Walter Williams has a column about the House GOP’s commitment to make sure legislation is consistent with the Constitution. As with most things he writes, it is very much worth reading. Walter starts by explaining what Boehner and the rest of the Republicans have promised to do. He then points out that – if they’re serious – this will require dramatic changes.
Here’s the House of Representatives new rule: “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.” Unless a congressional bill or resolution meets this requirement, it cannot be introduced. If the House of Representatives had the courage to follow through on this rule, their ability to spend and confer legislative favors would be virtually eliminated. Also, if the rule were to be applied to existing law, they’d wind up repealing at least two-thirds to three-quarters of congressional spending.
Walter’s column cites several Presidents that actually cared about the Constitution and vetoed legislation that would have expanded the federal government’s powers. The passages, from Presidents Madison, Pierce, and Cleveland, are inspirational – particularly compared to what we get from modern Presidents. George W. Bush, for instance, signed the McCain-Feingold legislation to restrict free speech, even though he recognized that bill made a mockery of the First Amendment.
Madison, who is sometimes referred to as the father of our Constitution, added to his veto statement, “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.” Here’s my question to any member of the House who might vote for funds for “constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses”: Was Madison just plain constitutionally ignorant or has the Constitution been amended to permit such spending? What about handouts to poor people, businesses, senior citizens and foreigners? Madison said, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” In 1854, President Franklin Piece vetoed a bill to help the mentally ill, saying, “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity. (To approve the measure) would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded.” …President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill for charity relief, saying, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.”
Last but not least, Walter debunks the notion that the “general welfare” clause is some soft of carte blanche for Congress to grab powers not explicitly authorized in Article I. Section VIII, of the Constitution.
Suppose a congressman attempts to comply with the new rule by asserting that his measure is authorized by the Constitution’s general welfare clause. Here’s what Thomas Jefferson said: “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.” Madison added, “With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”