cites the specific constitutional authorization of the proposition. I commend John and think we can even go a step further. When there is a question about a bill's constitutionality, we should set aside time during debate to focus on that question first. We shouldn't proceed with legislation until we have resolved its constitutionality. Unlike our Supreme Court nominees, all members should be on record as to where they stand on the limits of congressional power."