When journalists diffidently inquired a few months back about the Constitutional basis for mandated health insurance purchases, the response of democrat party Solons typically varied between blank incomprehension and clear indignation at the effrontery of anyone suggesting that any kind of limits on their power might exist.
Walter Olson remarks on a recent demonstration for the need of remedial high school civics lesson for US senators.
Last Tuesday, despite warnings of regulatory overreach, the Senate voted 73-25 in favor of S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would greatly expand the powers of the federal Food and Drug Administration and impose extensive new testing and paperwork requirements on farmers and food producers. Almost at once, however, the bill was derailed â€” whether temporarily or otherwise remains to be seen â€” by what the New York Times called an â€œarcane parliamentary mistakeâ€ and the L.A. Times considered a purely â€œtechnical flawâ€œ. Roll Call put it more bluntly: â€œ[Senate] Democrats violated a constitutional provision requiring that tax provisions originate in the House.â€ While the New York Times weirdly cast Senate Republicans as the villains in the affair, other news sources more accurately reported that it was the (Democratic) House leadership that was standing up for its prerogatives:
â€œUnfortunately, [the Senate] passed a bill which is not consistent with the Constitution of the United States, so we are going to have to figure out how to do that consistent with the constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House,â€ [House Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer said.
According to Hoyer, this has happened multiple times this Congress, causing severe legislative angina.
â€œThe Senate knows the rule and should follow the rule and they should be cognizant of the rule,â€ Hoyer scolded. â€œNobody ought to be surprised by the rule. It is in the Constitution, and you have all been lectured and we have as well about reading the Constitution.â€
To those familiar with the history of the U.S. Constitution, the Origination Clause should hardly count as arcane or technical. It stands as the very first sentence of Article I, Section 7: â€œAll bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.â€ …
With its two-year terms of office and less populous constituencies, the House of Representatives was of course designed to be the legislative branch closest to the people, most readily thrown out of office when it strays from the public mood. Those considerations aside, the Constitution is rightly celebrated for the way its framers made the House and Senate different from each other precisely in order to ensure jealousies and dissensions between the two, those jealousies and dissensions serving as a safeguard against hasty or ill-considered legislation. In this case it worked exactly as planned, and the self-regard of the House leadership will serve as the reason for another round of scrutiny for a bill that could badly use some. Somewhere up above the spirit of James Madison may have heard the scolding words of Rep. Hoyer, and smiled.
Things, of course, are not really different among House democrats either. Remember Alcee Hastings’ analysis of the legal dynamic behind the operations of American government?