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MILLER: Butchering the Constitution

Congressional leaders show lack of respect for founding document

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Our Constitution is in a sorry state these days. The nation's founding document has been weakened by President Obama's ongoing expansion of power and further diminished by his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill who don't even bother to properly cite the highest law in the land.

Consider House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's confused response to a simple question asked at her weekly press conference on Thursday. A reporter wanted to know whether she was willing to split up the deals with Republicans over expiring tax rates and raising the debt ceiling. The California Democrat said no, explaining, "I'm with the 11th Amendment. So -- is it the 11th Amendment that -- 14th? Whatever it is, I'm with the Constitution of the United States."

The 11th Amendment says a citizen can't sue a state in which he doesn't live. However, Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says the U.S. public debt must be paid. Mrs. Pelosi seems to have been trying to say that not raising the debt ceiling is off the table because, in her mind, the president can increase the borrowing limit without congressional approval.

When Republicans retook the House majority in January 2011, they put in place a rule requiring every member who introduces a bill to explain the constitutional authority for what he proposes to do. The Republican Study Committee has been tracking these authority statements, highlighting the most egregious examples of failure in constitutional scholarship among Democrats.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, for example, introduced a bill in September called the Constitution and Citizenship Day Act, which would establish a grant program to teach high school students about the Constitution. The Maryland Democrat wants to spend $4 million in taxpayer funds each year on this endeavor, which also happens to require schools to help students older than 18 register to vote during the class.

Mr. Cummings probably needs to take the course himself because he incorrectly cited Article I, Section 8, Clause 18, known as the "necessary and proper clause," as if it grants Congress the authority to do anything it wants.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel has a bill that would allow the expungement of records of certain nonviolent criminals. The ex-con could get his rap sheet wiped clean by fulfilling certain requirements like staying drug-free, getting a high school diploma and doing community service.

To back up his proposition, the New York Democrat actually submitted the following explanation into the official record: "Article I, Section 8. The Congress shall have the Power to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations." It is unclear how many nonviolent, sober pirates are petitioning for the right to a clean slate.

Two years ago, the House GOP opened the 112th session of Congress by having the members read the entire Constitution aloud on the floor. Spokesmen for Speaker John A. Boehner did not respond when asked whether they would make this a tradition by reciting it again in January. Considering how badly their Democratic colleagues have been mangling the nation's charter, Republicans should make the Constitution reading an annual event.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.


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