EDITORIAL: Make Congress obey the Constitution

Bills should be blocked for exceeding legislative authority

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Congressional Democrats led by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi are so intent on expanding government that they deny the Constitution imposes any limits on their power. Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, insists federal lawmakers be blocked from exceeding its authority. On Tuesday, he offered a resolution that will serve as an acid test to see whether the incoming Congress is serious about limiting government.

The resolution is needed because Washington tends to treat the Constitution as a nullity. Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, California Democrat, told a town hall meeting, “the federal government can do most anything.” Rep. Phil Hare, Illinois Democrat, told constituents, “I don’t worry about the Constitution.” Mrs. Pelosi, dripping with incredulity, repeatedly asked “Are you serious?” when asked to provide constitutional justification for Obamacare’s individual mandate. The Democrats’ governing philosophy is exposed by such statements, and their actions follow suit, with the legislative branch seizing evermore power for the federal government without any constitutional warrant.

Mr. Garrett’s H. Res. 1754 would fight this mission creep by changing House rules. His reform would require every bill considered on the House floor to contain a “statement appropriately citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution as a basis for enacting the law.” If a bill contains no such statement, or if a member challenges its accuracy by raising a point of order against it, the House would be required to vote on the point after no more than 20 minutes of debate.

The Garrett rule wouldn’t allow a bill to dodge responsibility by citing the ambiguous “general welfare clause” or “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution. These weren’t intended as open-ended grants of additional powers but merely as recognition of authority to carry out duties inherent in other, specific constitutional provisions. Mr. Garrett’s proposal thus would require a citation of the original, specific provisions, not the vague, formless clauses favored by those who work to circumvent the Constitution’s limits.

For many years, Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, offered a similar proposal, which attracted few takers, even among fellow Republicans who wear the Constitution on their sleeves. Mr. Shadegg is retiring, so Mr. Garrett picked up the ball and is taking the measure to the next level by describing the procedures and parameters governing the point of order. “It needs to have teeth,” Mr. Garrett told The Washington Times.

This year’s Republican Pledge to America promised to “require every bill to cite its specific Constitutional Authority.” The Garrett resolution would fulfill this promise.

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