I am aware that the Constitution lays the responsibility of budgeting in the House of Representatives, though I couldn’t have told you exactly why.
It’s one of the clearest, easiest-to-understand provisions in the Constitution. And Harry Reid’s Senate flouts it routinely.
The Origination Clause in Article I, Section 7 states: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” In addition to clarity, this provision has an even greater virtue: It serves a very good purpose.
The Founding Fathers required revenue measures to originate in the House because they wanted this authority to belong to the legislative body closest to the people. Plus, the Framers wanted the larger states to enjoy the most influence on matters of taxing and spending, which is the case in the House (whose seats are allocated according to population) but not the Senate (where each state gets two seats regardless of population and smaller states have outsized influence). “This power over the purse,” James Madison explained in Federalist No. 58, “may, in fact be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has taken to thumbing his nose at this clear mandate. Recently, he publicly dismissed the Origination Clause as a “hyper-technical budget issue,” raised by his Republican opponents as “a fig leaf to hide their blatant obstruction.”
We’ll be charitable and describe Harry Reid as a partisan hack and not merely an ignoramus. He should know better, and I believe he does.
But when Senior Lecturer Obama (now Lecturer in Chief) described the United States Constitution as a “charter of negative liberties”, it’s clear he was speaking for a whole political philosophy. Liberals are fundamentally constrained from doing all that they want to do, what they feel they “must do on our behalf”. That is why they chafe at “hyper-technical” “fig leafs” (what a monstrous description of such a bedrock principle of government), why they talk of deeming bills to be passed rather than passing them, why they intrude into the relationship between patient and doctor and so basically alter an industry that amounts to one-sixth of the economy.
Oh yes, if it’s not too “hyper-technical” of me to observe, the Senate hasn’t passed a budget since 2009.
And it’s not just Obama, Reid, and Pelosi—everybody’s into repealing the Constitution:
One unnamed Senate staffer even speculated that the House’s fealty to the Constitution “may be part of some Republican plan.” This is all in keeping with how the leftist intelligentsia has viewed previous efforts to ignore the Origination Clause. The New York Times characterized one such mishap as an “arcane parliamentary mistake” the enforcement of which was designed “to block . . . everything else Mr. Reid is hoping to accomplish,” while The Washington Monthly termed it “a Democratic procedural slip-up.” As Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor at Florida International University’s School of Law and author of the excellent new intellectual history of the tea-party movement (The Tea Party: Three Principles), puts it: “Nowhere in these statements is there recognition that the holdup was constitutional rather than political.”
There is a constitutionally permissible way for the Senate to make its voice heard on revenue measures. Under widely accepted precedent, the Senate could take up House-passed tax bills, amend them, and then send the amended legislation back to the House for further consideration.
Liberal columnists like E.J. Dionne love to lament in print and on TV of the passing of the reasonable Republican, the one who wasn’t so “hyper-technical” and “arcane”, so obsessed with “slip-ups” and “Republican plans”. It’s clear why. Some Republicans might have gone along to get along. But not the Tea Party. It formed organically as a movement of citizens concerned about basic liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. Its adherents (their being no such formality as “membership”) saw in the presidential and congressional results of 2008 a dangerous swing toward autocracy in government. And they organized.
Negative liberties are still liberties—indeed they may be the only kind worth having.