Early push for adding ‘teeth’ to new GOP Constitution rule fails in conference meeting

An early push by New Jersey Republican Rep. Scott Garrett to add some “teeth” to the GOP’s new Constitution rule requiring every bill cite its specific constitutional authority failed in a Republican conference meeting Tuesday.

Garrett offered an amendment that would have restricted lawmakers from citing the “general welfare” or “necessary and proper” clause as a bill’s constitutional authority.

If bills cited those clauses of the Constitution, they would be subject to additional debate on the House floor regarding whether the legislation is constitutional.

The amendment was intended to keep members of Congress from adding overly broad, “boilerplate” language that could cover practically any type of legislation.

But it attracted some guffaws from Democrats who privately mocked the amendment.

“Why would one part of the Constitution not be acceptable?” said a Democratic House aide, “If the Republicans disagree with a part of the Constitution, they should change it. Maybe Rep. Garrett should channel his inner Scalia.”

The reasoning behind the proposed rule is that the Founding Fathers intended these broad clauses of the Constitution to be qualified by the specific enumerated powers of Congress.

A dear colleague letter from Garrett urging support of the amendment cites a quote from James Madison in an 1831 letter.

“With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators,” Madison wrote.

Regarding the “necessary and proper” clause, Garrett’s letter cites James Wilson, the Founding Father who proposed the language, saying the words “necessary and proper” are “for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.”

Though Garrett’s push failed, it’s not the end of the battle for him. He’s founder and chair of the Congressional Constitution Caucus and plans to watch closely which specific authorities are cited by lawmakers going forward.

Full text of the letter:

Restore the Preeminence of the Constitution in Lawmaking

Co-sponsor Three Garrett Amendments to H.Res. 5

Current Cosponsors: Roscoe Bartlett, Trent Franks, Randy Neugebauer


Dear Colleague:

Article VI, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” Sadly, the House frequently passes legislation without first considering the very document that grants us legislative authority. To encourage a return to a more constitutional framework, I am introducing these three amendments:

Garrett Amendment #1

This amendment would require the text of all bills and amendments to contain a statement appropriately citing a specific power granted to Congress in the Constitution. The “common defense,” “general welfare,” and “necessary and proper” clauses of Section 8, Article I of the Constitution would not be considered appropriate Constitutional citations. If a bill or amendment failed to comply, it would be subject to a point of order that could not be waived by the Rules Committee. As a result, each side would have 10 minutes of debate followed by a vote on whether or not to table the point of order and move to consideration of the bill or amendment.

Garrett Amendment #2

This amendment states that the “common defense,” “general welfare,” and “necessary and proper” clauses of Section 8, Article I of the Constitution would be insufficient to meet the newly-required constitutional statement citation mandated by H.Res. 5.