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Congress: Read the Constitution

By Henry Lamb
web posted November 16, 2009

Speculation about Roland Burris' double-digit I.Q. followed him to the U.S. Senate, where he opened his mouth and removed all doubt.  When a reporter asked him to identify the specific Constitutional language that authorized the federal government to mandate individual health insurance, he stumbled a bit, and then said it is that part that says "…health, welfare, and defense of the country."  The word "health" is not in the Constitution.

Nancy Pelosi didn't even try to answer when she was asked the same question.  Her reply was "Are you serious?  Are you serious?"  Senator Patrick Leahy's answer was not much better.   He said "We have plenty of authority. Why would you say we have no authority?"

Anyone who has read the Constitution knows that Article 1, Section 8 limits the power of Congress to very specific, enumerated powers.

 Burris' staff assistant said Burris was referring to the Constitution's preamble, which says the Constitution was established to "…provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…."  

Fortunately, the founders were not content to assume that "the general welfare" would consist of whatever Roland Burris, or any other Congressman, may think is appropriate.  That's precisely why the founders didn't stop at the Preamble. They were very deliberate in their selection of words which created the U.S. government.

Consider the context out of which the government arose: a brand new nation born on bloody battlefields which separated a national infant from a tyrannical giant.  The infant nation consisting of 13 independent parts lacked unity, coordination, and strength.   Some of the founders wanted the new government to be much like the government of England, strong and in control of the 13 colonies.  Others feared such a government would soon become as tyrannical and unjust as the government of the King.

From these two opposing views, men of honor knelt in common prayer for guidance, and crafted a compromise that was truly inspired. To make the laws, there would be two Houses of Congress, one elected by the people every two years, the other elected by the state legislatures to serve staggered six year terms.  To be absolutely sure that this Congress would not become as tyrannical as King George, the founders spelled out exactly what the Congress was empowered to do.  These powers are set forth in Article 1, Section 8.

Moreover, to be sure that there could never be any misunderstanding about the limitations of congressional power, the Bill of Rights' 10th Amendment, includes this statement:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." 

Prodded by presidents over the years, Congress has often ignored these limitations.  Franklin Roosevelt pushed Congress to enact more legislation outside the limits of Constitutional authority than any president until Obama.  The Supreme Court finally reined-in Roosevelt.

When challenged by constituents, or minority party opponents, Constitution-busting majorities blandly claim powers to do whatever they want to do by referring to the "…general welfare…" clause.

The first paragraph of Article 1, Section 8, authorizes Congress to "…lay and collect taxes...to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States…."

If the founders had intended the Constitution to grant Congressmen the power to enact any legislation they believed would promote the general welfare of the United States, there would be no need for another word in this section.   

There are 17 more paragraphs in this Section and each paragraph grants Congress the power to do very specific things.  None, however, grant Congress the power to allow government to go into the insurance business, or the automobile manufacturing business, or the finance business.  Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the Congress to restrict the type or quantity of energy that may be consumed.

When challenged, Congressmen often point to the "general welfare" clause or to the "commerce" clause to justify their actions that go beyond Constitutional limitations.  More often than not, these responses reveal Constitutional ignorance or outright deceit.  Congress has the power to "regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states…."  This doesn't mean, however, that because a migrating goose might land near a mud-hole on a farmer's private property, that the federal government has the power to prohibit the farmer from draining the mud-hole. 

The government actually imposed this very rationale as the basis for implementing its wetland policy.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court eventually nullified this nonsense, as it nullified many of Roosevelt's extravagances.  

These matters should not be left to the Supreme Court.  Men of honor should acknowledge and accept the limitations of Congressional power spelled out in the Constitution.  Since Congress has consistently displayed a lack of honor, especially under the current leadership, people who vote should demand that Congress enact the Enumerated Powers Act (HR450), to force Congressmen to do what their honor should demand: identify and cite the Constitutional authority for any legislation they introduce.

For this to happen, Congress must have a majority of honorable people. ESR

Henry Lamb is the author of "The Rise of Global Governance,"  Chairman of Sovereignty International , and founder of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) and Freedom21, Inc.

 

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