The new Congress, the nation’s 113th, was officially sworn in at 2:09 p.m. on January 4. The Republicans lost two seats in the Senate, giving the Democrats an even larger majority of 53 to 45 (plus the two Independents, who will caucus with the Democrats), and 7 in the House, where they hold a smaller majority than before of 233 to 200 (there are two vacancies).
After being reelected House Speaker, John Boehner delivered a short address to the House in which he said, “In a few moments, I will take this oath for the twelfth time as representative of the Eighth District of Ohio. It is word for word the same oath we all take. Note that it makes no mention of party, faction, or title … contains no reference to agendas or platforms — only to the Constitution.”
The oath that Speaker Boehner and the other House members recited reads as follows:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Although all members of Congress — of every party — take the same oath, it is the Republicans who talk the most about following the Constitution, obeying the Constitution, revering the Constitution, and discovering the original intent or original meaning of the Constitution.
After losing the presidency and failing to regain control of the Congress in the 2008 election, Republicans redoubled their efforts to at least wrest control of the House from the Democrats in the 2010 midterm election. Accordingly, on September 23, 2010, House Republicans issued their “Pledge to America.” In it they pledged “to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored.” As part of their “Plan to Reform Congress and Restore Trust” as given in their Pledge, House Republicans promised, “We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified.” The Republicans did regain control of the House in the election of 2010. How much their victory was due to the promises they made in their Pledge and how much to voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats is something we will never know with any certainty. Nevertheless, it is certain that the Republicans then did something unusual for politicians: they fulfilled one of their promises.
In H.RES.5, “Adopting rules for the One Hundred Twelfth Congress,” passed on a strict party-line vote of 238-191 on the first day that the new Congress was in session (January 5), the following new paragraph was added to clause 7 of rule XII:
(c)(1) A bill or joint resolution may not be introduced unless the sponsor submits 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. The statement shall appear in a portion of the Record designated for that purpose and be made publicly available in electronic form by the Clerk.
But that’s not the only reference to the Constitution in the resolution. Under section 5a appears this statement: “The Speaker may recognize a Member for the reading of the Constitution on the legislative day of January 6, 2011.”
On the appointed day, at 10:57 a.m., the Speaker actually did so, and members of the House — beginning with Speaker Boehner himself — read the Constitution aloud in the House, or at least they read most of it. It seems that House members were given a truncated version of the Constitution to read with the passages omitted that have been changed because of constitutional amendments. And part of the Constitution was accidentally omitted when one reader turned two pages at once, inadvertently skipping a section.
In the summer of 2012, the Republican Party issued its new party platform. In chapter 2, “We The People: A Restoration of Constitutional Government,” the Republicans say that they are “the party of the Constitution.” They maintain that the Constitution is “the greatest political document ever written” and that “that sacred document shows us the path forward.”
One of the first things Republicans in the House did after being sworn in as members of the 113th Congress was to pass H.RES.5, “Adopting rules for the One Hundred Thirteenth Congress.” Included again is a provision for reading the Constitution: “The Speaker may recognize a Member for the Reading of the Constitution on any legislative day through January 15, 2013.” Again, not a single Democrat voted for the resolution. On January 15, at 10:03 a.m., members of the House began the public reading of the Constitution.
But in spite of all their talk about it, Republicans are not only not the party of the Constitution, they spent the last two years as part of the 112th Congress ignoring the Constitution and violating it by voting for appropriations that have no constitutional authority. I will mention just four examples.
Where is the constitutional authorization for the Department of Education? Republicans were outraged last year over New York City high schools’ dispensing the “morning after” contraception pill to students and a Rhode Island district’s banning “father-daughter” dances as discriminatory. One Republican for the Rhode Island state senate even campaigned on the promise to change the school-district policy. Yet the real issue that Republicans missed is the existence of public schools in the first place. Republicans should recognize at the very least that there is no constitutional authority for federal funding of, or mandates concerning, education. So why did Republicans appropriate $70 billion in education spending in each of the last two years?
One would think that foreign aid — since it is not authorized by the Constitution — would be opposed by Republicans. But Republicans are very selective about when they oppose foreign aid. For example, Republican Sen. John Kyl offered an amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 to prohibit federal food assistance to North Korea. Republicans have likewise called for cutting off foreign aid to Pakistan and Egypt. The problem here is that it is only because of the nature or recent activities of those regimes that conservatives want to turn off the foreign-aid spigot; they are not opposed on principle to the taking of money from U.S. taxpayers and giving it to corrupt foreign governments to the tune of $50 billion a year.
According to Planned Parenthood’s latest report, the organization received $542.4 million in “government health services grants and reimbursements,” including “payments from Medicaid managed care plans.” Yet the report also states that Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 abortions in 2011. But Planned Parenthood could not have received a dime of taxpayer money unless Republicans in the House — who play the pro-life card at every election — voted for the funding. They were, after all, in the majority.
And then there is the airport harassment called security by the TSA. But if Republicans in the 112th Congress actually followed the Constitution, they would not have appropriated $8 billion a year for the TSA. The federal government has no more authority to provide airport security than it has to provide security at zoos and convenience stores.
The actions of the 112th Congress couldn’t have been otherwise. On the very day (September 23, 2010) that House Republicans seeking election to this Congress issued their empty “Pledge to America,” they also voted in overwhelming numbers along with Democrats to pass four pieces of legislation that violated the very Pledge they maintained that they would adhere to if they gained a majority in the House in the 2010 midterm election.
And when the Republicans read the Constitution in the House in 2011, some of them had already violated it. (It was also pointed out that taking the time to recite the Constitution cost the taxpayers $1.1 million.) It is certainly fitting that some parts of the Constitution were accidentally or deliberately omitted when it was read it in 2011, since that matches the attitude of most members of Congress toward the Constitution.
It was pointed out last month that under the leadership of Speaker Boehner, the 112th House of Representatives had thus far approved legislation that increased the national debt by $2,176,949,774,695.46 — or approximately $18,944 per American household. And that was only during the twenty months since the expiration of a continuing resolution on March 4, 2011, that had been enacted in the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.
In retiring Rep. Ron Paul’s “New Year’s Resolution for Congress,” he implored members of Congress to “consider the strict libertarian constitutional approach to government in 2013.” In the next paragraph he said,
In just a few days, Congress will solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic. They should reread Article 1 Section 8 and the Bill of Rights before taking such a serious oath. Most legislation violates key provisions of the Constitution in very basic ways, and if members can’t bring themselves to say no in the face of pressure from special interests, they have broken trust with their constituents and violated their oaths. Congress does not exist to serve special interests; it exists to protect the rule of law.
Congress didn’t listen.
The first piece of legislation passed by the 113th Congress, which was supported 161-67 by the Republican majority in the House, was a bill (H.R.41) to “temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program.”
There is, of course, no constitutional authority for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the National Flood Insurance Program. Just as there is no constitutional authority for 95 percent of the legislation passed by the Republican majority in the House during the 112th Congress.
Libertarians recognize that the Constitution is an imperfect document that has failed to limit the power of the central government because it was established in order to strengthen that very government. Nevertheless, it is Republicans who reverence the Constitution who are its greatest enemies.