Senate candidates Ken Buck (R-CO) and Sharron Angle (R-NV) have both received significant attention for their absurd claim the federal Department of Education is unconstitutional, but because House races generally receive much less media attention than the higher-profile Senate contests, it’s unclear just how common this radical position is among the GOP’s full slate of candidates.
A questionnaire circulated by Liberty Central, the right-wing group led by Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas, sheds a great deal of light on this question — and the answer is not pretty. Of the 60 candidate questionnaires submitted by current GOP nominees for a House or Senate seat that ThinkProgress reviewed for this report, at least 49 expressly adopt a view that would declare much — if not all — of federal education policy unconstitutional.
The Liberty Central questionnaire includes the following question:
The overwhelming majority of GOP candidates who submitted this questionnaire answered “no” to this question, a position that would drastically limit the federal government’s ability to help struggling schools, and which could also threaten Medicaid and other essential programs. Several of these candidates offered ahistorical, ideological and occasionally paranoid constitutional theories:
- Robyn Hamlin (R-MO) explicitly calls for most of the Twentieth Century to be repealed, expressly listing “Aid to Dependent Children, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, unemployment compensation; federally subsidized housing or any of the other federal ‘Welfare’ projects” as constitutionally invalid.
- Joel Demos (R-MN) touts the “tenther” line that “[t]he original purpose of the ‘general welfare’ clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution was to connect Congress’s taxing and spending authority to already enumerated powers – such as regulating interstate commerce or building and sustaining a military.” This false view of the Constitution, which was rejected by President George Washington in the earliest days of the republic, would also lead to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and countless other programs being declared unconstitutional.
- Merlin Froyd (R-CA) also sounds a dog whistle to the most extreme tenthers, railing against federal spending on subjects that aren’t “actually written in the Constitution.”
- Liz Carter (R-GA) calls for the federal government to “get OUT of education” altogether. That means no federal student loan assistance or Pell Grants for middle class students struggling to pay for college, and no education funds providing opportunities to students desperately trying to break into the middle class.
- Dan Sebring (R-WI) offers his own unique theory about what the Constitution allows, claiming that the “general welfare” is limited to programs that “promote personal responsiblity and enhance one’s ability to take care of one’s self.” Needless to say, Sebring does not point to a single word in the Constitution suggesting that this limit exists.
- Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) also invents a new constitutional theory out of whole cloth, claiming that general welfare does not include “social or collective welfare as currently utilized.”
- Bill Huizenga (R-MI) serves up a Glenn Beck-like rant, blaming nineteenth and twentieth century “Hegelian Progressives” who “successfully undermined the American Constitution using an organic interpretation of the document.”
- Eddie Zamora (R-TX) rails against an elusive enemy who acts “with no Fear of The LORD.”
To be fair, a handful of the candidates who answered “no” to Liberty Central’s question also indicate that their constitutional objections are limited in scope. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), for example, objects to No Child Left Behind, but also indicates that he would allow some federal education funding. Nevertheless, the candidates who embrace Ginni Thomas’ constitutional views would impose drastic new limits on the Department of Education and programs such as Medicaid.
The “General Welfare Clause” of the Constitution, also known as the “Spending Clause,” enables Congress to “provide for the . . . general welfare of the United States” by spending tax revenue on beneficial programs. Broadly speaking, this empowers Congress in two ways. Congress may spend directly to benefit the general welfare, as it does with programs like Medicare or Social Security, but it can also offer grants to the states which require the state to accept certain conditions if they take the money. Thus, for example, Congress requires states that accept federal Medicaid funding to actually spend that money on health care for the poor, and if a state doesn’t want to comply with this condition they can turn down the funds.
It’s not clear from Liberty Central’s question whether they object to all federal spending on matters that they view as “traditionally under the authority of the private sector, state, and local government,” or whether they merely object to laws that offer conditional grants to states. Yet, even if the candidates who answered “no” to this question only object to conditional grant programs, their position would make essential programs like Medicare and Title I education funds difficult or impossible to administer.
In other words, just like the many GOP Senate candidates who believe that the Constitution means whatever they want it to mean, much of the Republican slate of House candidates have no compunctions about inventing new and incoherent ways of reading the document in order to undermine laws they don’t like.
Center for American Progress Action Fund Intern Salvatore Colleluori contributed valuable research assistance to this report. A full list of the 49 candidates adopting Liberty Central’s position is below the jump.