Pointless Constitutional Symbolism In The 112th Congress

Two changes that will be implemented when the 112th Congress convenes on January 5th are clearly meant to appeal to the Tea Party Movement’s devotion to, some would say fetishization of, the Constitution.

First, when the House convenes for the first time that day, the Constitution will be read aloud on the floor:

The Constitution frequently gets lip service in Congress, but House Republicans next year will make sure it gets a lot more than that – the new rules the incoming majority party proposed this week call for a full reading of the country’s founding document on the floor of the House on Jan. 6.

The goal, backers said, is to underscore the limited-government rules the Founders imposed on Congress – and to try to bring some of those principles back into everyday legislating.

“It stems from the debate that we’ve had for the last two years about things like the exercise of authority in a whole host of different areas by the EPA, we’ve had this debate in relation to the health care bill, the cap-and-trade legislation,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who proposed the reading. “This Congress has been very aggressive in expanding the power of the federal government, and there’s been a big backlash to that.”

Second, the House will adopt a rule requiring that each bill introduced by a Member include a citation to the Constitutional provision under which Congress is authorized to take the action(s) contemplated by the bill:

Fulfilling one of their most prominent campaign promises, House Republican leaders have unveiled a new rule to require that each bill filed in the House “cite its specific constitutional authority.”

And for those who may have skipped that constitutional law class, Republicans have organized four staff briefings prior to the Jan. 5 start of the 112th Congress to provide guidance on compliance with the new rule. The first session will be Monday at 1 p.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center.

GOP leaders have prepared a memo for all members of the new Congress and senior staff informing them that no bill may be introduced unless the sponsor has submitted for the Congressional Record a statement “citing as specifically as practicable the power or powers granted to Congress” to enact the measure. The memo included five examples of forms that sponsors could include with their legislation.

And the memo warned that any bill that is filed without the requisite “constitutional authority statement” will not be accepted by the House clerk and will be returned to the sponsor. Such a statement, House Republicans added in a Friday statement, “also demonstrates to the American people that we in Congress understand that we have an obligation under our founding document to stay within the role established therein for the legislative branch.”

Neither one of these strikes me as being all that impressive, or important. Reading the Constitution out loud on the floor of the House is a nice idea, but it really isn’t going to mean anything, especially since it’s unlikely every member will be present when it occurs. The same goes for the Constitutional Authority Statement requirement, which essentially just means that a Congressperson proposing a bill needs to write “Commerce Clause” in the text of their bill. Rather than engaging in symbolic acts like this, let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something. I know it’s a radical concept, but they should give it try.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Chad S says:

    I bet that they get lazy and just scribble in “Article 1, Section 8” as much as is possible.

  2. Michael says:

    Rather than engaging in symbolic acts like this, let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something.

    While symbolic complaints about the new Congress’s lack of action might find agreement among already agreeable people, I’m pretty sure that it would be unconstitutional for them to “actually do something” before Jan. 5th.

  3. reid says:

    It’s almost all talking points and political theater to the Rs. Sad.

    I wish their base, particularly the tea party types, would think about what the country would be like if they got their way on these issues. For example, the Rs made a big deal about death panels and medicare being reduced during the health care debate in order to rile up the older demographic, but do those people not realize that killing medicare entirely is a plank in the R agenda? Ah, to go back to the good old pre-FDR days when people were decent, the government was small, “those” folks knew their place, children could work in sweatshops, the environment was foul…. Bring back those happier times!

  4. Andyman says:

    “Rather than engaging in symbolic acts like this, let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something.”

    Let’s not.

  5. anjin-san says:

    > let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something.”

    I am sure they will be hooking up with lobbiyists in short order…

  6. kevino says:

    RE: “The same goes for the Constitutional Authority Statement requirement, which essentially just means that a Congressperson proposing a bill needs to write “Commerce Clause” in the text of their bill. Rather than engaging in symbolic acts like this, let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something”

    Based on the liberal idea that the Commerce Clause is a blank check that allows unlimited Federal authority. Please read, among other things, US v. Lopez. There actually are limits to Federal police power. If there weren’t, then why did the framers construct such a large number of restrictions on Federal power? That position makes no sense at all.

    When did liberalism become so statist? When did liberals start embracing every Federal control on people’s lives? The liberal affection for unlimited Federal police power is very disturbing.

  7. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “Neither one of these strikes me as being all that impressive, or important.”

    And yet you felt you needed to comment on them.

  8. ALP says:

    “Neither one of these strikes me as being all that impressive, or important.”

    Apparently You are one of those who think that the Constitution is a living document, that may be changed at the whim of Congress, or Judicial decision.

    I believe that the Founders took great care to write in in fairly simple terms and and it was not to be interpreted in in ways other than what the words actually say.

    They gave us a mechanism to change the rules or laws. It’s called a Constitutional Amendment .

    If the people want something changed in the Constitution, only “The People” can change it. Not The President, Congress, or Judges. Judges are to rule on the constitutionality of a Law or court finding, not on whether the constitution meets the law, or finding, or social situation.

    As to the Commerce Clause, I believe the Congress and the Courts have many times overstepped the boundaries of what the clause set. Read what the clause says, and take the words literally and not read into them what you want!

  9. Michael says:

    I believe that the Founders took great care to write in in fairly simple terms and and it was not to be interpreted in in ways other than what the words actually say.

    You mean those same Founders who couldn’t agree on what the words meant when they were being written? The ones who made them intentionally vague so as not to unduly restrict future governments? The ones who themselves took actions beyond what the “words actually say”? Those Founders?

  10. It’ll be fun to see what the Republicans think in the United States Constitution justifies them spending trillions of dollars in two years however.

  11. @kevino

    That would be the same United States v. Lopez, that invalidated the “Gun Control Act of 1990”, which was part of the “Crime Control Act of 1990”, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, right? Which party was Bush a part of again?

  12. kevino says:

    RE: US v. Lopez signed by that great constitutional scholar President Bush (41)
    So what? Senator McCain is the chief architect of the most idiotic attack on the first amendment I’ve seen in decades. He’s another RINO who doesn’t understand the limits imposed by the US constitution.

    Ignore the politics and look at the law.
    The critical question in Lopez (and related cases): What are the limits of Federal police power?
    The case presented by the State in Lopez by the Clinton Administration was THERE AREN”T ANY LIMITS. What the Clinton Administration’s advocate at the SCOTUS stated on NPR the day that Lopez was heard was: “The Federal government can regulate anything it wants”.

    That’s a ludicrous position. It implies that all of the restrictions on Federal police power (esp. the 10th amendment), were useless fluff. It doesn’t mean anything.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    “Rather than engaging in symbolic acts like this, let’s see the incoming Republicans actually do something.”

    Obviously you expect far too much out of these people…an expectation that plenty of Tea Party types will be having in the near future, if they haven’t already…

    “The liberal affection for unlimited Federal police power is very disturbing.”

    Oh please…considering the enormous number of conservative bedwetters who popped up in the wake of 9/11, such power is hardly an exclusive affection of liberals…

  14. wr says:

    Why are they bothering with the constitution? Zels has already shown us that it doesn’t matter, because we’re actually ruled by “natural law.”

  15. @kevino
    Are you familiar with Gonzales v. Oregon? Or Gonzales v. Raich? Both of which were argued by the Bush Administration.

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    Given how strictly the Tea Party wing of the GOP wants to interpret the Constitution, I think this might make for some fascinating reading. Like, how can you Constiutionally fund an Air Force when a strict interpretation of the Constitution means you only get the Army and Navy?

  17. @Alex Knapp
    Rename it the United States Army Air Corps? 🙂

  18. Michael says:

    Rename it the United States Army Air Corps? 🙂

    That’s a stupid name, nobody will every go for it.