Friday, January 7, 2011

Gary Palmer: U.S. Constitution is back in vogue

  One thing that we can count on in 2011, the United States Constitution will be front and center in policy making and politics. To start the year off, on January 6th the new Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives mandated that the Constitution be read from the floor of the House.

  Frankly, simply reading the Constitution may not be enough. The Republicans may need someone on hand to explain it, especially to the remaining liberal members from the previous Congress who repeatedly voted for legislation that created the biggest expansion of the federal government since the New Deal.

  Millions of Americans have engaged in the Tea Party movement because they want Congress to abide by the Constitution and the checks and balances that our Founders so meticulously developed and put into it to limit the scope and power of the federal government. In fact, the 2010 election was really a revolt by a majority of American voters against the out-of-control growth of government and the perception that we have lost the Constitution.

  Apparently the Republicans in the House got the message.

  According to the Republican House members who pushed for having the Constitution read from the floor, the purpose of having it read is to give emphasis to and raise public awareness about the limits on the power of our government that our Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure were in the Constitution. The Republicans have indicated that they will not be satisfied with simply reading the Constitution and then getting back to business-as-usual. They say they want to put the principles of limited government back into practice.

  As Roger Pilon pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, the Constitution does not authorize much of what Congress has done to make states as well as individuals so dependent on the federal government. Over the years, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken advantage of provisions in the Constitution that were broadly written by the Founders to allow for contingencies to enact legislation that gives the federal government almost unlimited power. Thus, Constitutional government has been replaced by an administrative state ... a government of unelected bureaucrats whose names we may never know and whose agencies we may only be vaguely familiar with.

  Already the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is implementing its own version of economy-crippling regulations that were part of the cap-and-trade legislation rejected by Congress. And the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing regulations regarding end-of-life counseling that was removed from the health care bill because of public opposition to what was seen as "death panels." Liberals claim that the extension of bureaucratic government authority and power over practically every aspect of our lives is justified under the powers granted by the "Commerce Clause," the "General Welfare Clause" or the "Necessary and Proper Clause."

  For instance, supporters of Obamacare cite the Commerce Clause as justification for the requirement that every individual have health insurance or face federal fines. Fortunately, the individual mandate provision in the national health care law has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal circuit judge. Other actions by the federal government such as the greenhouse gas regulations issue by the EPA are being challenged by states that have filed lawsuits claiming these actions are unconstitutional.

  The requirement by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to read the Constitution from the floor of the House and further require that all new legislation include the citation of specific constitutional authority is at least a step in the right direction toward restoring the Constitution as the guiding authority for American government. And it is a small step toward restraining the growth of government that threatens to bankrupt the nation. Requiring sponsors of bills to cite specific constitutional authority for the bills they want to pass should keep the Constitution at the forefront of the policy debate for the duration of this Congress and into the 2012 elections.

  While reading the Constitution to open the 112th Congress and requiring citation of constitutional authority for every new bill introduced is great, the effort to restore constitutionally limited government will require more. As Pilon wrote, "Congress has to start taking greater responsibility. Congress must acknowledge honestly that it has not kept faith with the limits the Constitution imposes."

  The Republican leadership must take responsibility for holding their own members accountable; they must be willing to challenge rulings by federal judges and they need to stand alongside the attorneys general from states that challenge the constitutionality of federal legislation and regulations in an effort to restore the proper balance between state and federal government.

  The Republicans in Congress, along with any Democrats committed to restoring a constitutionally limited government, must pass legislation to rein in the out-of-control federal agencies that are exercising almost unlimited power over all of us.

  It should be fairly easy to cite constitutional authority for legislation such as that.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

No comments:

Post a Comment