Bonus Bill of 1817

Yglesias and the Constitution

Blogger Matthew Yglesias is actually one of my favorite bloggers, despite his left leaning ideas.  You see, Yglesias seems to try to understand the issues he’s talking about and often makes valid points in his writings.  That doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I do respect them to some degree. He also will ponder things he isn’t sure about publicly, something I should probably consider myself.

A couple of days ago, he wrote about the James Madison vetoing a canal bill.  Yglesias said:

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, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

“The power to regulate commerce among the several States” can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress.

I would have said that the power “[t]o establish Post Offices and Post Roads” implies a generic grant of authority to do transportation.

Meet James Madison, Senator Inhofe

In an effort to defend earmarks and fight off a proposed moratorium, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has apparently fallen in love with the smell of the marble in the Halls of Congress, invokes James Madison in defense of the practice:

Earmarks have been part of the congressional process since the founding of our country. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution viewed it, appropriating funds is the job of the legislature. Writing in the Federalist, he noted that Congress holds the power of the purse for the very reason that it is closer to the people. The words of Madison and Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution say that authorization and appropriations are exclusively the responsibility of the legislative branch. Congress should not cede this authority to the executive branch.

Yes, Sen. Inhofe, that’s why James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817 (a spending bill loading with pork and pet projects for members of Congress) explicitly because it was unconstitutional:

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, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

House GOP and a new Contract with America

With the likelihood of a takeover of the House likely, Republicans are trying to repeat the magic of 1994 by coming up with a new “Contract with America”:

House Republicans are planning to roll out their election agenda over the next two weeks as they seek to take back the House majority, prepping a list of roughly 20 initiatives — including a few that seem driven by the tea party movement.

One of the GOP proposals would require bills to have a specific citation of constitutional authority, on the heels of criticism that Democrats breached their constitutional limits in Congress with big-ticket bills like health care reform. If a member questioned whether the House had constitutional authority to pass a bill, that challenge would receive debate and a vote.

The second major initiative would encourage — though not require — members of Congress to read bills before they vote. According to a senior House GOP source, Republicans plan to push for a new rule that would require the House to publish the text of a bill online at least three days before the House votes on it, also giving the public an opportunity to review legislation.

Other bills and initiatives that are likely to be launched alongside the agenda include tax policy proposals, health reform proposals and jobs-related measures, though GOP aides involved declined to release any specifics ahead of the unveiling.

 


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