Talking the Talk, Avoiding the Walk

Tea Party types love to talk about the Constitution. Evidently, the only thing they like more is evading its requirements.

George W. Bush showed the way. With his aggressive use of signing statements, he avoided that pesky “veto override” problem. (Recall the tactic: he would sign a bill he didn’t like, rather than vetoing it, but he’d issue a signing statement to the effect that he wouldn’t enforce the law if he didn’t feel like doing so. That “veto by another name” avoided an override vote by Congress.  Mission–i.e., end run around the Constitution– accomplished!)

Today’s Congressional zealots are doing George one better. As Robert Reich recently pointed out,

The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it (and threatening to close the entire government, or default on the nation’s full faith and credit, if the Senate and the President don’t come around).

If that were permissible, no law on the books would be safe. A majority of the House could get rid of unemployment insurance, federal aid to education, Social Security, Medicare, or any other law they didn’t like merely by deciding not to fund them.

Like it or hate it, the Affordable Care Act was passed into law by affirmative votes of both Houses of Congress. It was signed (without the crossed fingers of a Signing Statement) by the President, who subsequently ran for re-election on a record that prominently included it and who handily won. Its constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court.  There are not nearly enough votes to repeal it using the proper process.

But none of that matters to the arrogant ideologues who want to circumvent the Constitution they claim to revere by failing to fund the law of the land.

The truth of the matter is, the only Constitutional provision they really care about is (their version of) the Second Amendment.


  1. I wish that Mr. Reich had not said anything about other programs that possibly could be de-funded. He might give someone ideas. Wait—they probably were tuned into Fox, WWE or “Duck Dynasty.” Never mind.

  2. Defunding programs is as old as the hills. That’s how we eventually got out of Vietnam. Congress stopped funding it.

  3. Barbara Boxer, Democratic Senator from California, just quoted President Obama as saying, “Once it is working well they won’t call it Obamacare.” And ain’t that the truth! But, how will the GOP take credit for a working health care system they have spent three years voting to repeal? An old friend, Bob Cross, had a favorite saying, “Be nice to the little people on the way up because you are going to pass them on the way down.” Let’s hope this latest GOP fiasco will start their downward plummet at an accelerated rate.

  4. Great post, Sheila, but I have to take exception to your last statement. Along with the last half of the Second Amendment they do seem to care about the Tenth Amendment, although I often think the “Tenthers” are yearning for the Articles of Confederation, since it was such a great success in the 1780s.

  5. Sheila, as much as a share your distaste for the attempts to wipe out the Affordable Care Act by starving it of funding, I think I have disagree that the practice is somehow unconstitutional. Rightly or wrongly Congress very often acts to authorize without appropriating, typically doing the latter by separate legislation. I believe in some cases appropriations are multi-year, thus insulating them to some degree from whimsical defunding threats.

    If someone can supply some constitutional jurisprudence to the effect that when Congress authorizes something, it’s estopped from funding it unless the authorizing legislation is repealed or modified, I love to see it.

    Otherwise, what’s being down right now is Godless is unwise, unfair, and a whole string of “un”s, but I don’t believe it’s unconstitutional, if that’s what being implied.

Comments are closed.