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  • Morning Bell: A Presentment Clause Lesson for Constitution Day

    On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 of the original 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document that would eventually become our Constitution. In 2005, Congress passed a law designating today as Constitution Day and directed all educational institutions receiving federal funds to honor the day by holding “an educational program on the United States Constitution.” The Senate probably does not consider itself an “educational institution” but a fight over earmarks in the defense authorization bill offers an excellent chance for lawmakers to educate themselves about the principles behind our founding document.

    Yesterday the Senate voted to limit debate on the $612.5 billion defense bill, setting up a vote on final passage scheduled for later this evening. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the bill this April along with a staff-authored committee report containing $5 billion worth of earmarks benefiting a bipartisan group of senators. The bill itself does not contain any of the earmarks. Instead, it contains language referencing the staff-authored committee report and makes clear the report should be considered part of the legislation. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has written an amendment that strikes that language from the bill.

    The DeMint amendment is about more than one defense authorization bill. At issue is whether the Senate will continue an unconstitutional practice that encourages corruption and secrecy, or whether lawmakers will return to the transparency and accountability that the Constitution requires. Consider this famous 1982 exchange between Sens. William Armstrong (R-CO) and Bob Dole (R-KS):

    Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. President, will the Senator tell me whether or not he wrote the committee report?
    Mr. DOLE. Did I write the committee report?
    Mr. ARMSTRONG. Yes.
    Mr. DOLE. No; the Senator from Kansas did not write the committee report. …
    Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. President, has the Senator from Kansas, the chairman of the Finance Committee, read the committee report in its entirety?
    Mr. DOLE. I am working on it. It is not a bestseller, but I am working on it.
    Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. President, did members of the Finance Committee vote on the committee report?
    Mr. DOLE. No.
    Mr. ARMSTRONG. Mr. President, the reason I raise the issue is not perhaps apparent on the surface, and let me just state it: … The report itself is not considered by the Committee on Finance. It was not subject to amendment by the Committee on Finance. It is not subject to amendment now by the Senate. … If there were matter within this report which was disagreed to by the Senator from Colorado or even by a majority of all Senators, there would be no way for us to change the report. I could not offer an amendment tonight to amend the committee report.

    Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution states: “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.” As the exchange above demonstrates, committee reports, at best, reflect the views of a particular committee, not Congress as a whole. Granting committee reports the force of law prevents Congress from debating and voting on earmarks in the open. Instead, earmarks are set by lobbyists and staffers in dark backroom deals. Allowing this practice to continue is a direct assault on the Constitution and the values of transparency and accountability it embodies.

    The American people deserve better than this. The American people are demanding change in Washington. That change is not going to emanate from closed backrooms of the Senate. If Congress wants to make specific, detailed spending recommendations to the president, it should do so only after full and open debate. The earmarking free-for-all must end.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    12 Responses to Morning Bell: A Presentment Clause Lesson for Constitution Day

    1. Sharon Brockman, Bir says:

      The situation in Washington just keeps getting more depressing. Do any of our elected "representatives" even care about the Country?

    2. NEAL RASMUSSEN says:


    3. Trea Graham Pittsb says:

      I suggest you send this particular edition of the Morning Bell to our two presidential candidates. I plan on sending the info on the defense bill to my congressman and Senators from PA>

    4. Victoria, Florida says:

      Earmarks are the most corrupt cash cows by our congress and senate. These politicians are filed with greed and corruption and at the expence of the tax payers. This behavior has to stop as I reflect on what is taking place in our economy. The big corporation wellfare has to end and I can hardly wait to vote in November to kick them all out.

    5. C. Robertson, Oklaho says:

      This article indicates to me that the House and the Senate are so involved in behind the scenes legislation that they have no time to debate and process the major and most important issues that affect the American people.

      Everyone is blaming President Bush for the failures of the financial institutions. Obama's cry is "more regulation." Yet, if Obama and others in the Congress were so concerned about better and more regulation, why didn't they take the time to present new laws? Maybe, if our lawmakers had presented a workable piece of legislation to the President, he would have signed off on it, and America wouldn't be in the frightening financial position we are in today

    6. Pingback: when was the constitution signed

    7. Lynn Biddle, Cambridge, MA says:

      It’s unfortunate that money and politics have to mingle at all. At the least, we should work to limit the influence that money has over politics. Campaign Finance Reform, limiting “gifts” from lobbyists, and ending the abusive system of earmarks can return our system from its current one-dollar-one-vote model to that which the framers envisioned, a one-person-one-vote model.

      I wish you had some easy “send a message to your representatives &/or senators, president, etc.” This is an important amendment.

    8. Pingback: Constitution Day « Abdulmageed’s Weblog

    9. d best la. says:

      seems to be a double or triple standard w/dems in elected office,(c. rangold) crooked as a corkskrew! if i or any ordinary citizen pulled these kind of STUNTS,i/we would get life in the electric chair,with luck anyway;while i can't wish them dead'(charly*nancy)that is-maybe they will continue on the suicide path-political suicide.C.R.&N.P.just keep on being your selfish selves,and will happen-just not soon enough!

    10. Pingback: who wrote the constitution

    11. voice of reason says:

      America needs to sure up defenses at home a.s.a.p..

      A blockade of cuba may be the only answer to prevent

      A further breech of our national security.

      The issue of resettlement into the U.S. of fake

      refuges posing as persecuted for religious beliefs has

      to be checked.

      The flow of credit given to these fake refuges gaming

      our system and returning American dollars to there country

      and returning back again to repeat the same scam under

      another S.S.# Is one of the causes of our market crash.

      congress had better step it things up fast or our national

      language will soon be chinese and russian !

    12. A great new law shou says:

      A new law should be offered up to the

      senate for consideration:

      The Texas tea party tax law- before any new tax law can be passed, two current tax laws must be thrown over-

      board….. Eventually, over time, we

      would finally arrive at the National

      Sales Tax and no more earmarks!

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