The Contract From America—Agenda Item 1
The Tea Party movement is a fascinating groundswell of activism among Americans who are concerned about the direction of their government.
Because it’s a bottom-up movement, it’s got official Washington having fits. Nobody knows exactly what Tea Partiers want or how they will act in the next election. But Tea Partiers want something, and they’re very likely to express their views at the ballot box in November.
The Contract From America is one set of policies that roughly bind together many Tea Partiers and Tea Party groups. It’s a follow-on of sorts to the Contract With America that swept Republicans into office in the 1994 election.
Below is item 1 in the Contract (with the level of support it received in a voting process), followed by some discussion of the proposal.
1. Protect the Constitution
Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does. (82.03%)
Interestingly, the House already requires a “constitutional authority statement” in committee reports—the explanatory documents that House committees issue when they advance a bill. It was a reform established after Republicans took over the House in 1994.
The Supreme Court interprets the Commerce Clause very broadly, though, allowing Congress to do many things that would have driven the framers of the constitution around the bend.
Item 1 in the Contract is probably really about hoping the Supreme Court will reassert the constitution’s limits on federal authority. And perhaps it will…
In 1995, the Supreme Court held in a case called United States v. Lopez that Congress couldn’t criminalize gun possession near a school under the constitution’s commerce power. Gun possession isn’t commerce—get it? The Lopez case had been argued before the Court on election day 1994, the day that Republicans won the House using the Contract With America.
There are bills in both the House and Senate to require Congress to specify its authority under the constitution for the enactment of laws. In the Senate, the bill is S. 1319, the Enumerated Powers Act, introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).
In his statement about the bill, Senator Coburn admitted that passage of it wouldn’t fix everything in one fell swoop.
So this bill says you can still cheat on the constitution, but now you’ve just got to explain to the American people why you’re doing it. . . . And that is one of the ways we get our country back, because the American people become informed. I guarantee you many will become outraged when they hear some of the statements on why we think we have the authority to do some of the things we do.
This reform—item 1 in the Contract From America—is a modest reform, but an important one.
The House bill is H.R. 450. It was introduced by John Shadegg (R-AZ).
Here are the votes on the two bills, first the Senate bill and second the House bill. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.