Yesterday the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog published a listicle by public affairs consultant John Feehery (once a spokesman for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the moderate, more timid successor to revolutionary Newt Gingrich), opining on the messy federal budget process. My attempts to reach Reid Epstein, the blog’s editor, to offer a counterpoint were fruitless, so here are five reasons we should be thankful for the current federal budgeting process.
Today, September 17, is Constitution Day. Spearheaded by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Congress passed a resolution in 2004 as rider to an omnibus spending bill setting aside this particular day to celebrate the ratification of the Constitution, the document that provides the framework of the federal government and the rights protected under the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in the last several years, perhaps because of the polarization of political opinions in the United States as well as attempts by presidents from both parties attempts consume more power for the executive branch. The revelations about the National Security Agency, efforts to censor speech, expand gun control laws are just the tip of the iceberg of attempts to trample the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
In his presidential proclamation marking Constitution Day, President Barack Obama offered some insight into how he views the Bill of Rights. “Our Constitution reflects the values we cherish as a people and the ideals we strive for as a society,” Obama said in the release. “It secures the privileges we enjoy as citizens, but also demands participation, responsibility, and service to our country and to one another.”
Given that this White House is known for its expansive view of executive power, the fact that President Obama views these fundamental liberties to be “privileges” isn’t too terribly surprising. After all, President Obama treats the legislative branch — which is supposed to be a co-equal branch of the federal government — as an afterthought as it arbitrarily changes statues and even refuses to enforce laws.
I believe I can speak for every single libertarian out there when I say that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the phone collection program is nothing short of exceptional.
According to Judge Leon, the NSA program that gathers phone data made to, from or within the United States is likely unconstitutional due to its violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Justice Department also failed to demonstrate to Judge Leon how the intrusive program has actually helped the government to track terrorists before actual attacks take place.
Leon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, issued a preliminary injunction that keeps the NSA from gathering metadata pertaining to the Verizon cell phone users that led to the lawsuit filed by the conservative legal activist Larry Klayman. Since the first leaks provided by Edward Snowden concerning the massive surveillance program carried out by the National Security Agency, nothing significant has been officially accomplished by lawmakers or activists trying to curb the agency’s snooping programs.
The recent ruling is the first time that a judge considers the metadata gathering program unconstitutional, considering that several judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled the program constitutional.
The manufactured crisis last week that led to extraordinary, unprecedented change to the filibuster, prompted by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats, is the first step down a road that undermines the nature of the chamber and will, almost certainly, lead to bigger changes.
The Senate was meant to be the more prestigious body of Congress and its members, given six-year terms, were selected to be responsive to state interests in Washington. Members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, were meant to serve as the voices of the people, subject to re-election every two years.
Contrary to what President Obama said in his statement after the filibuster change, that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” the upper chamber was never meant to serve as a “voice of the people,” nor was meant to rubber stamp majoritarian views or interest.
It was meant, as James Madison once said, “to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Passing legislation and approving nominees based on consensus. The filibuster — which has existed as a concept since the chamber was created and in practice since 1837 — was a tool to achieve consensus.
But, over time, the Senate has become more and more like the House, beginning in 1913 with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated direct election of senators by voters in their respective states.
The Founding Fathers were concerned about a legislative branch that was too responsive to the whims of majority views, which could potentially be dangerous to essential liberty. In Federalist 10, Madison warned about the problem of faction.
“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be tomorrow.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 62 (1788)
Having celebrated the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence this past Thursday, I was once again reminded of what a great country we live in; the “Land of the Free” where man is free to pursue happiness as he determines that to be, where you be anything you want to be and do what you want to do…anything at all!
You want to choose your own health care plan, one that meets your needs and doesn’t force you to pay for coverage that you don’t need, that doesn’t make you pay for alcoholism coverage even if you don’t drink, coverage for smoking-related illnesses even if you’ve never smoked, pre-natal and maternity coverage even if you are a single man or a great-grandmother whose child-bearing years ended sometime around the Carter administration (sorry, you can’t do that).
Like a true leftist ideological warrior, this past Wednesday, Obama prepared for a speech on new gun control measures by surrounding himself with children who’d written him about gun-related violent crime. Like a soldier behind a wall of sandbags, the children were used as an emotional prop to protect Obama from the projectiles of logic and reason bombarding his weak position on the Second Amendment. The children were there to deflect the blows of contrarian facts which undermine his argument. They gave him the ability to make the argument, as the left is so masterful at, that opposition to his agenda was proof that his opponents don’t care about protecting children.
Hypocritically, just an hour after Obama surrounded himself with children to announce nearly two dozen Executive Orders meant to infringe on the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, White House spokesman Jay Carney was whining to the press about an NRA ad which referenced the fact that Obama protects his own daughters by surrounding them by men carrying guns (as he should). Said Carney, “Children should not be used as pawns in a political fight.” If the irony was any thicker, you could pour it over pancakes.
In Federalist No. 51, a Virginia farmer named James Madison mused:
But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Today — September 17 — is the day we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by the U.S. Constitutional Convention. This document, which sought to protect man from himself by placing limits on the powers that a representative government would try to wield, is a watershed triumph in the history of human freedom movements, despite some of the gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated against African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans and other groups since the founding. As written constitutions go, the United States is something of an anomaly: since 1789, constitutions have lasted an average of only seventeen years. That statistic makes the U.S. Constitution a pretty special document.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating by taking the Bill of Rights Institute’s Constitution quiz to see how well you know the document that framed the United States government!
This week marked the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights. Many Americans today would be surprised to learn that the Bill of Rights was adamantly opposed by some of the Founding Fathers, including Alexander Hamilton. Why? Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 84, declaring “I…affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous…For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?” This alluded to the rule of “inclusio unius est exclusion alterius” (the inclusion of one thing necessarily excludes all others), whereby the very enumeration of certain rights as being free from regulation implied that all others were subject to the general legislative powers of the Congress.
Hamilton understood that the Constitution strictly limited the powers of the federal government, and feared a bill of rights would open the door for expansion of congressional power. James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, agreed there was not necessarily a need for the Bill of Rights, but was also not opposed to one. As he explained in an October 1788 letter to Thomas Jefferson, “My own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights; provided that it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the enumeration. At the same time I have never thought the omission a material defect, nor been anxious to supply it even by subsequent amendment, for any other reason than that it is anxiously desired by others. I have favored it because I suppose it might be of use, and if properly executed could not be of disservice.”
The general welfare clause is one of the most horribly understood and most misused pieces of the United States Constitution, second only to the Interstate Commerce Clause. With it, Congress has exercises many wealth redistribution schemes with the argument that it’s constitutional. However, when you look at the Founding Father’s intent, nothing could be further from the truth.
To start with, let’s look at this quote from Thomas Jefferson:
“Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
James Madison agrees:
“With respect to the words general welfare, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
It all looks pretty straight forward to me.
The phrase “general welfare” didn’t create a broad power that could be thrown around whenever someone wanted to justify taking from the rich and giving to the poor. No, it was guidance on how best to use the powers given to the Congress. They weren’t to work towards the benefits of a particular group, but for the benefit of Americans as a whole.
Nearly everyone in opposition to ObamaCare worked very hard to stop it before it made its way through both houses of Congress and to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Once President Obama signed the legislation into law, all of these wound up activists found themselves without an issue to focus on after a year of “debate” over healthcare reform. Some state officials took it upon themselves to file lawsuits over the newly signed law, while others sought to protect their constituents from the aspects they found to be Unconstitutional. Today, the Tenth Amendment Center provided another state-level action. From the press release:
“Now that Health Care reform has been signed into law, the question people ask most is “What do we do about it?” said Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center. “The status quo response includes lobbying congress, marching on D.C. “voting the bums out,” suing in federal court, and more. But the last 100 years have proven that none of these really work, and government continues to grow year in and year out.”
“We recommend a different path, one advised by prominent founders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison - nullification,” said Boldin. Nullification, according to the Center, is the rightful remedy to an unconstitutional act, as it considers the recently-signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be. When a state nullifies a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or non-effective, within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned.