A long time ago in a political galaxy far, far away, a small band of statesmen set out to create a governing charter for their newly independent nation. The document they ratified featured enumerated and specific powers for their new government, with the operative words being “enumerated” and “specific.” To the world it was a charter unlike any other, and many admired its spirit of limits, caution and restraint. In fact, the United States Constitution was properly viewed by its authors and everyone else at the time as a list, not of what the federal government could do, but more importantly — what it couldn’t.
Today, few recognize any limits on what the federal government can do. Obamacare is “constitutional” because Nancy Pelosi says it is. President Obama can wage war against Libya simply because he thinks it’s a good idea. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan even admitted last year that the federal government has the power to force Americans to eat three vegetables a day.
And apparently leaders from both parties can now simply appoint special committees to supersede Congress. As part of the recent debt ceiling compromise, the newly proposed “Super Congress” would fast-track certain legislation, making it amendment- and filibuster-free. If the recent debt ceiling debate saw the House, Senate and the executive branch haggling over government spending — you know, that separation-of-powers, constitutional-balance kind of stuff, characteristic of a republic — the Super Congress would try to prevent such troublesome American democracy from happening again.
Congressman Ron Paul explained the inherent danger of the Super Congress: “The legislation produced by this commission will be fast-tracked, and members will not have the opportunity to offer amendments … Approval of the recommendations of the ‘Super Congress’ is tied to yet another debt ceiling increase. This guarantees that members will face tremendous pressure to vote for whatever comes out of this commission — even if it includes tax increases. This provision is an excellent way to keep spending decisions out of the reach of members who are not on board with the leadership’s agenda.”
The reason that voters elect officials to represent them is so that Americans have a voice in Washington. The Founding Fathers understood that pure democracy was as dangerous as it was impractical — but a representative republic, on the other hand, would allow a doable degree of democracy. Those behind the Super Congress have now decided that even the constitutionally proper level of practical democracy is simply too much. Or as Congressman Paul explains, this new committee represents “nothing more than a way to disenfranchise the majority of Congress by denying them the chance for meaningful participation in the crucial areas of entitlement and tax reform. It cedes power to draft legislation to a special commission, hand-picked by the House and Senate leadership.”
Both right and left should be troubled by this new committee. A Huffington Post headline announced on the eve of the debt ceiling compromise “Super Congress Getting Even More Super Powers In Debt Deal.” HuffPo reports: “In order to shore up GOP support for a deal to raise the debt ceiling, Senate Democrats are exploring ways of giving the proposed ‘super Congress’ even greater super powers …”
Lest anyone think this is just another committee of no special importance, during the debt ceiling debate Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell emphasized the Super Congress’s unique and unprecedented power: “In the early stages of this discussion, the press was talking about another commission. This is not a commission. This is a powerful, joint committee …”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also sought to assure everyone that the bipartisan Super Congress’s power would be virtually unlimited. Said Reid on the Senate floor: “The joint committee — there are no constraints … They can look at any program we have in government, any program. … It has the ability to look at everything.”