Reading the United States Constitution is really quite simple. Why? Because when it was written by our founding fathers it was made to be read and understood by the common man. It was not written by scholars for scholars, it was written for the farmers and tradesmen who inhabited the new republic. Unfortunately we many have drifted away from this very simple concept and many have twisted and corrupted the meaning of the original document in order to interpret it as they would like it to be. A perfect example is then Senator Obama’s comments about the “Constitution is flawed”.
Without getting into the argument about what President Obama may or may not have meant, just suffice it to say that when the Constitution was written, the authors knew it would have problems, for example the slavery issue was one that was heatedly debated (federalist paper No. 54), but they ensured that there were provisions for the document to be amended, not easily, but it can and has been amended nevertheless. With that being said, you do not need a degree in Constitutional Law to read and understand the Constitution. Read it as it is written, not read into it what you would like it to say.
Powers of Congress – Article 1, Section 7
Article 1 of the Constitution is where you will find exactly what powers Congress is granted by the Constitution. The two sections or clauses which pertain to their duties are section 7 and section 8. Section 7 states:
“All bills for raising revenues shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.” – 1, Section 7
This article clearly states that only the House of Representatives has the authority to spend money. The Senate or the President can request money but they do not have the authority to spend it. This means when the President appoints a czar and gives him money from the government coffers without going through the House, he is breaking the law. It is right there in black and white, there is no grey.
The Senate and President have to approve the spending bills but they cannot write their own spending bills. When we look at the yearly budget, it is the House that is legally supposed to make the budget, not the President or the Senate. If there is disagreement, as is currently the case, then all the Senate can do is vote to not accept the budget and it will have to go back to the House. The President can only veto it. It really is that simple.
Powers of Congress – Article 2, Section 8
The true “meat” of the Constitution regarding the Powers of Congress is 1, section 8, commonly known as the “Enumeration clause”. This is where it is spelled out exactly what Congress is allowed to do. There are eighteen enumerated powers in section 8. These are the only powers Congress has; all others are given to the states as allowed in the Tenth Amendment, which we shall discuss later. Again, if it isn’t in these eighteen enumerated powers, then it is not the job of the federal government to do the function. For example, nowhere in the Constitution does it allow for the Federal Government to run the school system. There is no “power” listed in the document, there is also no amendment establishing the Department of Education. Some could argue (and have) this falls under the general welfare of the United States, but does it? Does the Federal Government know how to better educate our children than the individual states?
Where in the Constitution does it say the Federal Government has the right to run businesses other than the Post Office? Amtrak is a Government run entity which Congress has no right to operate. This should be a private enterprise, if it fails then it fails. This is the same with General Motors or any other company, big or small; it is not the function of Government to bail any company out. The Founding Fathers believed in free enterprise and capitalism, only the strong will survive. We can also use this same argument for defunding NPR and even Planned Parenthood. It is not the function of the Government to fund these programs no matter how much you try to read these things into it.
The Amendment to the Constitution is where:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.
Again, it is very simple to understand this, it means exactly what it says, “If something is not delegated to the United States or prohibited by it then it is up to the States to decide if they want to do it.” Education is the perfect example here. Healthcare is another example. Nowhere does the Constitution provide for the federal government to provide healthcare for all its citizens, never mind to threaten them with fines and/or arrests if they do not obtain it. Therefore it is up to the individual state to mandate this according to their state constitutions.
True, if the citizens of the United States wish to have universal healthcare, they can vote on it nationally as stated in the tenth amendment, but it cannot be mandated.
In conclusion, the powers of Congress are limited to those in the Constitution. As pointed out, there are not a whole lot. What has happened in this country is certain groups have decided they do not agree with what the Constitution says and they have allowed judges to become activists, ruling on challenges to the Constitution and interpreting in the way they want it to read. The Constitution is not open to interpretation. If certain groups of people don’t agree with something in the Constitution, Article 5 was written specifically for them. The founding fathers had the foresight to know some things would not be perfect and allowed for a mechanism for changing it.
For an online version of the can go here.
For an online version of the States Constitution go here.