Congressional Limitations

Tomorrow, Americans will vote for every seat in the House of Representatives and about 1/3 of Senate seats. The new Congress will convene in late January. As it does, it needs a few reminders. These come from the U.S. Constitution. In particular, each new member of Congress ought to reflect on Article One, Section 8, which deals with the taxing power and the authority for legislation.

It says,

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; …

First, this section lays out the three general purposes for which Congress can tax the people. The first is to pay the debts of the nation [we certainly have those, but they aren’t being paid, are they?]; the second is to provide for our national defense [so money spent on the armed forces is definitely constitutional]; the third is to provide for the general welfare. That third purpose has been taken completely out of context.

How do I know? Go to James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, who wrote in The Federalist Papers, number 41, that some people were opposing the proposed Constitution on the grounds that the provision quoted above “amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.”

That so-called objection was ridiculous, Madison maintained, because just after that provision there existed a list of specific powers granted to the Congress to carry out those three purposes. Today we refer to those as the enumerated powers. Here’s Madison’s description of how they limit the three general purposes:

But what color can the objection have, when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows, and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded, as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any signification whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity, which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing, had not its origin with the latter.

Why do I take time to mention this the day before the elections? Members of Congress, be they old or new, need to be reminded that they are not gods. They are not omnipotent; neither are they omniscient [though some would have you believe they possess both qualities]. The Constitution binds them to carry out limited powers.

It’s time we held them to the fundamental law of this republic. Wherever you are, remind your congressman. If enough of us take this seriously, they might have second thoughts with respect to their grandiose plans to remake America in their image.

Is Patriotism Christian?

As I sat in church on Sunday, singing songs that melded the spiritual with the patriotic, and applauding members of the military who had fought to keep America free, I contemplated more than ever the distinction between this world and the next.

There are some Christians who feel no loyalty to any country. They emphasize verses such as the one in the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, which says of those who had been faithful to God yet never saw the fulfillment of all His promises on earth, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. … They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

As a Christian, I take those verses to heart as well. Everything of which I am a part in this world is temporary. My ultimate destination is beyond any earthly nation. I agree with that assertion.

Some, though, will take it to mean that if this is temporary, then it is inconsequential. That is a leap in logic that is not valid. What we experience now may be temporary, but it is nevertheless real; it may be temporary, but God still demands our all in ensuring that righteousness prevails in the here and now.  What I do now has eternal ramifications; the eternity into which I will enter one day will be an extension of what started here. The character I develop now will go with me into that eternity.

One of America’s founders, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, understood these priorities very well. In a document he wrote arguing for liberty of conscience with respect to religious beliefs [as opposed to the state telling people which church they should attend], he said this:

Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.

Madison is clear in this statement that our first responsibility is to God, and we are citizens of His country above all others. Yet that does not negate the reality of citizenship in our earthly country. We simply need to keep our priorities straight.

I have usually shied away from the word “patriotism.” That may seem strange to some of you who know how devoted I am to the Constitution and the rule of law. My concern is that what we call patriotism be more than just an emotional attachment to a physical place on this globe. Instead, we need to concentrate on the principles that form the basis for a God-honoring patriotism.

When the United States government and its culture swerve away from God’s principles, it is harder for me to “feel” that patriotism. I admit that this year it was harder than ever due to the policies the nation is currently following. Yet my God-honoring patriotism inspires me to do whatever I can to reverse these policies and to challenge that which is dominant in the culture that is unchristian.

This is what the Lord has called all Christians to do. That’s what Jesus meant by being salt and light. I will not curse the darkness [although I will point out quite clearly where it exists]; I will instead keep pointing to the Truth that can set all men free from the sins that bind them. I will do so even if I am the only one doing it. It’s nice to know, however, that I am not alone.

Jesus says to all Christians,

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Government Controlling Itself?

I don’t have a problem with government. I believe it is a God-ordained institution that is to protect citizens of a nation. Whenever it stays within those boundaries, it is a servant of God.

What I do have a problem with is government out of control.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution and one of the principal authors of the Federalist Papers, in discussing the reason for the checks and balances incorporated into the federal government, noted in Federalist 51:

It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Most governments have never had trouble controlling the governed, but they nearly all struggle with the second half of the equation—controlling themselves. That’s the problem when you have people running them; angels would be a better option. However, that’s not going to happen.

What we’re experiencing now is the fear Madison expressed in that quote: the government no longer controls itself. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, then FDR, followed later by LBJ, we have taken one step after another toward potential tyranny. It is becoming ever more blatant.

The waste has become an epidemic. What will the current Congress do about it?

That’s about what I would expect.

So what are we going to do about it? There is a way to get a new Congress. November can’t come too soon.

The Kingdom of Congress

Let’s pause briefly for a recalibration of our thinking.

We spend a lot of time contemplating what Congress is doing—new pieces of legislation, the strategies for passing them, etc.

An Old Document that No One Reads Anymore

Stop and remember something: Congress was originally set up with very limited powers. The United States Constitution did not erect a tribunal that could legislate on any matter it deemed fit.

In Article One, Section 4, we find the following wording: “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year.” Why was that even inserted? The easy answer is this: Congress had such limited authority for legislation that it might not need to meet every year; this phrase was included to ensure that the people (in the House) and the state governments (in the Senate) would have input into the federal government, keeping it from becoming primarily an executive branch.

The concern was that Congress could be preempted.

During the ratification debates on the proposed Constitution, some opponents objected to what they perceived would be too powerful a federal government. James Madison, writing in what we now call Federalist #45, responded to those objections in these words:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

In other words, this Constitution did not set up a government that could legislate on all matters; it was limited in its scope.

Yet what do we see now? We don’t have to worry about making sure that Congress meets once every year. The struggle now is to make them go home once in a while. Congress has taken upon itself (with a generous nod from the federal judiciary) authority it doesn’t possess. It now tries to legislate on everything.

Healthcare is the most prominent issue at present. If you were to seek the place in the Constitution where it says Congress has power to legislate on this matter, you would come away empty.

Another problem that has arisen with our new imperial Congress is that individuals have become mini-dictators. Committee chairs set up kingdoms. The role of Speaker of the House carries with it virtually unlimited authority with respect to how that body functions.

The imperiousness has risen to unprecedented levels.

Those statements are not fabricated. Speaker Pelosi actually uttered those very words.

There is an old saying/joke that takes on greater meaning with each passing year: Congress has adjourned, the Republic is safe.

It’s time to once again be governed by the rule of law; it’s time to return to constitutional limitations.