When a reporter asked House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) during a press conference last year where the Constitution granted Congress the authority to enact an individual health-insurance mandate, she answered, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” Speaker Pelosi then dismissed the question and moved on to the next reporter.
This exchange illustrates the way “yes we can” liberals treat the Constitution: They simply ignore it when it gets in the way of their big-government bailouts and takeovers.
Democrats have always been the “party of go,” bent on transforming America with their “living Constitution,” which changes to suit the political whims of the day. That’s why Republicans shouldn’t flinch when they are criticized as being the “party of no.” Saying no is necessary to uphold the freedoms on which our nation was founded.
The Constitution is full of no’s. It is by telling the government what it cannot do that the Constitution protects our freedoms. The Founders loathed tyranny and sought to erect a government ruled by law, not people. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, “in America the law is king.”
The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” or abridging freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or the right to assemble and petition government. Americans are allowed to keep and bear arms because the Bill of Rights says that this right “shall not be infringed.” It also says no to unreasonable search and seizure, and to cruel and unusual punishment. The Fifth Amendment says that the government cannot deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process, and that private property cannot be taken without just compensation. The Eighth Amendment says no to excessive bail and fines, and the Tenth Amendment says powers not explicitly given to the federal government in the Constitution go to the states or the people. The Bill of Rights says no to the federal government over and over again.
Using the Constitution’s amendment-making process, Americans have added even more no’s over the years: The 13th Amendment says no to slavery; the 15th and 19th Amendments say no one can be denied the right to vote based on race or sex.
Every clause of Article 1, Section 9, which is all about the limits on Congress, contains the words “no” or “shall not.”
There’s one “no” in particular that Congress should have paid attention to in the fall of 2008, when the banking crisis reared its ugly head: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That means only Congress can appropriate money to be spent.
But Washington didn’t say no when President Bush’s Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, came asking the Democratic Congress to give Treasury a $700 billion blank check. Paulson said the money would be used to buy up toxic assets under a Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. In the end, only a portion of the money was used to do that.
The rest of the money became a slush fund for the president, greatly inflating the power of the executive office. TARP funds were used to bail out GM, Chrysler, and auto suppliers without a single vote from Congress. Because too many elected members of Congress didn’t abide by the Constitution, one bad bailout led to another at the discretion of the executive branch.
This isn’t the only way the Obama White House has grabbed power in defiance of the Constitution. Very early in his presidency, Obama began stuffing his executive office with czars to manage major areas of national policy, including health care, global warming, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, “green jobs,” Mideast peace, energy, CEO pay, technology, and the border. Although the czars wield a tremendous amount of influence, they can’t be subjected to congressional oversight, defeating the constitutionally established process of “advise and consent.”
Bureaucracy in the executive branch has exploded tremendously over the years. At this point, Congress can barely keep up with its oversight duties of executive departments, agencies, offices, and regulatory commissions. As a result, these institutions often make rules on their own, or are given broad power by the Congress to do so. For example, President Obama’s health-care law gives the secretary of health and human services, part of the executive branch, broad rulemaking powers: The HHS bureaucracy has been empowered to determine what health insurance should cost and what it should cover for every American, and HHS can change those policies each year, depending on the political struggles of the day, without any vote by Congress.
That’s not all. Thanks to President Obama, every American will soon be required to buy Washington-approved health insurance. This is the first time Congress has used its power to make an individual person purchase something from a private company for no other reason than that the citizen is alive. This flies in the face of the Constitution.
Progressives like Obama believe government has limitless ability and power. Remember what Obama said the night he secured the Democratic presidential nomination: “This [is] the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Only a liberal would believe that tinkering with the levers of government could ever accomplish such planetary change.
If President Obama’s motto is “Yes, we can,” the Constitution’s is “No, you can’t.” Obama may have once been a constitutional scholar, but he’s no constitutionalist.
Although the Constitution does give some defined powers to the federal government, it is overwhelmingly a document of limits, and those limits must be respected. That’s why it’s more important than ever for Republicans to say no. We are standing against a long progressive effort to transform the country. Its roots are in the New Deal and the Great Society; today, President Obama’s spending, bailouts, and takeovers are testing the Constitution in new and unprecedented ways.
An American awakening is taking place, however, and citizens are demanding that the government once again affirm its allegiance to our country’s constitutional principles. If Republicans want to protect the Constitution and ensure our nation’s survival as the beacon of liberty, “No” is an answer we are obligated to give and to proudly defend.
In the era of unlimited government, saying no is an act of patriotism, and being a member of the “party of no” should be a badge of honor.
– Jim DeMint is a U.S. senator from South Carolina.