Today congressional Republicans have scheduled a vote on H.R. 2, the repeal of Obamacare. There is no sign of any hope it will go any further than that, but it will put every member of Congress on record as we head to the next election.
Barney Frank might call this an "air kiss" to the Tea Party. Frank would be right, and the Tea Party certainly deserves a kiss for turning our attention to these two related issues for the new legislative season: the Constitution and well-meaning-but-you-should-know-better government overreach that ignores constitutional boundaries.
Our political system is one of "limited government," a wonderful modern invention. Because government power is not only useful but also dangerous to those under its care, we have found it wise to circumscribe that power by three factors: the rule of law, enumerated powers, and individual rights.
Those who govern us do so only under law, ultimately a fundamental law that we call the Constitution. Those who make the law must themselves submit to the laws they make.
But consider the 2010 Democratic healthcare law. The fact that this law is baldly unconstitutional gave Democratic lawmakers no pause whatsoever. The reason? Democrats think of the Constitution as a "living document," and so it doesn't matter what it actually says. The challenge for those living under it is not to conform their legislative wishes to the Constitution but-by clever rhetoric and legal reasoning-to conform the Constitution to the legislative wishes of the day. That way, we keep that old document in step with current values. We keep it "alive." But this approach is the opposite of the rule of law and of limited government. The very purpose of the Constitution is to restrain the political passions and moral prejudices of the day until such time as we formally amend it by consent of the people.
Our government is limited also as to its ends. We established our government to accomplish specific tasks, and we have enumerated those tasks in the Constitution. Recognizing that our lawmakers have lost sight of this principle, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has established a rule that any proposed bill must specify the constitutional justification for whatever exercise of power the bill requires.
But the Democratic Party leadership cannot seem to think of anything the federal government should not be doing. When asked where in the Constitution she found the authority to require people to buy health insurance, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded with incredulity: "Are you serious? Are you serious?" How often have we heard a politician on the left tell a heartrending personal story and then leap immediately to proposing a federal government solution? The unstated assumption is that every unhappiness is the government's responsibility to remedy. The broader the government, the more egalitarian the solution. And so the federal government is always the instrument of choice.
This impulse may proceed from a kind-hearted sentiment, but not a noble sentiment because it does not respect people's liberty. Even if President Obama and all his allies in this healthcare revolution were entirely public-spirited in their intentions, their reforms would establish a structure for a later, less high-minded generation of officials to lord it over a prostrate and helpless American people. Not good.
Every elected representative takes a solemn oath to defend the Constitution. Yet, judging by what they do, not by what they say, Democrats these days don't seem to believe in any of these features of limited government. If the purpose of government is not simply to praise what is good among the people (1 Peter 2:14) but to provide for the people's good itself, then to limit the government in any way is an act of hostility toward the people.
Apparently, the people don't see it that way. That's why this week, in response to unambiguous popular demand, the Republican majority in Congress, perhaps along with some keen-eared Democrats, will send a message to the upper house and the president about limited government and liberty.