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.