Your Influence Counts ... Use It! The SPOTLIGHT by Liberty Lobby

Reprinted from, home of The SPOTLIGHT archive

Bill to limit Congress needs help

  • Legislation that wold require legislators to justify their bill constitutionally has been introduced in Congress and is gaining cosponsors at a fast clip. It is now in the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution sub- committee.
By James P. Tucker Jr.

A bill that would require each act of Congress to contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for enactment of each portion of the legislation, The Enumerated Powers Act (HR 292), was introduced by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) And awaits action.

It will take some prodding by voters to push this much-needed legislation through Congress, congressional sources said.

Its title was suggested by the constitutional doctrine that the federal government has certain "enumerated powers" and all others are retained by the states.

While the legislation has 63 cosponsors, no hearings have been scheduled since it was introduced.

The repercussions of such a bill could be immense. The so-called "fast- track" process, in which the president drafts trade legislation without input from congress, would be kaput. So would the approval of treaties that rob the states of power, such as the World Trade Organization and the UN's biosphere protection programs.

It would be hard for most congressmen to vote against legislation that requires congress to follow the constitution, but many would like to duck the issue by keeping it buried in committee, congressional sources said.

"Imagine how inconvenient it would be if a congressman had to explain the Constitutional authority for Congress to enact some of the outlandish mandates we have seen, such as protecting, the snail darter at the expense of farmers," said one source.

"What 'enumerated power' would he cite?" he asked. "The common welfare doctrine applies to people, not fish.

Such legislation would have made it more difficult to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, another said, if Congress had to explain how the power to regulate "interstate commerce" translates into the right for Washington to decide who must be served at a lunch counter.

It would be especially difficult for congressmen to introduce many self- serving, pork barrel measures, such as federal funding of bike trails, but agreed.

"And what would be the Constitutional authority for funding the arts, even if all the works were good and none were trash?" one asked. "Would that be general welfare?"

Many congressmen dare not oppose this legislation but hope they never have to vote on it, both sources agreed. Unless Americans prod their individual congressmen, it may never be enacted.