Celebrate Constitution Day by Reading the Constitution

The tea party has used the Constitution to discredit virtually all non-defense federal spending, which begs the question, “What does the Constitution actually say?” Saturday is national Constitution Day, making it the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at this important document.

For those who claim entitlements are a violation of the Constitution, the preamble states explicitly that the government must “promote the general Welfare” of the people. This part of the preamble is as prominent as the requirement that the government “provide for the common defense” of the nation.

Article I establishes Congress in two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. “All legislative Powers…shall be vested in a Congress.” This means the president does not have the right to legislate via Executive Order. The tea party got that one right. Article I also grants the sole right to impeach the president to the House and the responsibility for conducting an impeachment trial to the Senate. This is part of the very delicate “balance of powers” the Constitution sets up between the three branches of the government.

In Article I, Section 7, the president is given veto rights for any bill Congress has passed. However, Congress can override the veto by a two-thirds majority. This means that if two-thirds of Congress were all from the same party, that party could pass virtually any legislation it wanted without having to compromise with members of the opposing party, even the president.

Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power to levy taxes and pay the government’s debts. In the recent “debt ceiling debate,” some people blamed the president for causing the problem or for not standing up to Congress. In fact, Congress is responsible for the budget. The legislature had already passed bills to spend the money, knowing full well that the budget passed would require additional debt.

However, the president did have the power to veto any bill Congress produced to make budgetary changes a condition of raising the debt ceiling. The Republicans don’t have a two-thirds majority, so they had to come up with a bill the president would sign. The Constitution does not address what Congress may or may not do with the money collected other than reiterate that it should “promote the general Welfare” of the country, a phrase that is open to interpretation.

Article II establishes the Executive Branch. It names the president “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy.” The president has the power to make treaties and appoint Supreme Court justices, but both must be ratified by Congress.

Article III establishes the Judicial Branch, the Supreme Court and the federal court system.

Article V provides an avenue for “amending” the Constitution. It calls for two-thirds of Congress to agree or the states can cut Congress out of it if two-thirds of state legislatures can agree to the changes.

See, the founding fathers expected that over time the needs of our society might change. They didn’t even think that they covered every need that might crop up, so why should we?

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