A Teleconference With Senator Tom Coburn & Congressman John Shadegg On The Enumerated Powers Act

Here are my notes, not quotes from a teleconference with Tom Coburn & John Shadegg on the Enumerated Powers Act, which “would require that all bills introduced in the U.S. Congress contain ‘a concise and definite statement’ setting forth the specific constitutional authority ‘relied upon for enactment’ and establish a point of order in the House and Senate for bills that fail to comply.” (Note: I didn’t distinguish between statements made by Coburn and Shadegg because they often responded to the same question and it was a little difficult to tell them apart at times)

Opening Statement

The US Constitution has a number of enumerated powers and many constitutional scholars would argue that much of the legislation we are enacting is beyond the scope of what we are allowed to do. This bill is an attempt to rein in Congress and would requires the Congress to cite a specific clause in the Constitution that allows us to legislate in a particular area. This would enable and inspire the court to make a decision whether the Constitution gives us the authority to legislate in a particular area.

Q&A Session

Could you give us some examples of how the Congress has overstepped its constitutional authority?

In the Assault Weapon ban, the Congress imposed upon state and local sheriffs the duty to regulate guns. A sheriff challenged it and said that Congress had no right to tell him what to do. The SCOTUS agreed with him and said that Congress couldn’t tell him to take action. There are many, many other examples of such legislation. One of the reasons we’ve had trouble passing this is that people might argue all kinds of legislation are illegal.

Spending has spun out of control because the restraint on spending that once came from the Constitution is no longer there. Much of that comes from the fact that we pass legislation day in and day out that there is no Constitutional authority for and the courts don’t stop us.

Is there any bipartisan support for this?

No Democrat has decided to do the right thing and support this bill. However, there are 23 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate and 52 in the House.

This would lead to a big battle on Social Security, wouldn’t it?

It doesn’t make Social Security illegal per se, but it would lead to a debate. Currently, our debate over spending is only over whether we can afford it. A further restraint could and should be whether Congress is allowed to do it.

Whether this bill passes or not, we’re going to have this debate one way or the other. We can have the debate now or in a time of crisis. We’re talking about doubling everybody’s income, Medicare, and social security taxes in the future to keep us even and no accumulate debt. That’s what it will eventually come to if we don’t do something.

What most Americans don’t understand is that there is a missing person in the offices of members of Congress. Day in and day out, people walk in and say they have an idea for a wonderful program. But, the person not in the room is someone saying, “That may be a good idea, but what will it cost and what burden will it impose on the public?” Nobody argues the opposite side of the equation, so the Founding Fathers wanted a limited government, that couldn’t do anything it wanted.

How do you sell this to the public?

It ties into government waste and spending. I think this is an opportunity to move arguments over government spending from a “We can’t afford it” to “Can we do this?” perspective as well.

Do you think the American people want this? Don’t they want more spending?

Why did the Democrats take over Congress? Because they made a compelling case for big spending or because they made a compelling case that Republicans who promised lower spending broke their word? I think it’s the latter. Americans got discouraged — not because we created a smaller government and it didn’t work, but because we broke our promise to create a smaller government.

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